Perspectives on Perfection

Have you ever begrudgingly delivered a piece of work? Ever had a project that you didn’t feel great about? Ever had a deal where your picture of perfection was compromised?

If we’re honest, it has happened to us all. We begin with the best intentions; wooing our customer, listening to their needs, describing how we can help them transform their organisation, because if there’s one thing we’re good at – it’s that. We look for signals of acceptance, signs of agreement, indicators that they are going to place their order with us and if we’re lucky we enter a partnership where we will both benefit – the customer feels treated like a king and you are a knight on a powerful steed who will win their battle. This is going to be perfect.

Except sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we are so excited by the opportunity, and so eager to please that when our customer asks us to make changes, we blithely agree. A ten week project is shortened to eight, a three day course is shortened to one, concessions are made and we become fixated on meeting the customer’s new requirements whilst forgetting the original goal a goal that has not changed in the eyes of the customer.

When your customer complains their goal hasn’t been met, it is much too late to say “but you said” like a petulant child. You are left feeling frustrated and impotent as your customer rages. Then you get the train home and you feel annoyed at the customer for making you feel that way, and furious that they are surprised things didn’t go to plan when they asked for the changes in the first place. And then you may come to realise that you are sulking, which is a very bad place to be as an adult, and that actually you’re in this mess because of the things that you agreed to do outside of the original scope of work.

But it’s alright, because now we’ve acknowledged it can happen, we can try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Here’s what you do:


Keep a calm head

If your customer is insistent on making changes that you feel would compromise the original goals, leave the combative language and defensive attitude at home.   Ask why the changes are being requested, and what they believe this would do to the outcome of the project based on their original stated goals. If you want to demonstrate your commitment to quality, integrity, and customer success, then now is a great time to do it.

What, why, how

To go with your calm head, you need to be truly interested and engaged in what is going on for your client and what their current reality is. Ask, ask and ask again. What has changed since your original agreement? Can you discover a way to make things work together? If your customer has selected you because they value your judgement, expertise and opinion, now is not the time to become a nodding dog (or a Rottweiler – calm head, remember) now is an opportunity for you to reinforce why they made a good decision.

It’s not you, it’s me

You need to accept there is no such thing as a bad customer, just bad customer management. It is in your hands to make great decisions that help your customers to succeed. If you agree not to pursue a project, make it about your commitment to delivering the absolute pinnacle of customer experience – not their inability to see your point of view. Even when the decision means you are walking away from a project, make the decision from a good place and in your customer’s interest – it will feel better for both parties.


A calm head, open questions and ownership. The combination of these three should keep projects perky, delivery rewarding and goals achieved where no-one feels compromised. That’s my picture of perfection, how about you?

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