Clients don’t like surprises

Over the past years, I have worked with a variety of small and large institutional clients both as part of delivery and sales teams. In both capacities, the one thing I have realized—and sometimes rather painfully—is the value of keeping client stakeholders in the know. Most often, providers find it counter-intuitive to share the bad stuff with clients, assuming it would cast their abilities in negative light. Sometimes, secrecy may well be required depending on the implications to the client’s business. However, that should only be the exception and not the norm – something that most providers don’t tend to appreciate. In my experience, this is even more visible in outsourcing relationships, particularly the offshore kind. Clients naturally harbor certain apprehensions about offshore providers, especially if the relationship is not sufficiently mature. To top that, providers withhold what could otherwise build a different level of trust and understanding between the stakeholders.

The other school of thought, which I subscribe to, is about transparently sharing the good and the bad in realistic proportions. Clients don’t like surprises; in fact, no one does. If something has gone wrong, go ahead and accept it; take the extra effort to have that difficult discussion instead of avoiding it. If not immediately, clients will appreciate it in due course and possibly empathize with your constraints. Even better, if the discussion leads both parties to collectively resolve a matter that could otherwise end up in an nonviable or strenuous solution, which—in no way—helps either. Don’t forget that even B2B relationships are all about people at the end of the day, and people like to be kept informed. Also, do remember that in the prevailing internet age, the repercussions could be far too embarrassing and irreversible if the client gets to hear of the issue from other sources. That—for most practical purposes—could be the virtual end of any trust that you may have built until then.

This entry was posted in commonsense mgmt, two cents and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Pingback: Vote on this article at

  • afalak

    Completely agree. Unfortunately most Indian players are bad at giving bad news. They butter it up a lot which the customer perceives as “OK” status. When the project fails they are shocked and the vendor is in deep trouble normally causing the project to be scrapped, money to be lost and most importantly, the relationship broken.
    Say before a solution goes live we need to set something configuration ON but the vendor forgot it and caused huge performance issue with the web site.
    Saying that we are setting that configuration as a tactical solution is bad. Vendor should accept the fact that they forgot, set it and move on. But then what happens in reality is completely different.

  • Gaurav Agrawal

    Totally agree. Unfortunately, while the Indian services industry has
    taken-off in a big way, we are yet to better learn some of these softer
    aspects of global business. I guess it is related to behavior and cultural
    issues to a great extent, and that takes time to evolve.