Project management has never been more complex. The pace of work today, an increasingly competitive environment, growing demands from clients, and downward pressure on project margins, has made it significantly more challenging to deliver project-based work efficiently and profitably.
Traditionally, project management has focused on the operational, day-to-day aspect of project delivery. For example, “Was this project delivered on time, on budget, and did it meet project performance goals?” This is no longer sufficient. It has become a requirement to approach project management in a more strategic fashion. According to PMI, “strategic project management” is defined as the alignment of business processes, resources, initiatives, and technologies with overall company-wide strategy and vision.
Becoming a Customer-Centric Project Manager
Today, companies across all industries are shifting to a customer-first mindset. For those in the services industry, this translates to a laser-like focus on providing value to your clients. This is important for maintaining healthy client relationships, as well as healthy profits. You have undoubtedly heard the old adage that states, “it costs a lot more to attract a new customer, than to keep an existing one.” This is more true today than ever. According to recent data featured in Small Business Trends:
- The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70 percent, while the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20 percent
- 65 percent of a company’s business comes from existing customers
- 32 percent of executives say retaining existing customers is a priority
- A typical American business will lose 15 percent of its customers each year
While all organizations strive to achieve good client service, there are many things that can occur in project execution that dissolve a strong relationship seemingly overnight—poor communication, gaps in the ability to deliver, misalignment on intended outcomes, and a host of other factors may send your client into the arms of your competition. Statistics show:
- 82 percent have stopped doing business with a company due to a poor experience
- Companies lose 71 percent of customers due to poor service
- 47 percent of customers would take their business to a competitor within a day of experiencing poor service
- 66 percent of customers who switched companies did so because of poor service
It is clear that every service organization must work hard to earn and keep client business— revenue literally depends on good relationships with your clients. For project managers, it’s important to understand your role in customer retention, and how you can improve it.
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6 Tips To Becoming a Customer-Centric Project Manager
It is often stated that hitting budget and time targets is the benchmark for successful project management. Traditional “traffic light” reports reflect the status of these measures. While those are important, overall customer satisfaction is the most important. Put another way: if your client is dissatisfied, every single light should be flashing red.
Below are six tips to help you track, analyze, and develop the necessary skills to shift your mindset to become a customer-centric project manager.
Tip #1: Define Value for All Stakeholders
All projects must deliver value. Today, there are numerous factors and moving parts that dictate the success of a project outside of time, scope, and budget. Most importantly, key stakeholders want to see how the project is delivering on business objectives. It is critical to have an understanding of all the stakeholders involved in a project, and what value they expect to get out of the project. The role of the project manager is to know, track and communicate how you have delivered towards those goals regularly.
Tip #2 : Keep Your Clients Engaged Throughout the Entire Project
Customer engagement starts the first time any potential customer interacts with your company or its products or services. Communication and transparency are key today, and keeping a client engaged during the duration of the project will increase the likelihood of successful project delivery. Get clients engaged early on and ensure they are closely involved in the project until it’s completion. Direct engagement can occur through contact by phone, email or in person. It can also be indirect through social media, third parties, blogs, or other means. Understand how your clients like to communicate (e.g. do they prefer to set up calls in advance or pick up the phone on the fly, or maybe they prefer text message over email, etc.) and make a conscious effort to touch base as often as possible.
Tip #3: Introduce a Feedback Mechanism During the Project
Customer-centric project management also requires the project manager to continuously engage and collaborate with all stakeholders involved in the project. In order to capitalize on this engagement, it is strongly suggested that a feedback process be incorporated early on in the project rather than simply post-mortem. With the many moving parts involved, it is necessary to provide comments, feedback, and review to all team members in real-time. By allowing for a more fluid feedback mechanism, issues can be identified and rectified early on. The kinds of questions you want to ask regularly include: Are you comfortable with progress? Are we proceeding as you expected? Is there anything else you’d like me to be doing? Do you have all the information you need?
Tip #4: Train on the Soft Skills
There has been an increased focus on training project managers on the soft skills such as people management, good listening, positive communication, and conflict resolution. According to Successful Projects, “soft skills” focus on enhancing communication techniques, as “A large part of project management is people who are impacted to a great extent by interactions with other people.” With soft skills training, you can take full advantage of your technical expertise to become an exceptional leader.
Tip #5: Improve Your Costing and Project Scope
Many projects are actually doomed for failure before they even start. That is because they have not be properly scoped. A project manager can help set expectations from the get-go by providing accurate estimates of the project scope and cost. Get involved in the sales process early on, and shape the project planning based on insight and experience, and help increase the likelihood of successful project delivery, and happy clients.
Tip #6: Retain Your Loyal Customers
Retaining loyal customers is the ultimate goal for all project managers practicing customer-centric project management. If customers are loyal, you’ve been successful at customer engagement, experience, and satisfaction. Unfortunately, businesses tend to become complacent at this stage while focusing on getting new clients. Learn to leverage success to drive leads for future work, either add-ons to the current project, or even new and more complex projects.