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When client relationships go sour, what’s the key question?

Blue-chip client - these three words are catnip to any professional whether sole trader or major firm and play a significant role in many discussions related to the development and delivery of consulting services. As those of you who follow us on LinkedIn may already know, over the last few weeks the CMCE community has been reflecting on a number of topics that impact consulting excellence. In particular, we have tried to identify what we call the Golden questions of consulting, those key questions that a client should ask their consultant when it comes to factors like performance and working methods, in order to ensure their best value.

During one of the recent CMCE discussions about consulting Golden questions, I was reminded of a blue-chip client of a firm I worked for.  Their golden question could be best summarised thus:

Where are my @*&$ing deliverables?!!!

I retain the expletive as it’s fair to say that the relationship with the client had pretty much broken down by the time I got involved in the project. I was part of a team sent in to rescue a study that had clearly not met the client’s expectations in any shape or form and, whilst I can’t remember the specifics of the study, other than it being telecoms or IT-related, I do remember part of the dialogue during what can only be described as a very uncomfortable meeting, which went like this:

Lead consultant: “If we can just talk about the deliverables…”

Client: “The problem is, THERE ARE NO @*&$ING DELIVERABLES!!!!”

Needless to say, the rescue team’s mission – to be accomplished in the space of about half a day – was to shape some sort of deliverable from the work that had been done. I don’t think the client was any happier by the end of it and it may not come as a surprise that we didn’t do much further work with them. This sorry tale illustrates the paramount importance of building a good relationship with clients from day one. And by good, I don’t mean that you have to become best buddies, but you need to make sure that you have a continuous dialogue to establish a clear understanding of the value that you’ll add and, yes, the deliverables that embody that value. It sounds blindingly obvious but that clearly hadn’t happened in this blue-chip case.

One thing I am very keen on in my customer experience work is taking the opportunity to learn from those situations when things go wrong. And whilst we were all keen to forget our uncomfortable afternoon in our soon-to-be-ex-client’s offices we should, on reflection, have held a proper debrief and lessons learned session. That would have certainly flushed out the points that the lead consultant had missed and could have signalled that the client’s expectations had either changed or needed to be clarified further.

While developing ideas about excellence in consulting, we realised that  it can be a tricky thing to define as it can mean different things in different situations. One thing’s for certain though, the best foundation for achieving excellence in providing consulting services is being absolutely clear on what you are supposed to be delivering and when. And you need to have your own “golden questions” for such situations: not only “how can we rescue this?” but, most importantly…

“what can we learn?”

Wednesday 3rd August 2022
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