The contract’s signed. You’re about to start delivery. Only you know the detail of what happens when your business is delivering its services, but customers often get a feeling of abandonment by the people they’ve met from your company (and have come to trust), into the hands of a stranger (no doubt competent, but not yet trusted). Transitioning from the first part of the customer experience to the second part is a delicate manoeuvre. Someone needs to be responsible for that transition and time spent on finessing this move saves you oodles of grief later on.
Here are some general guidelines that are the responsibility of the Account Manager in the second half of the customer lifecycle:
Understand the scope of the work/do a handover. Make sure that your team has a firm grip on the contract, its terms, the scope of the work, what the customer is supposed to be providing, contributing or doing, what the deliverables are, what the process is for engaging with the customer and who’ll be involved on the customer side. Prepare for a kick-off meeting with the customer.
Lead or attend the kick-off meeting. The purpose is to go through, with the customer, what you just went through in the handover meeting. Getting the scope clear, how the work will proceed, what the timeframe is, who does what and when. In simple projects, this doesn’t take long, but it helps get everyone aligned. On longer projects you encounter clear phases to the work, points of sign-off by the customer that it’s satisfied. Involve the Account Manager at these points, and make sure that the sign-off is obtained and that the kick-off for the next phase is just as effective as the initial one. Above all, check in with the customer on how it’s going.
Make the Project Manager your friend. Project Managers are incredibly focused – they’re totally committed to getting the job done on time and within budget. Good for them – where would you be without them? At times, the Project Manager is going to have problems. Make yourself his trusted advisor. If issues exist, you want to know about them so that you can support the Project Manager and/or take corrective action with the customer or your own management. Set up a regular meeting with the Project Manager, or attend internal project management meetings.
Continue the courtship throughout. Send customers useful information from time to time, make an occasional call to see how things are proceeding and take them to lunch. Express interest in their perceptions of how things are going on the project. Do they want to say anything? Give them the space to do so.
Customer management is the most underused method for expanding your business. It’s also your best route to new business – either from that client or from referrals.