You finally dug yourself out from the Excel spreadsheet hole and bought a shiny new project management tool. It color-codes and visualizes project to-dos so you can keep everyone on task and delight clients. You show them how their project will flow and let them know they can log right in and see where a project stands. Green for going, yellow for delays, and red for on hold. Beautiful!

The only problem? Your clients aren’t using it. They’re still calling, IMing, and emailing you for updates and asking to hold status meetings about next steps. You're still digging through email threads to get asset feedback and clients are hesitant to give you all the data you need. And what does “yellow” event mean? Frustrated, they ask for a discount or threaten to churn.

According to Hinge’s 2019 High Growth Study, professional services has grown 20% since 2017, and the top two threats are increasing competition and pressure to reduce prices. Understanding how to retain clients in a consulting business is crucial to its success. Your clients are busy and you need to provide project management tools for professional services that are seamless to adopt, save them time, and prove your value.

Not sure what you should specifically look for in a project management tool to solve these challenges for professional services firms? Well, here are three ways your current tool is failing your clients.

3 ways your project management software is failing your clients and how to fix it

1. Your project management tool doesn’t provide clients full visibility into project progress

Red, yellow, and green are great for a stoplight, not so much for giving status visibility in a project management tool. Colors without meaning are just that — meaningless to the client. You need your project statuses to provide more information so that both your client and team have full visibility.

Communication difficulties and lack of visibility are the second and third top reasons for client churn. Without the right tool in place, one of the biggest challenges professional services teams face is keeping clients updated on what's happening during their billable hours definition. This happens for many reasons. Jaded or just curious, clients expect regular updates and clear project visibility into things such as how tasks are being managed — especially since most professional services work is based on billable hours.

If your project management tool isn’t easy to understand and integrated into other parts of your project workflow, clients won’t see the value of learning how to use it. It’s much easier for them to send that IM or email to get a response. But that causes gaps in communication and a mess of information floating around multiple channels.

Client churn or communication frustration isn’t the only threat. In our professional services survey, 60% of respondents report spending 1-3 hours of their week on sending update emails, generating status reports, or having status meetings — and 11% spend 4+ hours a week! Oftentimes, those activities aren’t on the clock either. Think of how your team’s time could better be served working for your clients. If your current project management tool isn’t cutting down your time spent providing clients visibility into project status, here are some capabilities to look for.

The solution your project management tool should provide:

When asked in our survey about what capabilities would have the biggest impact on their business, 22% responded: “a dashboard where clients and internal stakeholders can view real-time project progress and automated notifications when important projects change statuses, are completed, or fall behind.”

Customizable dashboard views and detailed workflow statuses provide clients the visibility to know exactly where a project stands — without having to ask you for updates. Automated notifications make your project management tool more than just a pretty timeline to show clients. Setting expectations from the beginning that status updates will automatically come from the project management tool helps clients see the value in using it.

As an example, Wrike uses customizable workflow statuses — as well as an array of color-coded labels — so that project members know if a task is “in progress,” “completed,” “waiting for feedback,” and so much more. This is great because, internally, this enables your teams to stay consistent with their project processes while remaining flexible for clients.

Wrike also has automatic notifications when those statuses change, and any members can use @mentions to ask questions or inform others right within the project’s task — keeping conversations out of email so that everyone is in the loop.

2. Your project management tool isn’t flexible enough to easily adjust to delays while running multiple project timelines

Is your #1 work challenge keeping projects on track and hitting deadlines? If it is, you’re not alone. 96% of teams experience project delays to some degree. No matter how well oiled your team may be, they need to be agile to handle bottlenecks and roadblocks as they manage multiple projects for clients. While a delay might be commonplace, it’s dangerous to your bottom line. Our survey reported that projects going over budget or deadline is the #1 reason for client churn.

If your current project management tool is only showing a linear view of the steps it takes to complete the project, your team won’t be able to quickly adjust and get everything back on track. Each task has dependencies, and when one task is delayed, it impacts the entire timeline. When your team is working with multiple clients, a delay with one client impacts other clients.

But all hope is not lost. With the right capabilities, your project management tool can turn this challenge into one of the biggest opportunities to delight clients.

The solution your project management tool should provide:

The top reason for project delays? Last-minute changes to requirements from the clients. Delays aren’t always easy to anticipate, but with the right tool empowering you, they can be much easier to handle.

First, customizable request forms ensure that you get clearly defined requirements from the beginning. Standardizing how you kick off projects ensures everyone’s expectations are aligned, mitigating changing requirements down the road.

When changes do come up mid-project, you can easily make adjustments if your project management tool has different resource views.

Use Gantt charts to map out dependencies and set timeline expectations. This visual chart helps your client see how any changes or delays will impact their overall timeline. When you do need to move a task, all dependent tasks will move too with a simple click. You’ll be able to quickly switch gears and reprioritize as needed while staying aligned with your client.

3. Your project management tool doesn’t make clients feel like their sensitive information is secure

In our survey, 60% of respondents agreed that data security concerns keep them from being flexible and building better relationships with clients. Although 77% of teams said that they have tools in place to ensure clients’ data is secure, has your team considered the level of security your project management tool provides?

Let’s say your project management tool doesn’t have the capability to manage proofing and approvals. How are you sending assets for approval by your clients? Sending sensitive documents by email is a common way, but it’s a big security threat. Beyond getting disjointed feedback that's hard to take action on, email attachments are dangerous because emails can easily be forwarded accidentally or shared with the wrong people. There’s also always the risk of viruses.

In another example, let’s say you’re an agency working for competitive clients. How can you assure them that their data is safe between your project managers? Does your project management tool give clients the power to say exactly who can see what within their projects?

The solution your project management tool should provide:

18% of survey respondents said “the ability to balance security compliance with client visibility” was one of the capabilities that would have the biggest positive impact on their team. Your project management tool can supply that safe space for clients to confidently share their sensitive information.

One of the best ways to ensure security in your workflow is by bringing the proofing and approvals process into your project management tool. That way, you’re keeping data in one place and out of vulnerable channels like email. As an added bonus, it makes the process of getting actionable feedback quicker with everything in one place. Tools like Wrike also offer guest-reviewer capabilities that allow external stakeholders to provide feedback and approvals. Clients can share a gated link to an asset needing to be reviewed and dictate exactly who can see it.

Tools like Wrike also empower clients to establish project folder permissions that can limit visibility as needed. A collaborative work management platform with strict permission capabilities protects customer’s intellectual property while ensuring visibility. You can even create role-based permissions to help clients dictate who on their own team can see different projects.

Get the right tool to dominate your competition

At the end of the day, you’re looking for project management tools for professional services to help you increase client happiness and retention. Without the right tool, you simply can’t achieve those goals. Providing actionable visibility, flexibility, and security will help you keep projects on track and ensure success that delights clients.

We recently released a professional services industry benchmark report, where we surveyed 1,000+ professional services leaders to understand their top project management challenges. In fact, many of our stats today were pulled from the report.

Want to learn more about how the right project management tool can stop client churn in its tracks? Or how you can leverage automation and security to differentiate yourself from the competition? Read the full free report right now by clicking here or filling out the form below.