I changed something, so how fast can you incorporate it? How to answer to a client change ...
How to ace those tricky questions for Consulting Engineers
It is not always easy to answer the client’s questions, particularly in open meetings, video calls or face-to-face communications. Some people are good at thinking fast and giving good answers, but maybe they have been asked before. They have built up a rehearsed a formula to respond that works for them.
Take note of these tips to answer one of the most tricky questions. Absorb them into your memory bank and for sure you will gain confidence and be more effective in the face of tricky situations and build trust in your client relationships.
How to answer: I changed something, so how fast can you incorporate it?
This example is when the client instigates a change that impacts your work. The client mentions this in a meeting. The client briefs the design team on the change and then asks, in a determined way: “How fast can you incorporate this?”, probably following up with “… this cannot impact our schedule, I need you to absorb it without delay!” – yes, we have all been there are.
Let's first unpack the situation from the client’s point of view. This helps us to give us more empathy in your response.
Considering most organizations that we may service, it is likely that the person representing the client team to us, is probably not the person that decided to instigate a change. Most clients organizations have multiple stakeholders in the project and they may have complex external drivers to try to respond to. These stakeholders may make unreasonable demands or demand changes without any appreciation of the impact. In fact, it may be that your client representative knows that the change is a big ask but cannot risk admitting this so openly.
On a project, when the client changes something, it exposes them to the risk of their design team, quite reasonably, asking for more fees and more time to incorporate the change. Why shouldn't they? It is a change from the previous agreement. How the client deals with this situation depends on the scale and potential impact of the change - how much it how much to rework and redesign and the impact on the schedule - and on their own style. putting all that aside, the most natural approach for the client is to announce the change, playing down the impact to railroad it through, demanding that the client cannot accept any delay. Even when it is a result of their own actions!
So, what to do?
Firstly, there is absolutely no benefit in exclaiming your horror and implying that everything is now screwed up. In such situations the client is in a strategically weak position, so will tread carefully and will welcome a measured response. For sure another team member will make the big drama, so no need for you to do that – let them crank it up. You can be the person picking up the pieces - the hero.
The best strategy is to position yourself in the conversation where you are the main player, calling together the rest of the team in the effort to respond to the change request. Say things like: “We will need to review this in detail and see how we can organize the activities to minimize the impact.” You can be the peacekeeper with statements like: “I suggest that the key team members meet to workshop through this and make sure that we understand all the implications.” To show that you are willing to be the key person pulling the client’s design team together, to work harmoniously to resolve the problem to make their life better, is a surefire way to build a strong consultant client relationship. You can be positive, but without falling into the trap of committing to anything before you understand where you are.
Offer a view, but don't commit to anything, you will report back fast.
Your client is in a weak position so better to not try to exploit it, just put the matter back in the box like a nice guy!
Be proactive in the face of adversity - let others make the drama.
Propose a coming together of the right people outside the meeting to thrash it out.
Hold your nerve - don't comment until you have time.
It gets easier to think on your feet, the more that you are exposed to tough questions. Techniques can be learnt that help you to avoid making knee-jerk commitments. Knee-jerk answers will probably make your situation worse for you. Try to hold your nerve and give yourself time to think. Analyze and make a rational decision.
Authored by Paul Lengthorn
Chartered Engineer, MBA, BEng, member of the Institute of Asset Management (IAM) and independent practicing Consulting Engineer