There is a lot at stake when companies engage a consulting firm to deliver an important project, especially if the two sides have never worked together previously. There may well be some trepidation on the part of the company about what can be expected from this new partner as the project unfolds. The consultant has, in effect, made a promise that it will deliver what the customer needs to solve a problem – on time and on budget. How will the company know the consulting firm is keeping that promise?
One important answer is clear communication: Early, often and from all those involved in the project. Teams from across the consulting firm will be involved in projects as they unfold. And the most effective development firms believe these regular interactions are opportunities to earn trust and deliver value. Good communication can be the foundation for building lasting and valuable relationships for the parties involved.
“Time and again we’ve seen strong development teams that are focused on a client’s needs build a trusted client relationship,” said Norman Gilbert, Technical Lead at TDK Technologies. “It is important to become a trusted advisor to our clients and not just a company that does development. That way they will come back with their most critical needs.”
Making It Easy to Understand
Effective communication is not a checklist of things for consultants to do. It involves a culture, which at TDK embraces customer service and personal courtesy that permits productive conversations about issues to be solved.
That includes the daily communication developers have with customers to keep them informed about where things stand in the project, in addition to any unexpected bumps in the road. These interactions are great opportunities to explain all the acronyms and buzzwords familiar to Information Technology insiders, but confusing to everyone else.
“Clients love it when we make it easy for them to understand things. We try to avoid technical jargon and talk in terms that can be easily understood,” Gilbert said. “We each play a role with our clients daily. We want to maintain and grow those relationships.’
What Customers Should Expect
Development firms base their reputations in large measure on their technical expertise. But they can demonstrate that expertise by communicating effectively. Companies should expect consulting firms to:
- Overcommunicate: Regular communication is a top priority
- Always be polite
- Be on time. If late, they should apologize
- Finish what they start
- Meet deadlines
- Eliminate surprises
- Be a useful resource: Share information customers may find valuable
- Understand the customer’s preferred communication channel: e-mail, text, skype, lync or telephone
“A lot can get lost in the translation of text messages and e-mail that can be misunderstood. Sometimes it’s much easier to pick up that phone. It keeps that constant communication going and is a lot more personal. I personally think it builds relationships well,” Gilbert said.
Tackling Difficult Topics
Sometimes difficult topics need to be discussed. Companies should expect that issues get addressed quickly, that responsibility is accepted, that a solution is provided, and that there are provisions for preventing the problem in the future. Effective consulting firms utilize this approach to affect positive change, earn trust and deliver value.
- Be Brief:
- Keep it on topic
- Communication works best when it is focused
- Be Positive:
- Identify the source of the issue without blame
- Accept responsibility when appropriate
- Be Specific:
- Address specific behaviors and incidents while moving toward resolution
- If there is a request for the company, it will be specific and measurable
- Be Understanding:
- Listen and appreciate other perspectives
- Offer to Help:
- How can I help?
- What can I do?
“We’ve found that the better job we do, we also raise the expectations. Top tier companies have come to expect top tier communication,” Gilbert said.
One measure of effective communication is simple: That the company comes back for more projects in the future. If the consulting firm is truly developing a partnership that shows they are “in it” for the long term, they will demonstrate through both deeds and words the value that will help the customer’s business grow and thrive. TDK is privileged to have just that kind of relationship with many companies. We look forward to developing many more in the future.