Have you ever been disappointed in how a client project was handled or found out that something was incomplete or missing on a client project? I am certain that most of us have encountered this, and I hear from our clients that it happens more than they would like. When I find myself in this situation, instead of blaming my teammate or even the client, I have stopped to consider where I could have been more specific in making the assignment to “own” a client or a client engagement.
When you stop to define what it means to take ownership of a client, you’ll set your team members up for success, increase your client’s satisfaction with your firm, and minimize your disappointment. Consider that providing this level of specificity whenever you ask someone to own something, whether it’s a client, special project, or function in the firm, will help reduce conflicts and allow you to accomplish what you’re committed to in those areas.
Because specifying what client ownership entails can be a challenge, we have developed the following list as an example of what might be included in owning a client relationship. We use the list internally when delegating client work, and we encourage our clients to use it when teaching their managers and supervisors about client ownership. This list is intended to be a starting place and would need to be tailored to your specific expectations and any firm processes that need to be considered. We define client ownership to include:
• Being the point person for all client communications – inbound from the client and outbound to the client
• Reading last year’s file and work papers prior to planning any new work
• Looking beyond the client’s requests to see what else they may need
• Informing all others internally about the plans for the client, changes with them and anything else needed to deliver great client service
• Keeping the partner, if you are not the partner, informed and copying them on correspondence
• Ensuring the client’s deliverables are produced with the highest quality/accuracy possible
• Ensuring the client’s deliverables are produced on time – managing time lines, due dates, extensions, etc.
• Participating in all client meetings – planning for them, leading them, writing recaps and including others as needed
• Managing the client’s expectations and resetting expectations when appropriate – issuing scope changes when new services are identified or new information about the project comes to light
• Billing and collecting for that client – managing engagement profitability and pricing
Consider using this list, or a modified version of it, any time you assign client ownership to one of your team members or take on ownership of a new client yourself – especially if it’s one of the firm’s existing clients and you’re becoming a new client owner. Doing so will help ensure that that the new client owner is clear about what is expected of them, and it gives you an opportunity to set expectations and give any specific instructions you might have.
When you provide this level of specificity when conveying client ownership, you can delegate with more confidence because you have communicated specific expectations about what owning that assignment includes. That doesn’t mean there won’t be questions that come up or that the person you assigned ownership to won’t have their own ideas or an approach that may differ from yours. When you give ownership away, you need to be careful not to pull it back because they aren’t doing something the exact same way that you would. If the new owner is meeting the expectations you outlined at the beginning, you have to be willing to let go of how it gets done while balancing providing input and direction as needed.
Creating a list similar to our example will help provide clarity about the expectations and what success looks like for both parties and reduces the amount of time you have to spend back-tracking to explain it when the activities you need to occur don’t happen the first time.
For which clients will you convey ownership? Please share where you’ve defined client ownership and the impact it has on your team, clients and results of your firm by commenting on this blog!