[thelist] customer relationship advices

Martin Burns martin at easyweb.co.uk
Wed Aug 25 16:57:03 CDT 2010


Simply put - you need to get requirements well enough documented, and your design response to them clearly approved.

And subjective requirements are not worth a thing - unless the customer can clearly show that they briefed differently, then you very strongly need to respond that it's not your problem, and that making changes is at their request. For the sake of the relationship (and you need to make it obvious that that's why you're doing it; you're not accepting blame, but being 'nice'), you may choose to not charge for them, or to reduce your charge.

What you *can* do is to help them get their subjective and implicit requirements explicitly documented, so you don't have that problem next time.


On 25 Aug 2010, at 05:30, Zhang Weiwu wrote:

> Hello.
> Entering web business in China Beijing not so long ago I found myself
> inexperienced in customer relationship. Last year there was a new
> "communication official" entering my old customer organization (an NGO)
> who take charge in web related things. She is the first "communication
> official", the organization doesn't have the role before. She tries to
> hold a strong position, argue new changes to the established website to
> "fixing previous damage made by us". Her argument is the change request
> is due to we didn't deliver good product in the first place. The change
> she asks to do includes:
>    * Type 1: something like font not looking good enough (fixed by
>      replacing text with <img alt="...">) can marginally be said to be
>      "our damage".
>    * Type 2: some like change 3 column to 2 column are hardly possible
>      "our damage" but only her personal preference. But our customer
>      argues it being our fault anyway.
> With long-term co-operation in mind, we did the change for both types.
> Then, when realizing new more changes following, we did a bitter
> argument on budget, in the end we didn't manage to increase cost of the
> website when changes are increased, and they didn't manage to get Type 2
> change done for free any more. The bitter argument caused both party
> never want to do business with another in the future.
> This month another new "communication official" entered my other old
> customer organization (another NGO), and exactly the same thing
> happened. Like last year, there wasn't a role "communication official"
> in this organization before her. She started a change list, again,
> partly can be said "we didn't do it well in the first place" (again,
> replacing text with images tops the list), partly only her personal
> preference (change "Dowload report" link from right side to left side).
> Like the last year's customer, she ask (demand, more accurately) the
> changes to be applied for free. Our previous contract, which is signed
> and done before she joins, was not paid yet so there is a reason she
> think we want to work on it to get last contract paid and closed. This
> is also the same situation with our last year scenario.
> This time I think I had the bad experience of last year, I should do it
> smarter than last time. But I don't know what I really learned in last
> year's story. What should I do? Should I hold a strong position during
> arguing increase of the budget (with her aggressiveness, this should
> mean end of business relationship with her), or should I believe a
> sacrifice of working hour in the beginning "warming period" would ease
> the relationship for the long run?
> A few more details:
> There are a few difference compare to last year's scenario:
>    * last year "that communication official" complain we don't follow
>      her but proposed a lot of suggestions, she want a told-and-do
>      military style, asking certain things exactly according to her
>      requirements, and the relationship is not good when we didn't
>      fully follow. Learning the experience, this year we try to be
>      passive towards aggressiveness, "this communication official"
>      complain we are not working in pro-active way, that we offered so
>      few suggestions that she have to generate to do list to us. (but,
>      if we suggest something, that should be done free of charge, "of
>      course").
>    * last year "that communication official" changed her requirement
>      several times (e.g. green background replaced with blue after a
>      month). She was not aware in advance that she needs so much
>      changes back and forth. This year "this communication official"
>      stated in advance that we will not meet her "judgement of what is
>      good" in the first run, that she will bring new change requirement
>      after current changes done, showing more experience but not less
>      aggressiveness.
>    * last year "that communication official" said they will only pay a
>      limited amount for the web project, this year "this communication
>      official" said the website is very important and she can pay more
>      for really good work (after saying we have done really bad) and
>      that we must trust her judgment on what is really good. Meanwhile
>      the current organization size is 4 time bigger than the
>      organization in last year's scenario.
> Customer organization management style:
>    90% of the personnel in the current customer organization has been
>    replaced in last 3 years, means they have new people every 2 months,
>    and interview from time to time. Some say in such "new face everyday
>    organization" if you can manage to stay as partner you hold a good
>    position, as no one else can work for such organization. But "this
>    communication official" obviously seem to not to weight the fact we
>    have been doing business with the organization for 3 years, longer
>    than most employee could stay there. I feel "this communication
>    official" have the ambition she could establish most thing anew with
>    her better management thus old partnership are part of the bad
>    inheritance she doesn't weight. (She might believe it even more if
>    she managed a more successful web project before, but I hardly
>    know.) I had a smalltalk with one of her colleague. There are only
>    one person I know now, because most but that one quited this
>    customer organization in last a few years. He thinks she look not
>    bad in bringing new establishment with new management, a quite
>    promising person, but the non-profit organization's stressful
>    competing culture won't change and will last the next decade if the
>    organization survived, demonstrated by the general management style
>    and the fact most new employee are hired from highly competing
>    business industries instead of from people who had experience
>    working in other NGOs.
> If you want to give me advice based on our work I can reach you to show
> our work in private to avoid giving away customer organization name in
> public, even tough I am confident the typical Chinese-text-only culture
> environment stem them search this post from the Internet. But please
> consider giving general suggestion on this list as well so others might
> learn a bit.
> Thanks a lot in advance!
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