We have an american client, a popular university, for whom, we have created many solutions to help them improve their business productivity, streamline their processes and in return improve their revenue. The officials of this university have over time, become work family members to us and less of clients. We are working very closely with them, sometimes accommodating their requirements putting other projects aside and sometimes, they adjusting their timeline to meet our needs. It sounds like a fairy tale but its true.
As much as we would like to believe that love at first sight exists, some relationships take time to prosper. Whenever two new entities, one on either side of the globe with very different cultural backgrounds come in touch with each other, there are bound to be some inhibitions and some presumptions on both side. Not only two different nationalities, we have experienced the same resistances (from both sides) initially working with our Indian clients also. It is normal.
Somewhere I think, both parties are assuming that they are in different team, their goals are different, they are not sure of each other’s dedication to deliverable, thus becoming combatants. Both are sitting on two sides of the table, one doubting the other’s ability to give information and other doubting the one’s ability to take information. If this kind of a relationship persists, it is very difficult to deliver a solution to solve the organization’s business pain, that both the parties are inherently working towards.
I have listed 8 ways to developing a collaborative relationship with your clients/vendors to work towards a common goal, solving a business pain.
- It’s not the language but the intent that reaches someone: Many of my team mates think that I have a good relationship with all my clients because I speak very good English and thus I am able to communicate better. But the real reason is my need to help solve their problem which makes me a better communicator. I have seen other communicators who speak very good English but they dont have a strong impact on the client because the INTENTION to help them is seriously missing.
- Listen and understand: Stephen Covey says “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” and the weirdest part is that people think they are actually listening to listen and not to respond. To test yourself on how good a listener are you, check yourself on how soon you respond when someone has finished speaking. I usually take more than 7-10 seconds to respond because it takes me that much time to analyze and propose a solution to what the other person is asking (ofcourse you never want it to be an awkward/dead silence, so always say something like ..”umm”, “Let me think about it for a sec”, repeat the question , etc.
- Being unafraid: I have seen many co-workers being afraid, to respond, to speak up, to communicate. The best way to overcome being afraid is to look at the worst of what could happen. The worst thing that could happen while communicating with someone is that you would fall on your face. Think about how that experience would be. Think about that scenario, how it would make you feel, may be others would be laughing at you, making fun of you, feel how you would feel in that situation, may be your palms would sweat, your heart would beat faster, you would feel embarrassed. That’s about it. What more could happen. After having that visualization, I am 200% sure that your fear of speaking up will disappear for the rest of your life. After that, you would start communicating, listening, solving problems and on your path to becoming a hero.
- Be upfront: I had an Indian client interface a few years ago. As soon as we started the analysis phase where we were evaluating the business processes of that organization, the client interface, started feeling insecure, may be because of the fear of us exposing some of his shortcomings. He was not communicating openly, not co-operating as much. At that time, I was soft but upfront and told him that if he gets this project done smoothly and helps save revenue for his organization, he is also going to be recognized for his efforts and thus it is a win win situation for both.
- Don’t hesitate to remind all that we are a team working towards a common goal: It is easy for both parties to get lost in the intricacies of the project and hold up the go live date because of smaller issues. When I was into testing, I would also hold up releases if the software had some glitches. When I got into project management, I learned that everyone can live with a minor glitches as long as it is not hampering the productivity of the staff and flow of the user experience. And I also learned that even clients are willing to live with minor bugs. We just need to remind people the bigger goals that we are working towards and that cannot be solved until we launch these projects designed to do exactly the same. So, I always ask both the teams, which are the SHOWSTOPPER bugs, the bugs that the users cannot live with. We address those first. We also ensure that the look and feel of the user interfaces is impressive and the user experience is going to be seamless.
- Be concerned (genuinely): Many people are dealing with clients on task basis. If a client reports an issue, they take it as a task to fix the current issue. Instead, the approach should be to find the core issue so that the client doesn’t face these difficulties in the future and that we place proper checks and updates in the software delivery process. This approach indicates to the client that we are not taking their problems lightly and are doing everything in our power to prevent the recurrence of issues. A couple of years back, there was an incidence where one of our client’s production site went down for about 10 minutes. At that time we didn’t have any monitoring in place. But as soon as this incident occurred, my boss, initiated a new monitoring project where, we not only monitored the site uptime but also started monitoring all the scheduled programs that we had created for them. This approach built extreme confidence in our client about us as an organization.
- Be cool: Once you have built a good rapport with your client, be cool, be funny, be relaxed. Try out your humorous side, making sure that you are leaving religion, politics, culture and sarcasm out of the picture. Be yourself, let them know the real you, the genuine you.
- Watch your tone: Because of the rise of globalization, we are mostly communicating with our clients remotely, on the phone. There are many limitations when communicating on the phone, when the other party is not able to see you, your facial expressions and your body language. All they get to hear is your voice and listen to your tone of voice. Be as vocal and as clear in your language as you can be. Make sure that you are taking correct pauses to give time for the other party to consume your information. Also, make sure that you are using as many words as you can to narrate any issue without being boring. Sometimes people communicate an minor issue such that it sounds like a lot of damage, when infact there is little or no reason to worry. Verbally communicate the issue as specifically as you can.