Friday, May 22, 2009

Client Gratitude

Do clients owe you gratitude? That is, should they be grateful for your service and dedication?

Let's assume for this discussion that you provide service with dedication.

The hardcore capitalist in me wants to say "No. Do your job, take your money, and shut up." After all, I'm not grateful to the city for taking away my garbage. I'm not grateful to the electric company for bringing me electricity. And I'm not grateful to the Comcast guy who comes to fix the cable.

Those are all services. But they're services from large, generally faceless corporations. Every time I deal with the city, the electric company, or the cable company, I talk to a different person. None of them remember ever talking to me before. And I don't remember talking to any of them before.

I am grateful that my garbage gets taken away. I'm grateful that I have electricity. I'm grateful that my cable TV works. But I really believe that that's what I'm paying for. These are all "utility" type services. And while I could be a lot more grateful than I am, I pretty much take them for granted.

That's not true with all services . . .

I AM grateful to the woman who cleans our house. I am grateful to the guy who mows the lawn. And I'm grateful to the guy who washes the windows.

What's the difference?

Well, these are people. I know them. I talk to them. Unlike working with companies, I feel as if these services are provided by people.

And I'm grateful that these people do their jobs. I express that gratitude to them. As people, I know they have to juggle school and family and other clients. And I'm grateful.

So what about the consultant/client relationship? Where does that fall?

In most organizations, it's more on the personal side. Even in larger consulting companies, the technicians become known to the clients. They're people.

Ask a client who fixes the copy machine. The most likely answer is "The copy machine guy."

Ask a client who fixes their computers. The answer is a name or two.

- - - - -

So our business fits into the personal category instead of the utility business category.

But that doesn't really answer the question of whether clients owe us gratitude.

Here's a way to tell.

Have you ever had a scenario where you saw a problem that the client didn't see, made a heroic effort to fix it, avoided sending a big bill, and put in work you didn't charge for -- only to have the client get irritated at you for some thing that didn't go right at the same time?

When that happens, you find yourself saying "They have no idea how close they came to disaster. They have no idea what kind of stuff we do for them. And, worst of all, we could never explain it to them."

At one level, you're just doing your job. After all, that's what the client is paying you for.

At another level, you're doing more than you're being paid because it's "who you are" and how you choose to operate.

The copy machine guy charges for every minute. Period. He's a working machine, getting paid for his time. These aren't his friends and he has no reason to provide extra service.

Sometimes clients express their gratitude -- especially when you coax a server to live a few more weeks or months.

But more often than not, the only time it comes up is when you find yourself mumbling that they "ought to" to grateful.

The bottom line is that all business is people business. There are copy repairmen whose names are known. There are technicians who are anonymous.

And the person who pays your bill may be different from the person you deal with every day. The office manager may be grateful, but the owner will think of you as another vendor.

Personally, I think gratitude is a great reason to be in business. It doesn't show up on balance sheets, but I think there's a very strong connection between gratitude and gross margin.

Gratitude is tied to a personal connection. It's tied to service perception. It's tied to long-term relationships.

And, to be perfectly honest, it's part of why I go to work every day. When I have a bad day at work, you can be sure it's because a client expressed a complete lack of gratitude when we did a spectacular job.

We find that regular meetings with the clients help. One hour per quarter will get the job done. Just show up, ask about the business, and build that personal relationship. Become more than a cog in the machinery.


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