Customers - Do You Run Your Business or Do They?

A couple of weeks ago I sat with a group of managers reviewing a project that the organisation had just completed. As this was the first one, it kind of turned into a general review with lessons that had been learned from other projects. It soon became clear that their customer management was a little flawed and I doubted who actually was running their business.


This approach can best be described in the following ways:


1. The Customer "Bully" Mentality - This actually isn't as bad as it sounds. As we understand them and how they work which is great as it takes away a lot of time and the project can be completed and we manage them effectively - and let's face it , we get lots of work from them, so we're going to live with it!


That's perfectly fine as they're a long term client and have earned the right to behave in that way, we're not going to change them or even try to. It does mean that people new to the firm need to understand the rules of the game as they apply to them, so they don't piss them off and potentially create us a problem. It doesn't however, automatically mean that we apply that to new clients who are going to try and push us around to get the same deal. They have to earn the right for that!


I actually helped one client to change their relationship with a customer through being brave enough to take them on and challenge their approach to the projects. It started simply enough. The Projects Director was a difficult man who liked to challenge site managers by not wearing PPE walking on site and then having a go at them when they didn't pick him up on it. The Site Managers couldn't win, as he never brought any and actually put them in an invidious position. What did we do? We found out his boot and Viz Vest sizes, and got him a hat with his name on it. When he came on site he was asked politely to wear this stuff and was taken off him when he left. Simple isn't it? It completely changed the working relationship with him. Site Managers actually liked having him on site, could walk him round and tell him what was happening and where the project was. The end result more work into other brands and less hassle, all from one little action!

2. The Gate Keeper Approach

I'd liken this to the management of some projects where these may be managed by a third party who may be the architects. Now these people, who control this, aren't actually any good at doing it and just get in the way and make the job difficult as a result. What they are really trying to do is defend their position and block other people out with little care or concern for the actual client or the havoc they cause to the rest of the supply chain.

It may be that, (correct me if I'm wrong), they also don't take a lot of money from the actual client but enjoy the kudos and/or power of being the first point of contact. In some cases, we may have developed a reasonable relationship with actual client but are denied any real access which may save time and money but risk the relationship that the gate keeper has with the client and therefore may risk future work with the gate keeper if we push to hard.

3. The Bend Over Backwards Approach (or “here are my genitals please take them”)

This seems to result from how jobs come in to the business and the depth of information we may get. These may have short timescales, no information, no contract and only a rough idea of budget. However, it is a director who has brought the job in and is based on a vague promise of more projects and income and so, we need to keep them happy, it has to be done and people need to get on with it. It also relates to the client setting the hoops up and getting us to jump through them, which in reality, isn’t the way the sales process should work. This also results in putting pressure on people with short timelines, can cause labour issues and potentially impact on other projects too damaging existing customer relationships which is also not good and shows a lack of respect for those customers and their projects. It's like we've developed a pecking order and they have somehow slid down it!

I believe that looking at a more managed customer approach to allow us to use:

· Our knowledge of the client

· Our expertise in the work we do

· Our understanding of our resources

· Our ability to build a fantastic product of which all parties can be proud


We can also use the headings above to create a manageable customer service/sales approach to clarify how we will address individual projects as they come to light or fruition which we will communicate at the start so all parties are clear.


It can also be based on our existing Work Planning approach (assuming that we have a preferred working methodology) which the business requires to adequately plan and prepare for the Project.


Having worked in sales and supported the closure of many multi million pound deals we had developed an approach which helped us to maintain the control of our projects, manage project owners and deliver what was required.


In some cases we had to:

1. Stand our ground in face of people questioning our expertise – when we knew best

2. Managing “consultants” opinions in the process where their knowledge was less than ours and influencing the client to accept our recommendations

3. Advise people of additional project costs when their demands got out of hand – the “can you just do” approach

4. Threaten to walk away when things got out of control – that actually never happened as we had created value with the clients through our expertise and sales approach

5. Focus them on their compelling event, why they chose us in the first place and the losses they may face if the project was delayed or failed. These metrics were identified at the start to use at a later date if we needed to confirm that these were still the same and remind the client of the risks if the end date was not met.

6. Create influence within the project team so we could work from within and change people’s mind sets and opinions

7. Build resilience in to be able to implement changes in the long term which also increased our sales order value, sales pipeline and our standing in the customers eyes


By doing all of these, when we had to, we actually built stronger and longer lasting customer relationships which removed many of the barriers and enabled us to control and manage more of the project. We could do this because, we had a sales process which we stuck to and customers respected us for that. They also earned the right, based on the Customer "Bully" Mentality to change the process for their benefit given the existing relationship and understanding which already existed.


The thing is that new clients did


not know any better and so we clearly stated our rules of the game during the sales process so that they were clear on what the process was and why we would stick to it.


What I am saying here is that we should be considering adopting the same consistent approach which will make the management of jobs easier and also provide businesses with the time frame needed to get all the ducks in a row so we can deliver a more stress free project to the customer.


The customer, in many cases, will see no difference, as the business always delivers to them. The benefits will be to the businesses staff and subcontractors who will be working smarter and not harder and ideally under a more stress free environment...

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