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How Not to Handle Professional Services

image In consulting, the client is king. The same is true for many professional services industries. It makes the job particularly challenging, as success involves more than just getting at the correct answer to a client’s problems, but presenting it well.

While it can be pretty difficult to do this well, it should be very clear that the following pitfalls should be avoided at all costs:

  • Not being responsive to phone & email – There is nothing that spells disrespect and introduces doubt quite like being unresponsive to requests for contact. It makes the client feel like a loan shark trying to call in some loans.
  • Talking down to the client – Unless you enjoy working on answers that never go anywhere, making sure the client impedes rather than helps you in your quest for the right answer, and guaranteeing that the client never hires your firm again, stop talking down to your client, and treat them like the partners they should be.
  • Directly going against the client’s wishes – If the client says, “No, we are not going to do this,” the solution is either (a) don’t do it or (b) work with the client to arrive at a reasonable compromise. Your response should not be, “Well, we think you’re being foolish; let me now waste the next 30 minutes on our phone call pointing out why.”
  • Give unclear and round-about answers to your client’s questions – “Car salesman” does not usually bring up positive thoughts — so don’t act like one. Give clear answers to your client’s questions, not answers which suggest you are either hiding something or have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Even if you don’t know, it’s oftentimes better to speak the truth than it is to lie and then lose all credibility when the truth does come out.
  • Make bizarre jokes about the nature of the relationship with the client. Being casual with the client to build camaraderie – good. Making jokes about possible means to increase the fees that the client has to pay – not so good.
  • Not delivering on promises. This should go without saying, but, if you promise to email something by the end of the day, and then don’t, then you apparently just don’t like having clients.

I was recently on the receiving end of all of these — in the course of one phone conversation in an interview with a carbon offset provider (as research for my firm’s Green initiative) who could have been a potential partner for us. Suffice to say, they won’t be now if I have anything to say about it.

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