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Cope's Client Stage
The Cope's client stage lays more emphasis on the client. Consulting process begins and ends with the client (Cope, 2002). The first contact with the client is the first stage in the consulting process. However, before meeting with the client a consultant must be well prepared by first understanding the background and position of the company. This gives the client how much information the consultant knows before hand and can also tell how prepared the consultant is.
The client stage involves understanding the client, managing trust and confidence, building a good rapport, collecting enough information to understanding the problem and write proposal. Budget timescales, access to the client and other stakeholders should also be made clear in the client stage of consulting.
Understanding the Client
Cope suggests that consulting is driven by the client-consultant relationship. A good relationship is needed in order to have a good rapport with the client. The four issues that are to be cleared during the first meeting include;
- Who is the client, and who are the stakeholders that any change might affect?
- Head-heart negotiation
- Trust index
- Push-pull relationship
However, understanding and building a rapport with a client depends on the client's behavior, willingness and power over solving the problem. It is very possible for the client to be committed, but their boss may not. So the power of the client over the company should be understood.
The Head-Heart negotiation is used in understanding the behavior of a client. The Hand is driven by a combination of Head and Heart dimensions. People are classified into either Head type or Heart type. Head type people use facts in behaving while, on the other hand, Heart type people use their emotions in behavior. Some people tend to be in the middle of both instead of being either.
A consultant must be watchful of any hidden agendas during the interview because some clients set trap during a client-consultant interview in order to know how experienced a consultant is. However, the client must not sense that a consultant is being watchful because there must be a very high trust index. Clients want to be completely sure that a consultant can be trusted because they are betting on the future. Trust is very important and must be well managed from the client stage all through the consulting process. Clients want to be sure of truthfulness, openness, consistency, safety and competence before making sensitive commitments. A client-consultant relationship should, in fact, be managed like a partnership.
Understanding the problem
Problem must be properly understood and analyzed before coming into conclusion on the causes of problem. Cope suggests that problem should be viewed as client sees it. Questions are asked to know client's wishes, and the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder analyzed.
Despite the fact that the client is the voice of an organization, it is important that all shareholders are to be put into consideration when making decisions. Other affected parties are to be put into consideration because they are directly affected by any changes applied. A good animosity between all stakeholders makes the consulting process easier than when there is no animosity.
The 'MPH' mapping tool that helps to extract the whole story from the client and not just those aspects they prefer to offer.
MPH client mapping: From the very beginning, seek to view the problem as the client sees it, not how you see it
Critical Evaluation of Cope's Client Stage
Cope emphasizes more on the client during the interview while Wickham's view took a better approach and emphasizes more on 'Effective Questioning'. Wickham says effective questioning demands asking the right question and asking them in the right way. Beich also recommends that the consultant not only do the talking, the client should be doing most of the talking in order to collect as much information as possible.
Wickham P.A Mgt Consulting FT Prentice Hall Chpt 19 and Belbin, R.M 2004 Mgt Teams: Why they succeed or fail with Cope's
During the assessment of client, Cope's interpretation of the Head Hand Heart is quite different from other authors. Cope suggests that the hand is driven by head and heart. There are possibilities of having a client who tries to play smart by defending himself and withholding information. Head heart negotiation might be difficult to be determined since all it does is know the behavior of a client. On the other hand, Wickham's view on rapport building emphasizes on making sure that messages are well interpreted and understood. Like Cope's view, decision can be aimed at satisfying emotion as well as wants and needs. Communication should be effective, implicit and be made in a way that encourages the receiver to understand the message. Messages should be passed in the right way at the right time with the right body language.
Situation briefing in consulting must be carefully managed during personal presentation with client and other stakeholders. The presentation should be either formal or informal depending on how the listeners are expected to react to it. Actions are also to be well thought about considering how the receivers will interpret, support and react to them.
Wickham's view also looked into 'Questioning skills'. Asking questions leads the way of communication. Asking the right question at the right time is really important so that the meeting doesn't lose view. Question must be concise and short. The client should be doing more of the talking so that more information can be collected.
Reflective Element (Reflect only on Rapport Building)
Start with Preparation
My recent learning of Cope's Client stage has significantly changed my perception of dealing with clients at the initial meeting stage. Having learnt that consulting process starts and ends with the client, my group and I were initially bothered about what questions to ask at the interview and how to build a good rapport with the client. But after clearly understanding the major problems most transport companies face.
Questioning was short and concise in order to allow the David talk long and gather more information.