But does the client know?

Yesterday I was on a call with a client when I was reminded of a lesson I had learned early on at my last job. It was a little more than a decade ago, I got to my desk around 8am and checked my email. There was an URGENT email from a client, we'll call him Ted, about a problem on his website. Not knowing what was causing the issue, I immediately dove in and started researching the problem. 90 minutes later, I hadn't solved the issue yet. This is when my boss walked in to my office and asked what I was doing. I told him about the issue with Ted's site and let him know that I was working on it. He then asked, “Does Ted know?” I wasn't sure exactly how to respond, but I knew mine was going to be the wrong answer anyway.

waiting for you to callMy boss explained that he had just got off the phone with Ted. Ted had just returned back from lunch and still hadn't heard from anybody at our office about the issue. Ted was not happy which lead directly to my boss not being happy either.

Did I mention that Ted lives and works on the East coast? With our offices being 3 hours behind Ted, that fact was not working in my favor here.

This was a weird spot for me. I was caught a bit off guard. I had come in to work, saw a problem and immediately started working on it. In my mind, I'm the hero in the story. I explained myself by saying, “But I don't know what the issue is, so I don't have anything to report to the client yet.”

My boss then went on to explain, “If you didn't let the client know you are working on it, in his mind, you aren't working on it.

In the moment I didn't fully grasp it. Even now, I'm sure I don't always heed that lesson. But the kind words from my client yesterday let me know that in this case, that lesson helped smooth out a potentially touchy situation.

Keep your eyes open for the opportunity to send a 30 second email that can save you from getting chewed out by your boss, or your client.

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  1. One of my best clients (pays on time, regularly sends work my way, over-all great to work with) is also my highest maintenance.

    If his site goes down or something looks weird (I swear every time he edits a page or post on WP in “visual editor” he mangles something in the styles) I’ll get an email. If I don’t reply to that email, even just to say I’m out of the office and I’ll get to it as soon as I can, within 20 minutes I’ll get a twitter DM, private message on Facebook and SMS text on my phone. As long as I keep up contact “I can’t get to this until after 2pm this afternoon” or “I can get this project done for you by end of day Friday” or whatever he’s fine. But that sense of “limbo” when he doesn’t have immediate (and pretty much constant) updates on things makes him nuts. So… I’ve learned the hard way to 1. set boundaries about my hours (aka if it’s 2pm on a Saturday I won’t see it until Monday morning) but also to make sure to “hand hold” within my business hours.

    1. Merlene, that’s such a great point. It’s can definitely be a slippery slope and something you have to manage. But being that it’s your best client, it sounds like a pretty easy decision to make.

  2. I know he ran thru several “web gurus” (his term not mine) before me because I think the high maintenance thing turned some folks off of working with him. And while at time my patience has been sorely tried, he’s been my client for over 3 years now and has been one of my best clients. (I did learn from working with him that some clients need to be charged a premium just for the high maintenance factor – which I’ve used a couple of times with other clients for that reason).

  3. We get the same issue sometimes when a merchant spots a cool blog and they want us to email the blogger and get him in the affiliate program. My first reaction is to contact the blogger and get them in the affiliate program but the merchant doesn’t know we made the connection. I use to get an email from the merchant asking if we connected with the blogger about a week later, meanwhile they are already in the program and making sales.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. It’s very similar to some sage advice a former boss gave me back in 2000. In the end, project management isn’t just about communicating that something is done, but communicating updates along the way. This let’s your customer know that you are working on it, what the current status is and if there are any potential risks that you are trying to mitigate. In the end, it leads to happier customers and it saves you from having ugly conversations that just don’t need to happen.

  5. I like to acknowledge that I’m working on something, but you’re right: Keep that email short. Every minute that you’re updating people is a minute that you’re not solving the problem, no?

  6. Whoa, This is a two-way street. Countless times I have requested critical info from clients and after *crickets* for days I call and get responses that vary as such: Can’t you find that on the web (no, Dick, I can’t find your mission statement on the web), Can’t you just make it up (Again, Dick, I’m sorry, but writing your mission statement and “who we are” should be something you really want to own and take credit for.), and lastly, I get some crap like a logo at 8-bit 10×20 or poorly written copy that I have to hire my 7th grader to edit.

    So, in conclusion, Dick and his ilk are just as much to blame. More often than not.

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