When the Client Cuts Your Face Time in Half

Your progress update meeting with the client is scheduled for an hour, starting at 11AM. You’re hopeful it might extend to a lunch invitation.

11AM comes and goes, and the client is still in a meeting. Word comes from the client’s AA that the meeting has to move to 2PM. At 1:30, it gets kicked to 5:30 – and it’s cut to half an hour, as the client really has to leave no later than 6PM.

What do you do?

This came up in a large workshop the other day; the setting was such that only a 1-minute answer was appropriate.  I gave the 1-minute answer – and I’ll include the longer answer here.

Involve the Client in Problem Resolution 

The quick answer is you start the meeting by saying something like, “Listen, it’s late in the day, and it sounds like yours has been hectic. Ending up in a review session may not be your idea of a good time. Would you rather reschedule?”

And then go with the client’s answer, whatever it is. If the client prefers to push on, then do so. And you’d better be willing to trim your presentation to 30 minutes, rather than trying to double-time it, or passive-aggressively running out of time.

The principle here is to make the client part of the problem resolution.

Involve the Client in Problem Definition

The longer answer is to make the client part of the problem definition – not just problem resolution. Why is it that a previously scheduled meeting slipped so drastically?  That it got cut in half?  That’s a discussion worth having on occasion.

Is it because the client doesn’t particularly care about an update, and it’s really your need for approval that’s driving the meeting? Are you able to specify real decisions that are needed from the client? Is this a box-ticking meeting to fulfill your internal processes? Are you trying to cover your behind? Do you know what the meeting was bumped for, and are you satisfied with the decision? Is this a meeting that neither one of you really wants, resulting in joint procrastination – and if so, what’s that about?

The answers may be perfectly innocuous, or they may uncover a deeper issue – where there’s smoke, there might be fire. The point is not about the answers – it’s about having the vulnerability and courage to re-invite the client to visit the tough questions, to define the issues jointly.

4 replies
  1. Emily Gayle Aitken
    Emily Gayle Aitken says:

    I would wait until 11:30 max and with the reschedule to 2pm offer a Skype call. It would also be useful to include non-cancellation, no-shows in client service agreements up front. Give one free no-show but bill for subsequent ones.

    Reply
  2. Rich Sternhell
    Rich Sternhell says:

    Charlie, I’m sure all of us wish that this kind of situation
    was less common than most of us experience. One of the most challenging problems executives face is the ongoing need
    to choose between the urgent and the important. Any executive with the responsibilities that go along with being a worthwhile client faces these choices on a daily basis. My own experience is that the problem begins
    with the process of scheduling and setting expectations for the meeting. You posed several of the right questions, but I would posit that the answers to those questions should be identified as part
    of the scheduling process. As a buyer of services, I’ve found myself often questioning why I’m having a meeting with a provider and seeing it as an interruption in an otherwise busy day. As a seller, I’ve done my best to make sure that the meetings we’ve scheduled are those the
    client perceives as important to moving his agenda forward. The clear message in the scenario you’ve outlined is that there is a perceived limited value to your meeting. It isn’t just rescheduling that is necessary, but reframing of the purpose of the meeting. Rich

    Reply
  3. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    Thanks Emily and Rich. Your comments highlight an important issue; Emily, I don’t disagree with your points, but I would note that I believe they are largely aimed at the problems faced by the advisor. Rich’s comments get at the question of whether the problems aren’t also arising from a problem the client has, which is manifesting itself in ways that hurt the consultant as well.

    I’m with Rich on this one. In my years of consulting, I saw a lot of cases where problems were viewed largely through the consultant’s eyes, and problems arise. I saw very very few cases – none actually come to mind – where disciplined attempts to understand the client’s viewpoint yielded bad results.

    Reply
  4. Mark Hurwich
    Mark Hurwich says:

    Brilliant blog, Charlie; glad you re-linked to it in the newsletter. It instantly brought me a sigh of relief, because I don’t have many places where I loose my curiosity, but last-minute client rescheduling is one of them. This simple answer enabled me to take a breath, enlarge perspective, and get excited about what could emerge.

    Reply

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