I'd like to say I never experience customer frustrations on any of my projects, but the truth is I've experienced some degree of customer frustration on nearly every project at some point during the process. It may be a big issue or it may be something miniscule, but at some point it usually happens.
Customer frustrations can arise from any one of a number of things. From unanticipated change orders, to error-filled deliverables, to rude project team members, to project budget issues, to just conflicting personalities.
Anything – literally – can set it off and it may not be a showstopper, but it should be addressed. The potential issues can be endless – so I definitely can't address all the possibilities here. But we can discuss a few possible proactive or responsive measures we can take to try to alleviate customer frustrations if we sense that things aren't going as well as hoped…at least from the customer's point of view….
Step up communication practices
Effective, efficient, and timely communication remains, in my mind, the number one responsibility of the project manager. All task assignments, all feedback, all customer interaction, all issues resolution, and all collaboration in general, begins and ends with good communication.
In fact, with more than 50% of all projects failing, one survey showed that project managers cite 'poor communication' as the second biggest contributor to project failure – right behind 'bad or incomplete requirements.'
If a failure point at the beginning of the project was to skip the creation of a project communications plan and now you're seeing communication breakdown, it may be the right time to go back and create the plan so everyone has the same communication expectations going forward for the rest of the project.
Revisit weak areas
There may be weak areas of the project that are causing the customer concern like how risk is being handled or possibly the delivery of error-prone deliverables. Revisit those weak areas and add more effort where needed.
For example, begin reviewing risk topics and issues regularly on a weekly basis as part of the weekly status call or meeting with the customer. If deliverables have been a problem area, incorporate peer reviews on every future deliverable. Having the entire team review every deliverable will greatly reduce the likelihood of presenting the customer with a document or deliverable with issues or errors.
React to team member concerns
If the customer is frustrated with someone on the team, meet with the customer to find out why, meet with the team member to work out some corrective action, and then jointly meet with the customer to discuss.
Personnel issues rarely work themselves out on their own and if there is friction between the customer and one of your team members it may not even be obvious to your team member. Bring it to the forefront and take the necessary corrective action BEFORE your customer has to request a replacement. If you let it get to that point, then your leadership will definitely be called into question as well.
If necessary, go back to the kickoff presentation and notes to analyze where you are vs. where you should be in terms of process and promises and assumptions. It's never too late to try to get the project back on track and make the customer feel comfortable again.
It's possible that you discussed processes, actions and policies that would be implemented or followed and they never happened or were never implemented. If that is the case, it may be frustration point for the customer to see that it was an expectation that was never fulfilled. Often the customer sees it as something they paid for but never received.
Call for input
Customer satisfaction is one of the three key indicators of project success, so responding to and resolving customer frustration should always be a top priority. When you've experienced customer frustration, how have you responded? What actions have you taken to resolve these issues? What general approaches have worked the best for you? Thanks – we'd love to see your feedback!