By Cathy Dew
Time is precious and let’s face it, the state of virtual meeting technology means more and more meetings are happening online. No doubt, face-to-face meetings are costlier but they are also the best way to connect and exchange information. We continue our latest blog series of Business Process Analysis Templates in Action with a set of practical tips to make sure that you get the most out of being onsite with a client. Whether it’s an onsite interview, an interactive discovery session or group discussion to kick-off a new project, here are tangible approaches to interact with your client.
Don’t miss previous topics The Elephant in the Room and Personality Tips.
#1 – Be prepared
Do your homework, be prepared, and plan your agenda. Be sure to establish goals and attendees for the sessions well in advance. Remember that you are taking people away from their “regular” job. Their time is valuable and one of the best ways to respect your customer is to have clear objectives and a reasonably detailed agenda that is shared in advance. If appropriate, send questions in advance allowing time to consider the topic. We have found that best approach is to provide the questions a week in advance. Request but do not require a response in advance and explain that the time carved out for the meeting is a fine time to respond.
#2 – Designate a note taker
If you can afford it, dedicate someone to being the note taker. You should also audio record the meeting for the note taker. This frees up the rest of your (internal) team to focus on the conversation.
#3 – Don’t talk too much
Be sure to make room for the client to talk. Part of this is making the client comfortable. Part of it is simply not talking too much. Start with a quick introduction of the topic and your goals – which don’t have to be perfect – and then listen. Even if the discussion doesn’t start out on topic, give it a little time and you will probably get there. Sometimes the client needs to get something out on the table and then they can get to the specific questions.
#4 – Guide the discussion
Allowing the discussion to meander often allows the customer to talk in their own terms, using their own language. Frankly, this is exactly how you can often get to the information you need – understand the process, the pain points, etc. But sometimes, your client has taken you down a rabbit hole. It’s your job to recognize this and artfully guide the discussion back. Don’t get stuck, keep the conversation moving mostly forward.
#5 – Be aware of who is in the room
There are times when you really need some quality interview time with the people who do the work. This is usually not management. But those same managers are probably on the project team. This can introduce some challenges. You don’t want the individual with the information to be censored and you don’t want management to insert their agenda. One approach is to ask if managers are going to stay for the session. This opens the space for management to hear that sometimes (with other clients) we’ve seen employees edit their feedback with management present. You can also simply ask management to be more of an observer. As you learn the culture, you can be more proactive.
#6 – Solidify the team
It sounds obvious, but this is an opportunity to make real connections with your team – the client team but also your fellow team members. Your time together is an opportunity to show the client who you are and what you can do. You can reinforce their decision to go with you and your company. It’s also a time to make time for connections outside of the office. Go to dinner or share a drink at the end of the day. Be personal and have fun.
#7 – Be flexible
Remember that the primary goal is to have a conversation – build some trust and get the client talking. Sometimes this means you need to read the room and be flexible with your agenda. Be ready to move items around. And you should also be open to having different conversations than you planned. Often in the early project meetings you end up refining aspects of that project. This is a good thing, especially since the key project team players are participating in that process.
#8 – Play to your strengths
If you are onsite with a colleague, this can be a great opportunity to take advantage of your collective styles and skills. Take turns asking questions and making observations. In the early stages of a project you are learning about your client – and they are learning about you. If your colleague’s approach isn’t working, try asking a different way. Sometimes simply interjecting with a different phrase and tone can help the client respond.
The payoff is big
With preparation (get your ducks in a row), direction (guide without directing) and openness (let some things evolve organically) you can have a successful onsite experience. I can almost guarantee that participants will learn something new about their own processes, their data, their systems and maybe even you! The project team will be stronger and more engaged and future interactions – in person or online will be better because of your sessions.
Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.