In Part 1 of the blog, I talked about the importance of being prescriptive when communicating with your client—especially if you’re joining a project mid-stream. Ask your client how they prefer to communicate tasks or project details with you, and don’t be afraid to let them know your preferred forms of communicating. On your first day, set up your auto-signature to include how best to contact you. Don’t include your cell phone number if you don’t want your client to text you at all hours! On the other hand, if your hours aren’t a conventional 8-5, you might be fine with your client texting you when you’re not online. Another option, of course, is to install the mobile version of the client’s productivity platform so you can be notified of new email or posts. Also, don’t make assumptions about working hours. I was supporting a project that was rolling out globally and didn’t find out until I was a couple weeks into the project that I would be expected to attend and run meetings in time zones across the globe. I took control of scheduling those meetings and finding a contact person in each time zone to help me disseminate information to their teams.
Following are the last two client scenarios and challenges I faced in the last year and some best practices I learned for communicating with the client.
Scenario #3: New company, new client
Not only had I just started consulting at Olive + Goose, but my first project was working with a new client company. Meaning, I’d spent most of my career working for, or consulting for, “a large software company in Redmond, Washington.” (Any guesses where that might have been?) In my new role, I was consulting for a company that made hardware devices and solutions for meeting rooms. Most communication was through chat and regular status meetings, with and without the client. As often happens, people change positions and I found myself working with a client representative in the UK, 8 hours ahead of me.
- Luckily for me, I was working with a team of consultants at Olive + Goose who quickly brought me up to speed on the project. We worked mostly through chat, file sharing, and regular weekly status meetings. Then, in preparation for weekly status meetings with the client, we updated a status template with what we’d completed to date, open items and questions, and identified any risks.
- We met regularly with the client to review current status, such as letting him know of upcoming review, areas encountering scope creep, validating milestones, and requesting subject matter experts when we needed more information about a certain topic. We used the client’s communication platform to post content, request reviews, or ask questions. Throughout the process, I would often meet with the client separately to discuss process improvements or learnings as the project was progressing. This way, while everyone was productive, we could still pause and identify ways to improve the process (e.g., around timely reviews) or improve content. Regular check-ins and open communication allowed for flexibility of the final deliverables.
- With the time zone difference, we made it a best practice to have content and questions submitted EOD our time so that the client had it first thing in the morning his time.
Scenario #4: Use all the forms of communication!
I’m consulting on a different project now and my day-to-day communication involves the client and a team from another consulting company. My client and I typically touch base a couple times throughout the day using a mix of chat for quick things or back-and-forth conversations in the moment, and email for summarizing action items and decisions or involving others. When communicating with and working with the other consulting company, I’m typically the liaison between both parties to help keep the program on track. In this role, I also reach out to a vast number of field sellers, who are inundated with information and sometimes difficult to get a response via email.
I’ve scheduled regular 1:1 meetings with my client every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Monday we discuss priorities for the week, Wednesday we check in on those priorities and shift them around as needed, and Fridays we see where we’re at and talk about what’s coming up the next week.
We also meet with the other consulting company twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tuesdays focusing on what we’re working on for the week and Thursdays what kind of progress has been made and addressing any challenges or risks.
I’ve learned that due to the sheer number of email field sellers get, they are sometimes more responsive to chat than email. If I’m communicating with them about a new program, for example, I’ve found it helpful to first get their manager’s support and buy-in on the program, and then requesting 10-15 minutes to present the information at an upcoming meeting. This way I’m able to communicate the program to multiple sellers at a meeting they’d already be attending, and then I can follow up with them individually.
Communicating to communicate
Every role and client bring different challenges and often different preferences for communicating.
How many team members or other consultants will you be working with on a typical day or work week? Is there a communication rhythm (weekly meetings, productivity tools such as chat or video conferencing) that people are already using for communicating about the project? If you’re helping to rev up a new project, work with your primary client to identify a regular cadence to discuss priorities. Similarly, identify a cadence to meet with other stakeholders on the team.
Always find out from your client their preferred forms of communicating. And don’t be shy about sharing yours. Make sure your email auto-signature includes the best ways to reach you. Periodically, revisit communication styles with your client to create efficiencies as the project moves along through different stages or as people come and go. Successful consultants are flexible to their client’s working style to maximize their available time with the client.