Working as an independent consultant for small companies
has many benefits. The work is varied and you get to deal with a large
variety of people. One downside, though, is that the company may not
have anyone on their staff that can monitor and manage systems between
your visits. This can often lead to confusion and crises when systems
don’t work as planned. If you want to keep your client relationships
on a good footing you need to have someone on the inside who can be
your eyes and ears, even when you are far away.
The biggest problem in setting up a client computer liaison is finding
someone savvy enough and with enough time to do the job. Often owners
and managers don’t want their staff members “fiddling with
computers” when they should be doing their “real work.”
Staffers can also be reluctant to step into this position fearing, perhaps
with good reason, that it will reduce their chances of advancement and
raises. It may take a little time and a lot of discussion, but you can
usually find someone willing to step in and help out.
Your job is to clearly outline the benefits to the company of having
someone on-site who you can assist when things go wrong. Clearly explain
that it is not a question of if things will go wrong but more of a question
of when. Having an on-site liaison will improve your ability to assist
the client even when you are hundreds of miles away.
Just recently this fact was brought home to me. An employee had accidentally
deleted an important file and needed to have it restored from a backup
tape. Unfortunately, I only visit this client 2 days a week and wasn’t
scheduled to be on-site until after the weekend. In talking with the
client I realized that no one there had ever learned anything about
the backup system. Some people were totally unaware of the location
of the system, let alone its operation. This made it nearly impossible
for me to even walk someone through the restoration procedure. Luckily,
they were able to do without this file until my next visit, otherwise
I would have had to make a special trip for something that should have
been simple and straightforward.
As it so happens, this client recently hired a new employee who has
a strong computer background. With the client’s permission I have
begun introducing this employee to the company’s computer systems
and asking him to assist with problems such as the one above. The relationship
is already bearing fruit. Not one week later I needed someone to perform
a simple tape swap on the backup system. Even without detailed knowledge
of the system I was able to easily talk my new on-site client liason
through the procedure over the phone.
Computer experts not required
Your client liaison doesn’t need to be a computer expert. At the
most basic level they must simply be able to follow your directions
of the phone. This is not to say that a computer savvy person doesn’t
help, though. As someone gains computer skills you can turn over specific
on-going tasks for them to handle without your need to monitor each
step. Operations like swapping backup tapes, adding and removing user
ids or returning faulty hardware can be done more easily and more quickly
by someone inside the organization.
Your most important task is to educate the person in the difference
between what they know, what they think they know and what they don’t
know. Too often, people assume they know more than they do, especially
about computers. Liaisons must understand that if they are unsure of
anything they should call you before they do anything.
It is important for you to be available by phone, email or instant messaging,
especially early in your relationship. While it may feel that they are
calling you every minute, it is important to allow them to grow into
the position. As the liaison becomes more comfortable the calls will
decrease. If you sound annoyed or distracted every time they call they
will stop calling and attempt to take on more than they can be expected
to do. This will ultimately lead to errors and frantic calls for you
to come in and fix the problem. Avoid this at all costs.
While is may seem silly to have a client liaison performing tasks for
you and reducing your billable hours, the simple fact is that you want
to concentrate on the larger issues, not on swapping backup tapes. A
liaison frees you to confront the larger issues and dramatically increases
the level of support you are able to offer. In the long run, everyone
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