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Smarter change

The briefing process – laying the foundations for a good project

Gather the right information up-front

The customer service representatives from a large professional association listened to customer feedback, but nothing changed. Customers said they felt unheard, disregarded and disenchanted.

As is often the case, the association thought that customer service training would fix everything.

When we met, I asked them what symptoms in their corporate or staff performance led them to this conclusion. Turned out there wasn’t much incentive for the administrators to report on customer feedback. Nor for them to change or improve anything. Seemed that HR and admin didn’t talk. And many other systems and processes needed fixing in the organisation.

Customer service training wouldn’t fix it. I told them that I was happy to provide what they were asking for, but that I couldn’t guarantee it would give them the results they were looking for.

Now this is a happy-ending story from my point of view: had I guaranteed the client that customer service would improve because of the training, both of us would have been disappointed.

So taking a good brief saved me some grief. And it meant the client was clear on what outcome they could expect from the training.

So let’s find out what’s in a good brief.

What’s in a good brief

Taking a brief sounds simple. And it is.

You just ask a series of set questions.

But that’s where it starts, not where it ends.

First, you need to be able to ask good follow up questions. Make meaning from what they answer. Like a good detective follow every promising trail.

You need to be able to sort out what the client says they want from what they really want. How to give them what their boss has asked them to get, as well as what they think they need. You need to get past initial fears and concerns about why they need a consultant in the first place (“oh my god, does getting a consultant mean I didn’t do my job?”).

You also need to make an impression, or you may never get past the initial briefing. But it can’t be so much of an impression that the client thinks you have tickets on yourself.

You’ll find some excellent briefing questions in this briefing template which you can download for free.