Helpful, accommodating, prompt.  These are coveted traits in client relations and project management team members.  But there’s a fine line to toe between being helpful and over-servicing an account.

A definition of “over-servicing”

Let’s start with a definition.  Over-servicing is different than “going above and beyond.”  It’s doing work that’s outside of the scope of a project and setting inappropriate client expectations that could threaten profitability.

Effective resource management makes or breaks a services business.  This is even more critical in fixed-price contracts, where project overruns deliver a sucker punch to your bottom line.

Nailing the scope at the very beginning

The statement of work is the first line of defense against over-servicing and scope creep.  All work to be completed should be listed in this document, in as much detail as is necessary to clearly communicate expectations.

The formal SOW can be a separate document from the sales proposal.  The latter can be higher level document focused on “pitching” – but the detail needs to be delivered in the SOW.

In addition to documenting what is included in the project, it can be a worthwhile exercise to document what is NOT included from the onset so that there are no surprises.

Who should monitor over-servicing?

The project manager should own this, as they are typically charged with the scope, schedule, and budget, as well as coordinating the resources needed to achieve project success and profitability.

Anything outside of the agreed upon contract should be discussed by the Project Manager and the client.  In some cases, it may make sense for your firm to absorb the additional cost in the name of goodwill – but even then, be sure that the client understands that this is something “extra.”

Get delivery resources on the same page

“While I’m in here, I might as well fix this…”

This is a good phrase when uttered by a car mechanic or a surgeon.  Not so much when we’re talking about highly-compensated and mission-critical delivery resources.

Communicate expectations with all team members, and let them know that additional work required should be planned and okayed by the project manager.

The magic words

Balancing client success and happiness with over-servicing is a delicate act, even for the most experience project managers.  A few phrases they should put in their “swipe file”:

  • “Wow, I love that idea. Should we revisit our contract so that we can add this into the work that we’re currently doing for you?”
  • “That’s a fantastic idea. It’s a bit beyond our current scope, so let’s place this on the Phase 2 list and revisit it at the conclusion of this project.”
  • “I like the way you think, this would be a great addition! Since this is a shift from our original project plan, I’ll need to consult with the team to evaluate what time and resources are required.  Once I have that information, I’ll get you a cost estimate and we can explore adding it to the scope.”

Polite but firm is the name of the game.  Celebrate the idea (hopefully it’s a good one) but remind them of the contract that’s in place.

Set your team up for success

Technology doesn’t solve the problem of over-servicing, but it most certainly makes it easier.  While managing this on a client-by-client basis is the duty of the Project Manager, it should be a C-Suite priority to get PMs the tools to be successful.

Project managers need information on scope, work delivered, and profitability targets at their fingertips.  Not a month-end process, not an IT or finance report – a real time view of performance.

If you can surface historical data that allows them to benchmark their project against past work, even better.  This data will empower them to price change orders and negotiate terms more effectively.

How do you avoid over-servicing?

Do you have any secrets to success that we missed?  How do you balance satisfaction and service levels with your clients?  Any phrasing or wording that you’ve found helpful in maneuvering these kinds of conversations?  Let us know in the comments!