Project managers often bear the full brunt of the failure of clients to provide timely feedback for issues that concern a project. Feedback is very important, especially when it is needed to help in decision making. Feedback from clients, regardless of the form will mean a lot to you, and this is one of the reasons why you are somehow duty bound to do something about the problem.
Here is what you can do when your clients just can’t seem to find the exigency to give the feedback you need in time. It is important to keep in mind that, even though your clients are central to your business, and you cannot afford to lose them, you also can’t afford to keep them under such circumstances.
This is a five step approach that starts with the softest to the sternest action you will have to take in such situations:
1. Take pre-emptive measures
As with any problem, pre-emptive measures are always encouraged. It is a way of trying to foresee any potential point of trouble and nipping it in the bud. As you take on any project, keep in mind that the problem of lack of timely feedback can arise with any client. So start right there by setting up feedback friendly grounds with the client right from the start.
Feedback friendly grounds are many. A good personal relationship is one of them, and technically tops the list. If you foster a relationship with your client that is friendly, trusting, accommodating, respectful and highly professional from the onset, it will linger through the course of the project; and timely and judicious responses from the client will effortlessly be forthcoming. The other feedback friendly grounds are good communication, adequate communication infrastructure, set schedules for meetings, properly defined contact and liaison people and so on.
2. Reach out by all means
If the first step did not work for you, and you are in that situation where you feel closer to your last nerve of patience because you haven’t heard from your client about that thing you asked about, don’t lose hope just yet. Reach out for that response. Call, email, fax, text and even send snail mail if you have to, but reach out and enquire what is keeping your feedback.
In the world of business today, technology has been tailored to make work easier for everyone. As a manager, a business owner or a project team leader, there is technology already available for you to use and engage with your clients effectively.
This software connects and involves everyone who has a role to play in a project. It can be used to schedule meetings, send email and other messages, set up a calendar for the project, track project progress and so many other things. It will provide you with enough channels to reach out to clients who are not providing feedback as you would want them to.
3. Reach out in person
Usually, the second step solves feedback problems for many businesses. Communication, and lack of it to be precise, is normally the culprit for problems with getting timely feedback and indeed most of the problems that plague business relationships. When communication is adequate, problems are reduced. Now if step number two didn’t help you get the feedback you needed, the client will be in need of that extra special, personalized attention.
Reaching out in person can be impossible in situations where geographical divides are big. In such a situation, the only thing that you can do is to try and reach out to someone else from your client’s side. This can be someone more superior to your current correspondent or someone close enough to that client to pass the message.
Where it is possible to reach the client in person, this will be the time to do so because at this point, you will certainly be heading to desperation if not despair, with your long wait for feedback. It will be tricky if the lack of feedback has been a deliberate move by the client, but otherwise it will certainly yield what you want since you will literally get a response from the ‘horse’ itself.
4. Give deadlines and ultimatums
You have done everything so far and still no feedback? You have been nice; you have called, emailed, canvassed and even paid personal visits to the client but still, nothing. Is it time to give up now? Is it time to shelve that client and move on? Well not quite yet. Try a change of tact and see if it will bear anything.
This is where you take the ball and politely place it in your client’s court so to speak. Give the defiant client a deadline for the feedback, or an ultimatum that will be clear enough for them to understand that if you don’t get their response before a particular date, then you will have no choice but to shelve their project.
You’ll need to be civil and candid with your deadlines and ultimatums. Just tell the client that you have other projects going on, and their delay in giving feedback is negatively impacting your overall ability to work, so with that in mind, you may be forced to prioritize other projects/clients if you don’t get the feedback you need. Either way if you are at this point, you will have to re-evaluate how you prioritize your projects so as to safeguard your business.
5. Shelve the project/drop the client
This last step should be avoided at all cost especially by small businesses which don’t have a client list that can warrant such a step. But when all else fails, and there’s nothing more you can do, take the step and let go. It will be tough and most likely costly to do this, so be absolutely sure that you have done everything possible to seek that feedback. Also make certain that the feedback you seek is absolutely vital and the project cannot move on unless you have it.
You can take the step to shelve a project or completely let go of it. The former is much better since it leaves room for resuscitation whenever circumstances change in your favor. It is also good to keep all the work that you’ve already done on a project because it might possibly become useful in future and therefore not be an outright loss.
Feedback can be in various forms depending on the project and client. You could be asking for information, more data, more funds, more orders, more resources, more time, and so on. Each of these has its own specific significance which may differ from one project to another.
As a manager, you will have to discern all parameters of your project or clients even as you follow these steps because it’s only you who knows the value of each client and each project. Some projects can have you skip some of the steps outlined above for not being all that, and some can have you even add more steps to these in a bid to sustain the business with the client for what its worth.
Image: Alan Levine