Consulting 101 – Handling Client Requests without Losing Sight of the Project Goals

Consulting can be tricky business when it comes to client handling.

Whether clients are easy going or tough, they have one thing in common. They expect consultants to oblige them by accommodating all suggestions. This is tough for consultants who would be happy to do it most of the time but not always. The challenge for consultants is to choose what to accept and what are to be put aside without hurting clients. Saying yes increases the comfort level of working with clients. They feel happy that their request or suggestion has been incorporated and the going gets smooth. There is a lot of camaraderie generated between clients and consultants. This approach is looked upon as the path of least resistance, and is not always bad. However, it can be bad if it comes at the expense of the consultant’s professional competence.

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The threats of agreeing too much

What happens when consultants try to go overboard to say yes to clients? The apparent feeling of goodness is lost amidst the problems that consultants have to face. The problems are such that it can affect the credibility of consultants and jeopardize their professional prospects.

  • Loss of trust – The most expensive threat of over-agreeing is to lose trust. When consultants tend to nod their head in the affirmative frequently, it creates a dangerous trend. They simply forget how many times they have agreed and what they have agreed to at the heat of the moment. This leads to a situation when it turns out to be false promises. The result is that clients lose faith in the consultant.
  • Over committal – Consultants should not over commit. The USP of consultants is to deliver more than what is committed by keeping the achievement bar slightly low. It gives an apparent satisfaction to clients who feel their expectations have been exceeded. However, committing more than what is optimally achievable can lead to disastrous situations. Consultants should never try to earn brownie points by committing more than what they can comfortably deliver.
  • Waste of time – Trying to accommodate too many client requests can waste time and put the project completion to risk. Moreover, consultants are paid on hourly basis, and they should be able to justify the time spent on sifting through requests and suggestions. Invalid requests should be politely turned down as the time spent on it goes to waste for all stakeholders.
  • Inherent deficiencies – If consultants accept too many requests from clients, it indicates the inadequacy of the project plan. It also shows that the right people were not involved in it. Lastly, it could be that the consultant is not sure about his own work. It also shows that clients might want consultants to play second fiddle by endorsing their viewpoint without thought.

Solving the problem

Now let us move in the direction of solving the problem. What would be the best way to handle requests and suggestions from clients?

  • All requests should be categorized as minor and major, and their impact on the project has to be quickly ascertained. This would help in determining which requests can be worked on and which ones need to be turned down.
  • For major requests from clients that take some time, accept it but not prima facie. Think about simpler ways of doing it, and probe about it with the client. Often it works very well!
  • Declining request politely is an art. Irrelevant request can be turned down by posing to set it aside for further working. It is a way of bidding time.

Consultants have to learn the art of saying No without uttering it.

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