How to Best Collaborate with Customers During Implementation

Nic Widhalm

Jan 17 2023 10 min read

Customer onboarding is an important phase of the customer journey – arguably the most important. Why? Because implementation can either be the beginning of something beautiful… or the beginning of the end. 

For the best possible outcomes, customer onboarding needs to be approached with thought, purpose, and attention to detail. However, even if the statement of work is perfectly outlined, resources are available, and the kick off went perfectly, there’s still the possibility the engagement won’t go smoothly. The leading reason? Poor communication and collaboration with your customer. 

Communication and collaboration are both the most important and most forgotten aspect of a customer implementation. Without them, it’s possible the customer will be happy with the delivery. However, the more likely outcome is the customer will see delays, wrong outcomes, and countless headaches. 


Prioritizing collaboration might seem unnecessary or even difficult if your organization is not set up for it, but doing so will prevent unnecessary scope creep, ensure the correct customer outcome is delivered, and start the customer journey off on the right foot. 

Customer collaboration has many aspects, but in our experience the four most important areas are: 

  • Providing Visibility and Status Updates 
  • Assigning and Executing on Deliverables
  • Give Access to Controls 
  • Documenting Customer Engagements

Provide visibility and status updates

Arguably the most important part of external collaboration is the simplest to implement: giving insight and visibility into the project. 

Far too often have we heard of customers being left in the dark about services they themselves purchased. For any customer engagement, this is table stakes. Without visibility into the status of a certain phase of a project, the delivery team is exposing themselves to risk of potential delays or worse, delivering the wrong thing and having to do something over again. 

Just like how the Statement of Work (SOW) is mutually agreed to between the customer and the services team, the ongoing engagement should also be collaborated on. The complexity of the collaboration is dependent upon the complexity of the engagement as well as the ability of the team. At the very minimum, the project outline should be shared with the customer via email, online document, or best case, a PSA tool. Having a PSA tool that gives external project visibility is ideal because, as things change, the customer is always kept in the loop. Another sneaky benefit? A project manager’s time isn’t spent writing unnecessary update emails or making sure the online document doesn’t say something it shouldn’t.


Assign and execute on deliverables

Despite the desires of many services professionals, projects sometimes rely on the actions of the customer. Oftentimes, the customer plays a crucial role in whether or not the project stays on time and in scope. Many phases of a project begin with the customer granting permissions, assigning users, or signing off on change requests. And, if tasks aren’t executed, the entire project can be delayed or otherwise compromised. 

Most services teams hope the customer will remember a deliverable and if not, opt into email as the best form of reminder. Relying on hope and email will most often result in a forgotten deliverable – leaving any hope of an on time project forgotten as well! 

The best way to keep track of and have accountability for these customer deliverables is to have them communicated up front and easily accessible for reminder and execution. Ideally, these live in the customer portal or the external-facing project plan so the customer is alerted and accountable for their part of the delivery. Remember, they are paying for the service – participation is assumed. 

Give access to controls

Almost every project ends differently than it started. Delays, change requests, or even risks common in customer implementations: so teams need to start preparing for them. 

In fact, teams should go further and proactively sniff out issues to document and address. Far too often, teams will put their heads down and try to push through obstacles instead of handling the objection.

RAID (Risks, Actions, Issues, and Decisions) don’t have to necessarily lead to scope creep – they just need to be handled collaboratively with the customer. An inexperienced PM will avoid RAID tickets or feature requests, but the best PMs will be able to see these coming and work with the customer on the desired outcome. If these tickets are handled collaboratively and within a reasonable time frame, the customer will be grateful for the additional effort.

Having Controls present in the same place as the project timelines, meetings, and deliverables will provide much needed color commentary – what can seem like inconveniences actually ensure the customer and the services team are beating to the same drum. This allows the services team to see the tickets in relation to the overall project, and also allows the customer to see action is being taken on their behalf.

Document customer engagements

Most, if not all, customer onboardings have multiple touchpoints throughout the engagement. These range from simple check-ins to complex QA testings – both are important to the overall success of the project, meaning both need to be well documented. 

The most common form of documentation for customer meetings is either email or an online document… or both… or not at all. Having these meeting minutes live in the same place as the other elements of external collaboration gives context to the minutes and helps paint the full picture of the project. Ultimately, documenting engagements creates data for services teams to have at their disposal. If the project is delayed, a PM can go back and work out where something went wrong. If the delivery was the most successful to date, services leaders can go back and analyze what led to the success. 

Better yet, having the documentation in a PSA tool allows for templates to be uploaded and for the standardization of customer engagements. 

Like in other areas of a professional services delivery, standardization greatly improves the chances of successful engagement – which is the whole reason we’re here.


Nic Widhalm

Nic is the SVP, Customer Experience, at Cloud Coach.

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