Like most small consulting businesses, I have been asked to do many things that are outside (and below) my area of expertise. I have been paid to create Outlook signatures with brightly colored fonts. I have been paid to change the toner on a fax machine. My company has been paid to have someone sleep in the client’s lobby because the door lock was broken.
When clients ask us to do odd things that are only remotely related to our job, we have a humorous response: “For $150 an hour, I’ll wash your windows if you want.” In other words, you can use us as you see fit. Obviously, we prefer technology tasks over washing windows. But the bottom line is that we assume the role of outsourced CIO. So we want every little thing related to technology to go through us.
Recently, I wanted to replace the speakers in my car. As you can imagine, this is pretty complicated in newer cars. I crawled around in the trunk for a while and realized that I would need to take out the molding around the back seat. That’s when I decided there had to be a better way. After all, lots of people do this, right?
I went to Google and found a YouTube video that showed a simple and amazing shortcut. Once I found that, I found six other videos with six other shortcuts. It turns out there are lots of ways to make this job easier.
Your clients can do the same thing. I just Googled “create an outlook signature” and got more than six million hits. Your clients don’t need you for this. But if you play your cards right, they will always want you for the little things.
One of the fears I hear expressed about cloud services is that clients will be able to figure it out for themselves and then they don’t need us. That might be true for a few clients, but not for most. The truth is, they can do more for themselves all the time. So part of your job consists of making sure they still rely on you – for everything.
It’s particularly important that you DO offer cloud services, tablet devices, and whatever else they might hear about on the news. If they hear on social media channels that companies are doing something new, you need to be ready to offer up the new services. Why? Loyalty.
The problem with the “Google” model for solving problems is that there’s no loyalty. Does the client go to their outsourced CIO or do they go to Google? If the answer is Google, then someone else will enter your client’s ecosphere. Google doesn’t migrate email systems. Google doesn’t determine whether they need a small server or a large server. Someone they found on Google does those things.
Lots of I.T. consultants have found themselves displaced in the last five years because they didn’t offer something – or their client didn’t know they offered it. And the problem is worse than it sounds. When a client can have one problem solved by a stranger they found on Google, they learned two things. First, they can get help somewhere else. Second, Google is a good resource.
That second lesson is the most important. As the age of business owners becomes younger, we are going to be challenged more and more with a mindset that has never experienced loyalty in the workplace. Stop and think about that. The younger crowd has less loyalty between employees and employers. And it has less loyalty to service providers.
More and more, it is becoming critical that you elevate your role above “computer guy” and into the CIO position. You need to take charge of building client loyalty. Left to their own devices (so to speak), clients will eventually wander off to Google and YouTube for support.
The little things – like changing the toner – are much more than the price you pay for client loyalty. Don’t think of the little things as the tedious chores you need to do to keep clients. Elevate the status of little things to the point of differentiating you from your competition.
One of my favorite quotes is from management consultant Tom Peters:
"The essence of sustainable competitive advantage is: 1) The obvious; 2) The little things; 3) The accumulation of little things over the years."
When you do all the little stuff right, it seems invisible at first. But eventually the client comes to expect it. They like the little things. They like feeling taken care of. They like the fact that you consistently provide a high level of service.
Notice, when you take a survey online, that you sometimes find it difficult to give that “ten” rating. Good is good. Great is great. And on a five-point scale, it’s pretty easy to give a five. But with a larger scale, it can be easy to give an eight and really hard to give a ten. Why? Details!
The difference between good, great, excellent, and amazing is very imprecise. But that doesn’t mean we’re unwilling to give a high rating when it’s justified.
On a scale like that, details make all the difference. Every little thing is correct. Every little thing went right. Every little thing was take care of. That’s when you earn a ten. So the little things aren’t little at all. They’re the mortar that holds the big things together.
The client has a very different perspective from you. They can’t actually evaluate whether the server is set up correctly. They don’t know what latency is. They don’t understand log files. They can’t judge most of what you do to make their life easier. But they can see and understand the little things.
What are the little things? Well, they include
In an age of remote support, we all need to work to maintain the personal relationships that make clients love us. No one has a personal relationship with Verizon, Comcast, or AT&T. They should have a personal relationship with their technology consultant.
An obvious piece of this strategy is that you will need to be on site from time to time in order to provide this level of service. That’s a good thing. Sometimes we let the pendulum swing too far in one direction. In our business that means we do so much remotely that we begin to lose the personal interaction.
The Fall “Holiday Season” is a great time to begin connecting more with your clients. You can drop in for no reason, drop off a small gift, and just ask if they need anything. Plan on a five minute visit so it’s clearly not a sales call. And once you’ve invited yourself to drop by and make sure all the little things are taken care, invite yourself back next month to do it again.