Bly presents a collection of proven, step-by-step strategies and effective methods for revving up any consulting career.
- Kaplan Publishing
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- 6.26(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.04(d)
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Chapter 10: Proven Strategies for Keeping Your Clients HappyA wise client once told me, "Subjective judgment is the death of the service business." No matter how carefully worded our agreements, how tightly written our contracts, the client's ultimate satisfaction is determined by his subjective judgment of us, our service, and our treatment of him.
Part of the problem is a combination of unrealistic expectations on the part of the client combined with overpromises or puffery on the part of the consultant to make the sale. Consultants can promise to perform services, but they cannot be sure of getting a result that meets or exceeds the client's expectations. Although we as consultants know this, the pressure of selling often motivates us to paint a picture a bit rosier or at least more optimistic than reality.
Consultant Dan Kennedy gives an honest evaluation of what consultants can and cannot, will and will not, do for clients. "All somebody like me can do is bring a lot of experience to bear, to improve your possibilities," writes Dan in his No. B.S. Marketing Letter (December 1992, page 1). "And we are mercenaries. Lose one war, we move on to the next." He says the client must take responsibility for getting the greatest possible value from the consultant.
Clients, unfortunately, often don't like to hear reality statements like "it can't be done," "we can't predict the response," or "there's no guarantee." If anything, they want to believe your sales pitch-that you're the great guru. They convince themselves you can do anything, which starts the relationship off on a note of high expectation, but can lead to disappointment when theydiscover you're only human and don't control the world.
In a Blondie cartoon strip, Blondie tells a couple hiring her to cater an affair that the price for filet is $25 per dinner, and the chicken is $17 per dinner. "Would you call yourself an excellent caterer?" the client asks. When Blondie replies positively, the client says, "Then we'll take the chicken ... but we're counting on you to make it seem like they're having the filet." Most consulting clients are like Blondie's couple.
You can't always perform as well as you or the client would wish. You can only perform as well as you can. "Be careful not to confuse excellence with perfection," says actor Michael J. Fox (as quoted in Reader's Digest, February 1998, page 13). "Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God's business."
Creating Satisfied Clients
Because you do not control any individual's subjective judgment, or the mood or external circumstances affecting that judgment, you cannot totally control the client's reaction to your services. Therefore, no matter how good you are, or how hard you try, you are invariably going to run into situations where the client is not satisfied with you or your service.
Some of your peers will tell you that this never happens and that their clients are always satisfied. Either they're lying, or they handle so few clients that a problem hasn't happened yet. It will.
Given that clients will become dissatisfied and that client dissatisfaction can hurt your business, reduce your income, tarnish your reputation, and cause loss of accounts, you must learn strategies for coping with clients who become dissatisfied. That's what this chapter will help you do.
Early Detection of Dissatisfaction: The Best Cure
For many human illnesses, doctors tell us that early detection is the best cure. Caught early enough, the eye disease won't blind us, the cancer won't kill us. It's only when we ignore the symptoms and let the disease progress undiagnosed and untreated that it grows to a point where it can cripple us or do us in.
It's the same with the disease of client dissatisfaction. A client complaint, even one that seems serious at first, can be handled in such a way that it does no permanent harm to the client/consultant relationship, provided it is detected early and dealt with swiftly and effectively.
Client dissatisfaction can hurt us only if it goes undetected or ignored. Then the problem festers and grows to the point where it kills the healthy relationship and we lose the client and her business. According to Dun & Bradstreet, 90 percent of clients who are unhappy won't complain to youbut 96 percent of clients who are unhappy will tell others of their dissatisfaction.
So the number one rule in coping with dissatisfied clients: act fast. If you suspect there's a problem, bring it out in the open where it can be dealt with. When you have a problem, acknowledge it. Be up front with the client and discuss it with them. Don't think it will go away if you ignore it. It won't.
Find a solution that not only solves the problem but also restores the client's faith and confidence in you. Don't hold back; do what it takes. Even if the solution costs you more than you want to spend, do it. You must not let dissatisfied clients remain dissatisfied. When you do, you lose their business, and they tell others, and you quickly gain a reputation that will cause others to shun you.
Avoid pushing expensive and complex consulting projects on clients when a simple solution will do just as well for a lot less money. An article in the newsletter Words from Woody (Fall 1997, page 2) tells the following story illustrating this point:
A museum planned to hire a consultant to perform an expensive study to determine which exhibits were most popular with visitors. But a committee member stopped the consulting project from going through and got the information another way-by asking the janitor where he had to mop the most...
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