These are values, beliefs, and rules I’ve picked up in over a decade of running a client-facing organization. And I serve some pretty outstanding (and demanding) clients!
Lately I’ve had a lot of friends and colleagues ask for advice on things they should do or think of as they get ready to strike out on their own and start their own businesses. Since I’m getting tired of saying the same thing on the phone every single time, I figure I’ll get efficient, write it here once, then refer anyone else who asks to this blog post. Being an entrepreneur is all about being efficient.
1. Never keep a client waiting. Honestly, if you show up late, don’t expect them to stay a client very long. Sure this means spending a lot of time in waiting areas because you got somewhere early. Bring a book. Read a blog. Collect your thoughts before the meeting. Heck – I actually started writing this very blog post while I sat waiting for a client to arrive. Just do not be late. Ever. You would be shocked and appalled at how many people violate this all the time. No. It’s not all right to do so.
2. The client is always right unless they’re wrong. Clients aren’t always right. Many times they are. Sometimes you’re both right. Ask yourself if it’s worth falling on your sword to be right. If not, shut up. But if they are wrong and being wrong is going to be harmful to them, see the next commandment. Don’t always tell the client what they want to hear. Tell them what they need to hear.
3. Don’t let the client hurt themselves. Sometimes clients want to do stupid things. Sometimes they want to pay you a lot of money to do things for them that are stupid and will hurt their organization. Say no. Vehemently. Do NOT let your client do stupid stuff even if they want to pay you a lot of money to do so. You’ll pay a much bigger price in the end and they’ll actually respect you a lot more for not taking their money and helping them avoid a damaging situation.
4. Avoid the red-faced moments. There are many opportunities to make a lot of money. Not all of them are in your client’s best interests. Sure, what you’re doing isn’t illegal and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal to sell them a product you know they’ll never use. In all honesty, they’ll probably never notice. But ask yourself – what if they did notice they’re not using the product you’re charging them tons of money for? What if they asked you “why are you letting us pay you so much money for something you know we’re not using?” Awk. Ward. Do not let these situations arise.
5. Turn down work you don’t do. If a client asks you to do work that you don’t have a competency in, say no. Walk away from the money. It won’t work out well for anyone. You’ll do the work poorly, take their money, and they won’t be happy. Bad all the way around.
6. Remember they’re clients, not customers. A customer is a transaction. A client is a relationship. Personally I try to build long-term close relationships with clients such that people think I’m an employee. My measure of success is I actually have an ID badge for that particular client just like the rest of their employees do.
7. Never sell. Selling is a “push” activity. Understand your client’s needs. Make your clients look brilliant. Let them have all the answers and make sure they get the credit for being smart enough to bring you in. When you’re solving their problems and making them look great in the process, you’ll never have to sell. They’ll constantly be pulling you in to provide services.
8. It’s like Monopoly – the bank error is always in their favor. Mistakes happen. Always be quick to credit their accounts. If they’re the least bit dissatisfied, put a credit on account. If they make contract or payment errors that benefit you, call them out quickly and make sure they get that money back immediately. First, it’s not your money. Second, see the point above on “red faced moments.” Imagine they find the error afterward and you didn’t bring it to their attention…
9. Avoid contracts and RFPs. Yes, you should have contracts. Just avoid referring to them. If you’re referring to the contract to resolve a dispute, you’re wrong. You’ve made it adversarial. Talk like grown-ups and resolve differences without involving attorneys. It’s cheaper and easier. As far as RFPs, avoid them if you can. Sure, you won’t be in the supplier selection process but RFPs commoditize your business and turn clients into transactional customers. Work with your business contacts – not with Procurement. “The business” is who gets (and will pay for) the value you deliver. Procurement usually just beats you up.
10. Structure a deal so everyone’s excited to work on it. You should never take the last dollar off the table in a negotiation. Structure deals that are fair. Set pricing you’re happy with. If you look at pricing and say “I’m going to hate this project” and you feel cheated at the negotiating table, you should walk away from the deal. It’s poison. Come to terms that are agreeable to all – including yourself. Don’t be afraid to walk away from work you feel is unfair. Life’s too short to hate your work.
11. Don’t be afraid to break up with or fire a client. Organizations can move in different directions. Recognize when the relationship is no longer working and end it. Sticking around with a client longer than they need you or staying in a situation where a client is taking advantage of you is a terrible place to be. Walk away. And if you’re in situations where you know you’re no longer delivering massive value (but they’re still paying you massive dollars), again – walk away. I “fire” coaching clients all the time. Once we hit the point of diminishing returns on my investment of time (and their investment of dollars), the engagement needs to end. It’s good for all involved. Go find the next client where you can add massive value.
So there you go. 11 commandments of client service. Good luck in getting your business to the next level and moving from having customers to having clients. It’s tremendously rewarding when you reach that point. And a hearty “thank you” to all my wonderful clients. You folks are the best!
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