Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The importance of client interaction

Every analyst knows that communication within a project team is paramount to successful delivery of a product or service. Understanding the client's needs, their business processes and their paradigm are all essential aspects of a project, that can generally only be garnered through thorough communication.

In this age of internet telecommunications, much of our business communication is done over geographically disperse locations via email and telephone. For the more technically savvy there are collaboration and web conferencing tools. But nothing beats a face to face meeting, with all participants present in the same room. And when it comes to reassuring a client that you can and will meet their requirements and deliver a high quality piece of work it is essential.

Face to face meetings bring a real dimension to a team of people who may otherwise be working in a virtual or online environment. As soon as a face can be put to a name and a voice, a relationship is developed. Whereas conference calls specifically focus on the task in hand, a physical meeting allows time for a little small talk, which is, of course, where you get to know the real person, as opposed to the role of that person within a team. Clients are more likely to trust a vendor; consultants are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility towards meeting the client's needs.

In a project I am currently working on a lack of decent communication has resulted in the client's increasing concern and failing confidence in the vendor's ability to deliver a high quality product on time. I can imagine that the vendor has similar concerns as time and again they realise that their understanding of what they are to deliver is quite different to the client's expectations.

Most of the communication has been done via conference call and there have been associated difficulties. Each party uses different terminology, works from different paradigms. Participants even have different accents and ways of speaking that can lead to long pauses and repetition as those on the end of the line try to figure out what was said. A discovery session was conducted at the start of the project but none of the vendor's current team members were participants, no notes were made and no documentation was delivered as a result. A quick email from the vendor confirming what he thought were the issues discussed, the outcomes of the meeting and what the next steps were, would have done wonders for the client's confidence and comfort.

Last year a Forbes study found that 87% of executives prefer face to face meetings citing the following benefits:

  • building stronger, more meaningful relationships;
  • the ability to "read" another person;
  • greater social interaction.
In today's busy world, with tight time scales and even tighter budgets, there is definitely a place for conferencing and collaboration technologies. But these must go hand in hand with the more traditional methods of communication. Where a face to face meeting isn't possible, video conferencing is a great alternative. In the case of my current project, it was less the lack of face to face meetings that was an issue than the lack of good, frequent and thorough communication.

Thankfully, after a few frustrating conference calls a face-to-face meeting was arranged and since then communication has improved considerably. Meetings are now being followed up with notes, although there seem to be two sets of notes: one from the client and one from the vendor, rather than one set of signed off minutes. A sense of trust and working together as a team is in place and most importantly, each party understands where the other is coming from. If only we'd had a week together, rather than a day...

Resources

Freelance Switch: 10 reasons why your last collaboration did not work
Forbes: Executives Prefer Face-to-Face Meetings Over Virtual Contact
Forbes: The Case for Face-to-Face
Why Face-to-Face Business Meetings Matter

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree, a face to face meeting is the best way to get to know people and discuss issues.

    I remember someone once saying "work doesn't happen in meetings". They were probably referring to poorly organised meetings: one without an agenda, where people had not done any research, and everyone just seemed to sit around, speculate and talk about nothing useful. A big waste of time.

    ReplyDelete