Sometimes the most obvious answers are so simple we miss them. This is particularly true when you work in the constantly chaotic consulting space.
Last Friday night, while recovering from another intensive Defcon 1 week in which multiple client servers were downed by lightning simultaneously, I flipped through the book Gamestorming. The premise is teams can play games to develop creative solutions to complex or nagging problems. One recommended game, Speedboat, suggests drawing a boat and labeling it with the name of the product or service it represents. Add anchors, and then have team members label the anchors with factors that are weighing the product or service down. Then you'll know the elements holding the product or service back.
This sounds like such basic no-brainer advice, but in reality, we often need such reminders. We live in a pressure-packed culture that demands immediate and accurate responses to complex issues. IT consultants are especially under the gun, frequently running from one crisis to another. Finding time to eat often becomes difficult (my office went through a pallet of Red Bull last week, and I don't think that's healthy). It's also difficult to make time to follow up with clients, confirm you're meeting their needs, and ensure they're happy with the service they're receiving from your firm.
When battling the myriad crises and outages each day inevitably brings, IT consultants, through habit, let the tasks of managing follow-up and client relationships slip. This is a critical mistake that can cause lost customers. But there's an easy solution you can put in place to help arrest such behavior: schedule regular lunches with clients, particularly those who are critical to your organization.
By scheduling these client-management lunches, the dates are booked as appointments on your Outlook Calendar; this means that, when crises arise, you'll book other engineers to respond to the unplanned outages, as you have a client meeting booked. Plus, you'll get to actually eat lunch.
The biggest advantage to these lunch meetings is that you get an opportunity to sit down with a client and perform post-mortem sessions and learn where your organization is helping, where it might be able to improve response times or service, and how happy the client is with your consultancy.
In many of these meetings, clients will discuss other issues, site relocation projects, or new initiatives that might not otherwise have been brought to my attention. As a result, I'm able to provide recommendations, smooth migrations, or address other issues (VoIP, network infrastructure improvements, multisite VPN connectivity, etc.) that the client wasn't even sure my office was capable of supporting.
Another major advantage is that there are a fewer disruptions when you meet offsite. At your IT consultancy or at the client's office, there will likely be interruptions by employees who have questions that seemingly just can't wait for your meeting to finish.
By scheduling such informal client meetings, you implement a proven follow-up mechanism advocated by most every leading business expert and book. So start scheduling lunches with clients — they receive better service, and you get to eat lunch. Everyone wins.
More tips on building client relationships
- Tap early morning meetings to grow your IT consulting business
- Host lunch and learns to bolster client relationships
- 10 ways to improve your client relationships
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.