Friday, February 03, 2012

SOP Friday: The First Client Visit

I know I've said this about a million times, but if you haven't read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, you should. And if you haven't read it in the last 12 months, you should read it again soon.

One of the hallmarks of a successful company is consistency. Think about how franchises and big companies greet you. On the phone, in the lobby, with their signage, and in person: It's always consistent. This is more than simple "branding." It's part of the experience of being their customer. How are you treated when you walk into a Double Tree Hotel, a Starbucks, or a UPS Store? It should be the same everywhere.

Now think . . .

What do your clients experience? Is it consistent? Does the experience promote your goals and vision? In particular, does your first visit set you apart as an expert and a professional, rather than just "a computer guy?" In addition, you want to set expectations for success on this visit and all future visits. You want the client to see that you have Standard Operating Procedures that lead to success for both of you.

I'm not talking about the First Sales Visit here. That's a whole different topic - and should also be standardized. I'm talking here about your first "job" or service visit for a new client.

Pick The Right First Job

When you pick a "first job" you should focus on something that's very manageable. In other words, you want to take on something you can pretty guarantee to be successful. Install a new PC; fix a virus outbreak; install a firewall; document their network.

Keep a list. Yes, really. Keep a list of "first jobs" that you would most like to have with a new client. Here are the elements of the ideal first job:

1. It is easily defined and agreed upon.
For example, you're going to remove the viruses from _____'s PC and give it a general tune-up.

Here's a very important key to success: You might find all kinds of stuff wrong with that machine. You might find issues with the network (e.g., DHCP is handing out an invalid WINS address. It's not used, but it's just wrong and might slow down network browsing.) You're not hear to fix everything you find! When you find additional things to fix, make a note and enter a service request.

Even if the additional work is non-billable, don't do it now. For this job, your goal is to get in, do it right, and get out. You want to be very successful, very focused, and very profitable.

2. The job should be small.
PLEASE don't do a network migration as your first job. It's too big and you're a total stranger.

An ideal job can be completed in less than a day. A perfect first job can be completed in 1-2 hours. So now you have a job that's easily defined and easily agreed upon, and it's small. So you can absolutely go in, knock it out, and finish successfully.

The "agreed upon" and "small" components are critical. You want to set expectations, exceed them, and show the client how you operate. You want to find additional work and schedule it for future visits. You want to use your RMM and PSA systems. You want to be 100% professional and set a high standard of success.

Do one thing at a time. Finish it and be done.

3. Do not let them open Pandora's technology box!
What you DO NOT want is to go in for a block of time and see how much work you can get done. Expectations cannot be set in such a situation. No matter how good you are, the client won't get it. You can find a thousand things wrong with a network that the client thinks is just fine. So you end up working for hours and they have no idea what you're doing. You are kicking butt and the client thinks you're plodding along.

Don't do that.

I learned this lesson very early in my career. I needed to set up one new PC. But I got hijacked by a guy who had a brought a PC from home and he couldn't figure out how to get a second hard drive installed (back in the day when we moved pins around). It turns out that was not authorized work. It took time but wasn't billable. And the guy was a doofus.

Now the boss thinks I'm easily distracted and willing to take time off task. Doofus thinks he can interrupt me whenever I come in the door, and fix his stuff on the boss's dime.

There were other similar distractions. At the end of the visit, the boss was all happy. Until he got the bill. "What the hell? You came to set up one PC and I get a bill for four hours?"

This is called Pandora's Technology Box. Some clients never get to see a real technician. So, when one shows up, they think the box is open and they can get all their stuff jammed into one visit. That can never be a successful experience for you or the client. So don't let it happen.

Orchestrate your visit.

4. When you're done, send an invoice for the amount quoted.
Even if you go over the estimated hours, send an invoice for only the amount quoted. This demonstrates that you are a good person and you stand by your word. It also makes a big deposit in the bank of good will. So the first time there's a dispute over fifteen minutes, you've got a history of being fair with the client.

You can see why the job needs to be small and defined. If you give away an extra hour, that's advertising. If you give away five hours, that's unsustainable and unprofitable.

Goals for the "First Job" Policy
I know some of you are thinking that this is "bad" service because I'm not running around trying to get ten hours worth of work into a two hour visit. But there's a good reason for this policy: You need to establish a pattern of support that is sustainably profitable.

Just as you need standard operating procedures that work every day to make your business run smoothly, you need good client relationships that support your business model. The client needs to learn:

- Each job is clearly defined (and has a clearly defined ending)

- Each job is on a separate service ticket

- You are extremely competent at what you do

- You are honest and reliable. You will do what you promise.

- You won't be distracted and taken off task

- When you show up, you're going to work on the items with service tickets. There is no "shoulder tap" tech support here.

- You will use your tools and systems so the client sees 1) that you have them, and 2) that you actually rely on them.

- You will make them happen when you arrive and happier when you leave

I have said on many occasions that clients are like dogs: They will do whatever you train them to do. This includes training by not training. If you train them that they can interrupt you, they will. If you train them that they can add work to a project, they will. If you train them that they can call you in the evening, they will. If you train them that they can make you unprofitable, they will.

They don't do this out of spite or any evil intentions. They're just trying to make their business work the way they want it to. Sometimes that conflicts with what you need to make your business run the way it should.

In your first engagement, you have the opportunity to show the client that you will provide excellent service at a reasonable price, and within your standard operating procedures. This will give them faith to stay inside the process. By that I mean, they'll use the PSA system to create tickets. They won't hound you on email and voice mail. They will treat you as the professional you are, because you expect it and deserve it.

- Implementation Notes -

Implementing this policy is very easy. It is orchestrated by the service manager, along with the sales department. In many small companies, that's the same person. :-)

Basically, you chat with the new client to create a list of things that need to be done. Then you pick one from your list of preferred "first jobs" and schedule it.

After that, you need to make sure the technician who delivers the experience understands the rules. These are really just rules they should be following already:

- Understand the job as defined in the ticket

- Do not add work to what is in the ticket without permission from your supervisor. Additional work is normally a separate ticket.

- Do not allow yourself to be interrupted

- If you find things that could/should be fixed, but they're outside the ticket, you are NOT authorized to perform that work. Create a new service ticket.

On a first visit, the tech should take extra time to explain "the process" for getting tech support. That means the tech should clearly understand this and be well practiced in it.

There are a hundred ways to start a relationship on the wrong foot. You should define for your company the "ideal" first engagement so you can start off every new relationship on the right foot!

Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Response Times - Guarantees and Delivery


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  1. I'd never given much thought to "first contact" procedures, but now that I have it turns out we were doing most of what you suggest anyway.

    As for the "shoulder tap" tech support, we call that being "ambushed" around here.

    Another great SOP article Karl. Keep them coming!


  2. Thanks Geoff. I appreciate the feedback!

  3. Thanks Karl, I particularly liked this post. For one thing it prompted me to put the E-Myth Revisited on my Kindle to read again. But I especially liked the comment about training customers' expectations, it's so true.


  4. Thanks, Phil. I'd write a book about managing client expectations, but I suspect no one would read it!


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