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Article  |  Leadership

4 Keys to Avoiding Client Surprises

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4 Keys to Avoiding Client Surprises

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas, but we won’t be giving our clients any surprises at this time of year or any other if we can help it! One of the many great things about working at Planet Argon is the partnerships we build with our clients. As an agency we pride ourselves on our commitment to delighting our clients – it’s even written into our value system. With longer-term relationships we get to better understand our client’s goals and values – in my experience, this has given us added motivation to do our best work for them. Our partnerships are built on trust.

1. Clear and open communication works both ways

We have found that a hyper-transparent collaboration, both within our company and with our clients, means that we can more directly address challenges. We’re as open as we can be when we make mistakes, or when expectations need to be realigned.

We are upfront about what a project will cost from the outset based on the information we have available – even when this makes us look more expensive than the competition in the short-term. Sometimes this means we don’t win projects, but sticking to our values is worth the risk. One of the outcomes of this level of transparency is that our clients rarely surprise us with unachievable deadlines or changes of direction which helps to prevent dramatic project spikes. We really appreciate that!

2. Bad news is bad news, now or later

When obstacles pop-up, which they unfortunately do, we’ve found success in addressing them early. It’s painful to disappoint clients when something can’t be done in the time frame requested or can’t be done in the way they expected. Especially when our clients are people we care so much about. Addressing the problem together opens up a lot of new possibilities.

More often than not, by getting the issue up in front of the client they have shared in the solution building process with us. They can often offer insights and context that we don’t yet know which can tweak our direction. This joint solution building process has been hugely satisfying to work in.

We try to pull the band-aid off, so to speak, and get to a solution space as soon as possible rather than dwelling on what can’t be done. It’s great to get a retrospective in with a client at the end of projects to learn from both good and tough experiences that have come up. The more open our clients are with us about what wasn’t delighting them the better we can learn for next time.

3. Trust is cemented in working through tough problems together

Sometimes problems come up that are just really tough to solve. An application is in really bad shape and needs CPR or it’s just too big for the resourcing we have at that time. Working collaboratively with clients on an ongoing basis, particularly on the hard stuff, helps build trust. They know we have their backs and will go the extra mile to get them to a good place.

Staying in very regular communication is integral for trust building. Keeping up with client calls and status updates when things are tough demonstrates a willingness to face any problems head-on, despite disappointment and possible discomfort.

4. Avoiding gold plating

One of the killer issues in scoping projects can be overdoing it! We try not to surprise clients with extra items they haven’t requested or even imagined yet. There’s a number of reasons for not doing unrequested work – firstly, the client retainer or project budgets might get used in ways they weren’t expecting. Secondly, if a developer spends a lot of time doing something that wasn’t requested, in all likelihood, that means they weren’t working on something that was planned or requested. Thirdly, it’s a surprise they weren’t expecting and we don’t do surprises!

Of course, as mere humans, mistakes and miscommunications happen and things don’t always go to plan. The intent remains to put the client’s needs first. To keep projects on a steady, predictable cadence, with our customers feeling comfortable and in control, we do our best to be open and timely with all communications good and bad.

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