At first sight, it might not seem like project management has a lot to do with customer service.
Being a project manager sounds more like a methodical job, where you coordinate lots of tiny moving pieces, manage tasks, research, fill in spreadsheets, strategize and write progress reports.
When thinking of a PM, we picture someone sitting behind a desk, elbows deep in paperwork, not someone working in the dynamic and interactive environment of customer service. However, between project management and customer service there are more similarities than you might think. Ultimately, isn’t customer satisfaction the goal of every project?
If you’re currently training to become a project manager, you’ll be surprised to discover that many of the skills you will learn have a lot in common with customer service. Here are some of them:
Being a good listener and communicator – one of the main skills you’ll learn in PMP training
As a customer service representative, communication is the most important part of your job, which entirely revolves around talking to customers, carefully listening to their concerns, understanding their point of view, and suggesting ways to improve things. We simply can’t picture someone working effectively in customer service without having good communication skills and the same goes for project management.
As a PM, you have to communicate with your team, managers, and clients to make sure that everything works together like cogs in a well-oiled machine. You have to address things such as goals, responsibility, and performance and, unless you’re a good communicator, you’ll come across many bumps in the road.
According to the Project Management Institute, a project manager should spend 90% of their time communicating. Poor communication has a major impact later in the project life and one single misunderstanding can have a snowball effect and affect not just the harmony of the team but also the success of the project. One out of five projects misses its mark because of ineffective communication so if you want to be a great project manager, start here.
Contrary to popular belief, PMP Training isn’t just about understanding PM terminologies and concepts or applying global PM standards. It’s also about learning how to work with people, share ideas, listen to feedback, and communicate goals clearly, whether it’s face-to-face or via online collaboration tools. If you don’t have formal training in project management, we highly recommend that you sign up for a course. To a certain extent, you’re naturally inclined to be a PM, but you need formal PMP training to polish your skills, get certified, and unlock more career prospects.
In customer service, problem-solving mostly refers to finding quick solutions to customer complaints and managing issues before they leave a bad review or change providers.
As a project manager, you’ll also have to know problem-solving techniques and learn how to manage issues both short and long term. This includes important steps such as identifying the problem and its cause (technical malfunction, human error, external event, etc.), mitigating its impact, and taking long-term measures so it doesn’t happen again in the future.
Project managers are often tempted to think that they don’t have enough time to analyze problems and get to the bottom of things and they tend to only apply quick fixes. However, that can be counterproductive. In an interview in Harvard Business Review, Corey Phelps, a strategy professor at McGill University, explains that even experienced managers make the mistake of jumping to conclusions and rush to find a solution quickly, without taking the time to research the problem first.
As businesses become more digitized and new technologies such as AI and Big Data make their way to day-to-day processes, even seasoned managers who have been working in issue management for years can make mistakes simply because the workplace is evolving. It’s therefore time to have a slower approach and spend more time researching and analyzing.
In 2018, the Word Economic Forum had already predicted that in 2020 jobs across all industries will require complex problem-solving as one of their core skills, so if you want to be a great project manager, work towards becoming a strategic problem-solver first. The Project Management Institute suggests a series of new “rules” for modern problem-solving:
- The first objective of problem-solving shouldn’t be solving the problem but preventing team members from making additional mistakes.
- Before engaging in any type of data-gathering process, team members must first agree on the root of the problem and the set of questions that need to be asked. Otherwise, data will only become confusing.
- The entire team should work together to tackle the problem
Having a customer-oriented mindset
People who work in customer service are trained to do everything with customer satisfaction in mind. Throughout the whole interaction, the customer needs to feel that their experience matters and that they’re not just speaking to a machine.
But as a project manager, it’s easy to get sidetracked and forget that all PM activities are driven by the customer. You might get lost in worksheets, deadlines, and presentations and communicate only with team members and managers, but that’s a big mistake. For your project to be successful, you need to have a customer-oriented mindset: understand customer needs, include them in processes, and maintain customer satisfaction as the end goal.
There are several ways you can do this:
- Speak directly with customers and ask their opinion
- Conduct surveys to find out what customers think about the project and make changes if necessary
- Track social network engagement and repeat purchases
Even if something sounds great in theory, you need to make sure it’s relevant to your customers and that the way you implemented the project generated a meaningful experience for them. When you work as a project manager, it is of course important to meet deadlines, respect scheduled costs, and optimize resources, but don’t forget that ultimately, it’s all about the customer.
If you work in customer service and are considering branching out to project management, then you may already have some of the vital skills needed to succeed. If you’re already a PM, consider focusing more on these customer-oriented skills or taking a course to perfect your knowledge.