There are usually two types of these customers:
- You do what they ask, but they always ask for more
- You do what they ask, but it’s never exactly what they want
Let’s look at these two types of perpetually dissatisfied customers in more detail and steps you can take to possibly make the situation turn out favorably:
The customer who always wants more
I had one of those on project I ran for about a year. I took it over from a purely technical person – someone who was just assigned to get them the proprietary data the needed as a result of the sale of an internal business unit within the organization that I was consulting for. After a period of time, it became evident that they were getting nowhere and need actual project management wrapped around the effort.
Every time I delivered the requested data to them, they would come up with something more that they wanted. And it wasn’t like I could just throw up my hands and say “Enough!” and tell them to get lost. No, it wasn’t going to be that easy because they were still holding on to a quarter of a million dollars of the final sale payment that was contingent upon them being satisfied with the transition of data and materials.
The only way I could close things out with this project customer – and I think the only way to handle any customer who continually wants more – was to go back to the drawing board. I resurrected the planning phase and we sat down and mapped out exactly what had been provided to date, what they believed remained to be provided, and what the final signoff criteria would be in order to obtain the final sale payment. I cared about their satisfaction. My management cared about the money. And the customer cared about the data. This planning process set in motion the corrective action needed to fulfill everyone’s needs and ultimately we got it done and it was deemed highly successful.
For the project customer who continually wants more you have to go back to planning. Because what they are really doing is pushing the scope further and further and if you don’t stop the chaos then everything on the engagement will suffer including the budget and the customer’s satisfaction.
The customer who thinks it’s never quite right
The case of the project customer who thinks it’s never quite right is similar in many ways to the customer who continually wants more. But in this case, it’s not really a situation where the scope is being constantly pushed out. It’s more a case of the requirements weren’t adequately documented and therefore you have no real yardstick to measure your deliverables against.
I had this happen with an engagement I was working on for a major university. I had my team going through some final issue resolution prior to deployment of a software solution. Again, this is a case where I had taken over the project and was tasked with getting a final large payment for this software implementation. My direction was to make the customer happy and get the money.
As we resolved issues, it seemed like the signoff criteria that the customer was willing to adhere to in order to release the payment was changing. As issues were resolved, the response was often, “Well, this isn’t exactly how we wanted the software to perform” or some similar response. It wasn’t really necessary to go back to planning, but it was critical that we halt the project right there and sit down formally to draw up (again!) what truly was the signoff criteria for deployment. One key underlying issue that I discovered was that the project customer was concerned with where they would be post-deployment if issues continued to arise. Once I found that out, I made post-deployment support and issue resolution for a three-month ongoing period part of the signoff agreement. That got us over the hump and we were soon able to get through deployment and formal signoff…. and payment.
If you’re dealing with customers who are responding like this, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to recognize it before you allow it to go on so long that it kills the momentum on the project, kills the customer’s confidence in you, and leaves you with a canceled project. Go back and update the project planning schedule and perform any necessary re-planning or formally draw up new acceptance criteria and get the customer back on track with helping you keep the project going.