Stakeholder management is a term often associated with managing projects. It's important to know that the word stakeholder is interchangeable with words like customers, individual team members, sponsors software developers, or service providers. Anyone of these can be internal or external customers and are referred to as stakeholders.
In addition to utilizing your technical project skills, use these seven strategies to help perfect customer relationships. When used in combination, these strategies can increase the chances of developing positive customer experiences and relations.
1. Always maintain professionalism
You are a project management professional. The emphasis is on professional here. Your customers will automatically expect you to be versed in project management — what sets you apart is your ability conduct yourself in an ethical manner, maintain transparency, and be respectful throughout stressful and potentially tumultuous times. If you are calm and professional, customers are far more likely to feel comfortable knowing you can handle the pressures that may arise in their business environment.
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2. Remain approachable
Regardless of how competent you are as a leader, customers will want to know you are easy to work with. For customer relationships to be optimal, projects need to get full buy-in at all levels, and that requires a project manager that is approachable and available to everyone in the customer's organization. All too often, executives and other business leaders find it easy to approach project leaders yet front-line employees may find it difficult to communicate with a project manager. Provide more than one mechanism for team members and customers to reach you for questions, information, and project updates. Remember in order to be considered approachable, it is important to gauge the way you interact with those around you at all levels.
3. Maintain frequent and clear communication
It's safe to say that radio silence isn't likely to instill customer confidence. Customers need to know the project manager they hire has a clear understanding that consistent and clear communication is one of the biggest keys to maintaining strong customer relationships. In fact, you are likely to perfect customer relationships with stellar communication and slightly less project management skill sets, than the other way around. It is instrumental that project managers keep their customers in the loop at every stage of the project to foster strong customer relationships.
4. Demonstrate awareness of customer needs
Understanding what the customer needs and wants is critical to building a solid customer relationship and maintaining it. If you understand what the customer needs, you can successfully demonstrate you care about their needs and carry out project planning and execution with their needs at the forefront,. Ultimately, meeting or exceeding customer needs is the goal of successful project management. Project managers can gain a clear understanding of their customers' needs through communication, clear and thorough project documentation, and keeping a close eye on the customer's requirements and anticipated deliverables.
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5. Remain transparent
Customers are usually more reasonable than most project managers realize, making it less complicated to build solid customer relationships than anticipated. Transparency is essential for trust, and trust is essential to a strong customer relationship. Project managers should strive for complete transparency at all times, especially during times when things are not going as planned. It may be tempting to keep information isolated during these times; however, customers need to have a clear view into all aspects of a project in order to make critical and timely decisions.
6. Reside in a state of continuous improvement
If you are always seeking ways to improve products, services, processes, or customer service levels, it will be reflected in your behavior and deliverables. Since customers are the recipients of your efforts, they will appreciate this trait. A continuous improvement mindset is one of the most valuable traits you can leverage to gain and perfect favorable customer relationships. Businesses of all sizes and industries are likely looking for ways to improve upon their deliverables. Project managers hold unique knowledge and skills to help customers in this regard.
7. Remain customer-focused
Remaining focused on your customers and what they are expecting from you as a project manager is vital to perfecting your relationship with them. This is an easy way for a project manager to strengthen customer relationships, yet many project managers may be tempted to take this for granted and assume this requires no effort. This is a focus that needs to consciously be engaged throughout the day. Practicing this will eventually become second nature after time.
The benefits of these strategies help to significantly establish a solid customer relationship management foundation that can help to make you stand out as a preferred project manager.
- 4 tips for gaining trust from project stakeholders (TechRepublic)
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- IT heroes: Use customer service to build business relationships (ZDNet)
- 5 tips for building better relationships with stakeholders and team members (TechRepublic)
Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contributor and co-host of the "technically speaking" segment on the Price of Business Talk Radio. She has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada. To find out more about Moira, go to www.leadhershipgroup.com.