Consultancy Skills Toolkit

Working with Clients

The Case

Clients and professionals, by nature, tend to have different views as to what the service is. Professionals tend to emphasise the core specialist elements, clients value the softer "helpful" peripheral elements. Of course, there are always other issues which affect that quality (managing resources, staff appraisals, internal conflicts, etc), but this difference in perceptions is the key one.

This short case illustrates a number of the issues often found in organisations providing professional services, be they computer consultancies as above, or advertising, designers, solicitors, accountants, etc.

The Division was meeting for a one-day workshop to review the results of its recent customer survey. About thirty people strong, a mixture of professionals and administrative support, it specialised in designing and providing tailor-made computer systems. Because of recent outside pressures the managers had been trying to improve the performance and image of the Division over the last two years through a mixture of restructuring, teambuilding, and quality improvement initiatives. The customer survey was the latest step in this.

The Division

The Division had a fairly high esprit de corps. People were interested and committed to their field and viewed themselves as very professional. They worked hard on their projects and saw themselves as the equal or better of any of their competitors. Working on projects as they did, they rarely had a chance to meet as a whole team and people generally enjoyed these occasions, although some did get on their hobby-horses rather.

Nobody, aside from the managers, knew the results of the customer survey, but people weren’t too worried. They knew that some customers were rather particular and grumbled a little, but they were confidant that the group was respected and their work valued. After all, the customers did seem to come back, usually.
The Clients' View

The group broke into small teams to review the results and a quiet hush descended on the room, to be broken after some ten minutes or so by a growing buzz with occasional loud expletives. The survey results were not at all what they had expected. It was not that they were disastrous but they were different and a far cry from the Divisions own perception of itself. The customers surveyed were not critical of what the Division saw as its core service, the systems it delivered, in fact there weren’t many comments about that. What most customers criticised were what the people in the Division saw a peripheral and incidental aspects. Typical comments included:

The Response

The team discussions became heated and rather angry. “But this isn’t fair” was a common cry. The customers were ignoring the quality of the systems and that surely was the main thing. They also ignored all the hard work, often done after hours, that people put into the projects. All the criticisms seemed to be about incidental aspects. “Perhaps we should all be trained to say “Have a nice day”” was one comment. “Perhaps we should get McDonalds or Disneyland to run a training course” was another. Some people queried the way in which the survey was done, perhaps the wrong questions had been asked. Others questioned whether the client sponsors were the right ones, perhaps all projects should be sponsored by the top managers.

They all returned to the main room and in the general discussion that followed, it was agreed that the Division clearly had an image problem and a working party was set-up to create a new promotional brochure. After lunch, the Division had a fascinating speaker on “ISDN and the latest developments” and then everyone returned to their desks and offices to resume their projects.