Most of my life, I have worked in either hospitality or the b2b service sector. Both of these industries take major customer service skills and a whole lot of dedication to what you do. With my background, I have had to deal with a whole lot of difficult customers, but the question always arises, when is enough enough?
As a corporate trainer in the hospitality world, I taught my new employees that enough was never enough. Their job was to please the customers and make them feel as special as possible. Hospitality is all about the customer experience and an employee with a bad attitude or a quick judgment can ruin a company’s reputation. Making it in that world really meant taking pride in swallowing your pride, and never taking a customer’s issues, troubles, or insanity personally.
However, once I moved into the b2b service sector, I quickly realized that it was a different game. It was now more a game of chess or chicken (depending on how you look at it), where each opponent…I mean party, has their own agenda. The service provider knows they are the expert and wants to get the job done and make a profit. The business in need of the service wants to eat away at your profit as much as possible, and get as much out of you as they can.
I had to learn quickly that I could not bring my hospitality customer service skills into this game. I needed a new set of standards for customer service. Obviously, you still want the customer/client to feel special and cared for, but in this instance, sometimes that means not giving them what they think they want. Your job as a b2b service provider is to help accomplish a task and get to an end goal, whether you’re a consultant, coach, marketing rep, contractor, etc. The goal is to be the expert. That means you have to charge like an expert and act like an expert. The problem is that your client wants to think that they’re right and should get whatever they want, but what if they’re wrong and jeopardizing your ability to do the job they hired you to do?
This is where it really gets tough. If you give in too much, the project is in danger, but if you stand up for how things should be done, you could offend the client. What is one to do? Most of these issues can be avoided at the beginning of the relationship. I always tell my new clients that they need to understand they hire me to be the expert, to do things that they cannot, and that means they need to trust me and understand that everything my team does has a purpose and reason behind it. We don’t do anything randomly. It is the times I don’t have this conversation that issues are most likely to arise. Being upfront about expectations is always a good idea.
But what if that still does not work? Well, now you have a choice to make. You can’t argue with the client (that won’t help your reputation), so there are really only two options. I normally explain to the client that if they deviate from our advice, the project may not turn out how they wanted it to and it could cost them more money in the end, but I assure them that I will follow their direction. However, there have also been times when I have had to fire the client. If they are asking me to do something that will damage my reputation, I draw the line there, or if they are asking for more work than they are willing to pay for I also will end the relationship really quickly. The bottom line is that I have to be able to make a profit too. If a client can’t understand that, then it is not a good partnership and, most likely, there is not much more I can do to help anyway. It is hard to walk away from money, or potential money, but sometimes it is just the best option.
The final thing that I do is look for clients that want and will accept my help. I want to work with people that I can truly serve, but if they won’t let me serve them by doing my job, I would rather move on than hang out and make both of us miserable.