Dear Colleagues,

We often hear of the client from hell who is to be avoided. We all have different clients – some whom you have had for years. Some are new ones. Some are internal clients within your firm. Some are pleasant and accommodating – others are unreasonable and a nightmare to deal with.

But overall they are critical to your engineering career. And their first impression of you sets up the relationship. No matter whether you are supplying rocket launch system to NASA or are the electrician cabling up a home entertainment system for a housewife.

What is the First Impression you make on your clients?
The first impression you make is always the most important. Especially in how you are going to work together over the long term. You have to visualize how the client sees you – your impressions of your client are of secondary importance. You should always be impeccably or professionally attired. You should communicate positively with your client using simple English (not technical gobblydigook) and listen carefully. If the first impression is a disaster; it is likely that a valuable client relationship will quickly hit the skids.

Your client is obviously interested in getting value for money from you (and not being embarrassed within her company) by receiving a substandard product or service.

They are not particularly interested in long winded involved technical explanations of what you are doing. Just a simple explanation on how and why your product will do the job and accommodate the (peculiar, perhaps) requirements of the client.

Risk and Security is Paramount
Your client also needs to be shielded from risk and insecurity.  I have had a client walk into a firm I worked at some years back where there was total chaos in the office (it was a very poorly managed consulting firm with significant financial problems). This caused significant stress and concern on the part of the client as to whether we could deliver a key service within a specific time to budget. Needless to say; the client evaporated soon after she had contact with the partners of the firm.

The client is not interested in the particular problems you are having with other jobs or indeed in executing this particular job. They are only interested in solutions to their requirements.

Don’t Roll Over
On the flipside of the coin – bear in mind that you shouldn’t be unduly accommodating to a client’s whims when these are well outside the original requirements of the project (particularly when additional costs are involved). It is important to get him to face up to these additional costs as soon as possible. So that you don’t end up giving him the bad news at the end of the project (when the money has all been spent). It also sets the tone for the entire project and probably ensures the client respects you.

Clients Can Have Unusual Ways of Measuring You
A colleague of mine (Matt) indicated that as the client (he works for a large company); the first thing he looks at is the prospective engineer’s shoes. If they are scuffed and tatty then he is convinced the relationship is off to a poor start. One should thus always be alert to strange requirements of the client – but as long as they don’t mess up the contract (and are ethical and moral) – play along.

In terms of demonstrating leadership in executing a project for a client, John F. Kennedy remarked: Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Yours in engineering learning,