The key to an effective business services relationship is for each side to make a good-faith effort to understand the other's goals, priorities and methods. Here are three simple ways to meet that objective.
1. Manage Expectations
For service providers: Be very clear about your available scope of services, working hours, turnaround times and pricing. While there are some areas where they can be more flexible and adapt to a client’s specific needs, sophisticated service providers should primarily stick with a set of core processes, systems and protocols that they work best with for optimum efficiency and results.
Focus on what you can do exceptionally well and be transparent about what you can't. Put yourself in your client's shoes and understand the intended value of your relationship from their perspective. Also, take time to clearly communicate what you expect of your clients to enable a productive, collaborative relationship.
For clients: Clearly articulate your business needs and make sure that your service provider understands the context and significance of each one. A good service provider should be a relative expert in their industry, with the insights and expertise to recommend the best available tools and processes to effectively service you as their client. Be honest with yourself about your own priorities and expectations, and about your willingness and ability to change yourself to work best with a new partner.
2. Be Accountable
For service providers: Set and commit to realistic and achievable goals and deadlines for yourself — then meet or exceed them. Going back to point #1 above, make sure your client understands when you expect to receive information from them each cycle and send friendly reminders if necessary.
When juggling multiple clients and projects, it helps to standardize on an organizational solution. Cloud-based task and project management software might be right for some scenarios, while a simple open-issue tracking list or spreadsheet can be sufficient for others.
Whatever combination of systems and processes you choose, send your client regular, detailed status updates so they can be confident that you’re accountable for your assigned responsibilities and deadlines.
For clients: As a business owner or manager, you may sometimes find yourself too busy to answer questions and provide timely access to certain information necessary in the work of your service provider. Occasionally you might even inadvertently give incorrect information or miss your own deadlines in a collaborative process. Whenever that happens, take accountability for your role in the process and be flexible about your turnaround time expectations on the service provider's deliverables in return.
3. Anticipate Questions, Share Insights and Be Available/Accessible
For service providers: Apply your past client services expertise to your approach, but also take the time to know an individual client's unique strengths, interests and knowledge gaps so you can tailor your communications to their specific needs and situation. Don't just spit out reports for reporting's sake. Take the time to derive insights from your work product and share those value-added insights with your client.
Perhaps most importantly, be attentive and take the time to ask questions and listen to clients. Committing yourself to understanding and aligning yourself with the client's goals will yield the best long-term value for everyone involved.
Scheduling brief but frequent standing meetings works well to efficiently batch collaborative Q&A into a short, focused conversation as opposed to piling up a collection of back-and-forth emails that are hard for everyone to keep track of.
For clients: Prepare to invest some time up front in communicating your needs and in understanding your service provider's best processes. Ask questions and share concerns as they come up rather than letting things fester. Providers need to understand your priorities and perspective on their services to effectively and consistently meet your expectations.
Initial Investment Brings Lasting Reward
Clients and service providers alike should continually learn from experience. Managing mutual expectations, communicating clearly and proactively, and collaborating through challenges offers you both the chance to build a long-term business relationship that has lasting value for all.