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We’ve talked in past columns about the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with clients by understanding their business and their priorities. By providing strategic advice and services you are supporting your client’s priorities and adding value to the relationship. (See Transforming Relationships; Exceeding Client Expectations and Voice of the Client – Client Relationship Management)
The Shared Expectations process can be a powerful tool you can use to ensure you understand your client’s expectations and priorities and are working collaboratively with them. And there is no question that this approach pays off handsomely in more strategic and mutually-beneficial client relationships.
But what happens if you have a client relationship that is deteriorating despite your best efforts? What do you do if a client is giving you less business and talking with you less often?
Can a deteriorating relationship be “saved?”
YES! My experience is that many “troubled” relationships can be saved. Remember, clients are trying to send you a message by communicating less frequently, being more critical and demanding, and by withholding business. Their message is “do something different; demonstrate that you are committed to my business.”
Both of you have much to lose by breaking off a business relationship; the motivation is there to improve it. But how? Likely you’ve already tried a number of things and the relationship continues to deteriorate.
Over the past six years I’ve worked with a number of troubled relationships. The key to my approach is the Shared Expectations process. It works and it is different!
The most common causes of strained or deteriorating relationships center around miscommunication of some sort, be it a lack of understanding about priorities, uncertainty about how to work together (roles and process), and/or a failure to meet expectations in some other way. These are precisely the issues that a Shared Expectations session can most effectively address.
A session starts by focusing on the positive aspects of a relationship and sharing the expectations and goals you both have. It provides a structured, facilitated setting to collaboratively work on the challenges and to figure out how to work more effectively together. By participating in a session with a client you are clearly demonstrating your commitment to your client. That is the first step in “saving” a valuable relationship.
There are three major parts to a session: caucus, discussion, and planning. The structure encourages groups – a firm and their client – to step back from the day-to-day of a relationship and look at what they expect from the other party and what is working or not. Then by discussing their goals and expectations, the group will recognize the positive aspects of the relationship, how similar their goals are, and the areas where improvements are needed. The session concludes with the team collaboratively outlining a detailed plan to strengthen the relationship through improved communications, clear process, roles, and responsibilities, and a shared commitment to collaboration. (A more detailed outline of the process can be found here.)
No question these sessions are an investment in time and energy; you’ll need to determine whether a challenging client is worth the effort to retain. If you want to “save” the relationship, I’ve not seen (or heard of) any other approach that comes anywhere close to being as effective as Shared Expectations.
The next step is up to you. Perhaps you have a client relationship in mind and are wondering if a session will work. Send us an email and let’s set up a time to talk. We can discuss your client situation in confidence and I can outline how a session will address your challenges.
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