An interview with our COO, Chantal Pittman, recently appeared on the Toggl Life & Time Management Blog. In the original blog post, How to Save Time by Managing Client Expectations, the interviewer sought Chantal’s take on how Unique Influence is able to achieve a successful balance between client expectations and deliverables. Below is a summary of this interview.
For those of you unfamiliar with Toggl, here’s some background information from the company website. “Toggl is the leading online time tracking tool, which is extremely popular among freelancers, consultants, and small companies. It allows users to track the time spent on various projects and analyze productivity. It’s cloud-based and can be up and running from scratch in less than a minute. You can use Toggl on the web, as a desktop widget or on your mobile – all your data gets synced in real time.”
Achieving Successful Balance Between Expectations and Deliverables
Nurturing client relationships and delivering on promises are key to the success of any B2B business like Unique Influence. Mart Virkus, the interviewer from Toggl Life & Time Management Blog, was curious as to how our team at Unique Influence is able to accomplish meeting both of these metrics successfully.
What he learned was that at Unique Influence we follow a profitability metric which enables us to successfully divide our staff’s attention between different clients and their different expectations. That metric is based on a team’s labor costs and the cost the client is paying for the project’s deliverables.
In order to ensure a profitable project, the time our staff spends on the project must remain within a certain range of the client’s investment, and time tracking is key to staying in that range. Virkus, however, also discovered that this profitability metric is only a small part of the big picture when it comes to achieving a successful balance between client expectations and project deliverables.
Overcoming the Obstacle of Over-Demanding Clients
As Mart Virkus learned, even with a defined profitability metric to follow and using time tracking tools, achieving balance can be a tricky road to navigate as some clients are more demanding than others. As Pittman explained, “It’s hard not to over-attend clients that are really demanding, even if they are not paying for that amount of attention. So that’s the balance – how do you make it fair?”
And further, overcoming the obstacles that come with clients that are really demanding often falls on the account managers. Pittman noted, “It’s very difficult, when you’re an account manager and you’re getting all those phone calls and email’s – you can’t not respond. You have to respond.”
Three-Pronged Approach to Achieving the Crucial Balance of Expectations and Deliverables
What’s the solution for achieving a balance that works for both our team and our clients? Here at Unique Influence, we implement a three-pronged approach which has worked out well for all parties involved in the transaction.
Manage Clients and Not Expectations
First and foremost, it is important to take a proactive approach to managing client expectations. We do this with communication and transparency. One proactive strategy which we find very effective is to send out daily status emails to clients.
This proactive email communication allows us to share the project results from the previous day which is often enough to alleviate our clients’ anxieties about how their project is going. And if there is a problem, transparency is key. We address that problem directly with the client and schedule a call to discuss if necessary.
As Pittman explained, “You can have an e-mail in the client’s inbox before they even get to their office, saying “here’s how we did yesterday, here’s what our proposed activities are for today, let us know if this meets your needs.””
Value Results Not Effort
When it comes to managing the team to ensure we are maintaining a balance between expectations and deliverables, we find that having a clear definition of value is important. The reason this is vital is that it helps our team members value results and not just effort.
Here at Unique Influence, while we do have a client manager who serves as the main point of contact for each client, our teams find themselves working in a fluid environment. Our teams work with different clients on different projects and shift their energies depending on a client’s needs. This is where a clear definition of value comes into play.
As Pittman explained, each month she sits down with team members to review the time spent with their various clients. Having an accurate overview of how much time was invested in a client (relative to the return) helps make our team members more results oriented.
Importance of Rewards, Goals and Transparency
A unique reward system we use here at Unique Influence – our “You Earned It” system – is integral to the three- prong approach for achieving a successful balance between expectations and deliverables. The reasoning behind this bonus system is simple. It encourages our team members to help each other on client projects without a need to knock on the door of the boss, and for that boss to then take time to delegate activities to others. And those team members who help are rewarded for that help by their fellow teammates.
In the “You Earned It” system, all team members receive a set number of points each quarter which they can give out to their teammates for helping them with answering their questions, sitting in on calls with them, etc. Then, once team members reach a certain number of points, they can redeem those points for tangible rewards like gift cards. With this system, we’ve created an environment where we all help each other no matter how busy or hectic we may be on projects.
The value of clear goals and transparency must also not be overlooked when it comes to a team member’s motivation. And these two factors play a big part in both the internal and external approach to achieving the balance between client expectations and deliverables.
As Pittman explained to Virkus, internal motivation goes beyond rewards. You must also give them goals to work towards and be transparent with them on what they can achieve. “Giving people goals to work towards is critical, because otherwise they’ll just plug along without really knowing where they’re going. I think the other thing is having a pretty well-defined career so people know what they have to do to get to the next level.”
And this transparency isn’t only internal. Transparency is part of overall mission and values of Unique Influence. Pittman wrapped up the interview by offering, “Transparency, internally and also with clients, is a big one for us. So if we make a mistake, or think that a client is not doing something right, then we’re very honest and open with them. And the same goes with the team.”
By following the three-pronged approach above and focusing on transparency – both internally and externally – Unique Influence has found a very effective and successful strategy for maintaining a balance between client expectations and project deliverables.