Are All Project Customers Created Equal?

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The customer is always right.  Every customer is important.  They all should be treated as #1.

That's easy to say. But is it easy to carry out?  Is it true?  It should be...but is it really?  Do you treat all of your customers equally?  Does management encourage that behavior?

The truth is, we would all like to say  every customer is important and  all are treated equally, but they aren’t.  As we deliver projects to our project sponsors, the big dollar clients, the long-term projects, the engagements with the largest visibility and mission-critical standing are the ones likely to get the best project resources.  They will be the projects that are least likely to have key resources pulled in favor of another project.

And, yes, they are the ones who are going to get the most involvement – usually – from the executive management team for the delivery organization.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth.  Does that make the other project customers feel less important?  Does it make them feel like second-tier clients?  Will they have less confidence in the organization’s ability to deliver on their project as a result?

The answer is “it depends.”  It depends on several things:

  • Are they being handled by a top-notch project manager?

  • Are they aware that they are losing team members to bigger or more important project customers?

  • Are they getting any involvement from your executive team?
In an effort to ensure that the smaller project clients are happy and confident that they remain important to your organization and are getting the oversight that they deserve, the delivery organization must do the following:

Keep consistent project leadership applied to the engagement. Changing out project team members is one thing – changing the project manager is more damaging as revolving leadership leads to customer uneasiness and dissatisfaction.  When project leadership changes, direction can become unstable, the customer may become disengaged, and the project team’s ability to remain focused and productive may become an issue.  Unless the customer is expressing concerns over the project manager or unless the project manager’s leadership ability seems to be in question, then keeping the same leadership intact is imperative to ongoing customer satisfaction.  Try not to pull the PM for a bigger project – it can send the worst message possible if the current project sponsor finds out the reasoning behind such a change.

Always involve the executive management team at some time during the project.  Don’t wait for an issue to arise for the executive team to become involved.  Waiting until the customer calls the CEO is the worst thing you can do, of course.  Be proactive – put a member of senior management in status calls on each project periodically.  It will help ALL customers feel important and will keep the smaller clients satisfied that they are, indeed, important to you organization.

Don’t let financials overtake what’s important.  Yes, financials are important.  But if your leadership gets too bogged down with financials on every project – and prioritizes the importance of projects based solely on the almighty dollar – then they are going to miss future opportunities with smaller clients who may bring a strategic advantage to the partnership.  Your leadership needs to be forward-thinking…even entrepreneurial in nature…in order to avoid the shortsightedness that comes with focusing solely on profit margin.


The bottom line is this:  all customers are not created equal.  Some just are more important to the business than others.  But you never want to burn bridges either.  You never know when a customer who just seems like your basic project client could one day turn into your high dollar client on a new engagement or possibly even a strategic business partner on a new innovative business venture.  If what you are doing with any given client is in line with your business goals and mission, then they are important.  Period.

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