Going the Extra Mile for the Client

by | March 31, 2009

Consultants dread "scope creep," that horrible condition in which a client keeps demanding more and more attention that wanders farther and farther from the original objectives for the project. Enough wandering and the profits are lost in the wilderness.

However, what about those circumstances under which we should go the extra mile and provide services above and beyond the norm for quite reasonable and pragmatic conditions? I'd like to suggest what some of those occasions might be, since they've often provided me with the opportunity to cement relationships and/or further build business.

You find a critical issue outside of the project scope. I've found instances of cheating on expenses, stolen equipment, customer confidentiality violated, hostile work environment, and key officers preparing to depart without notice. In every case, these issues were divorced from the project I was implementing, but in every case I went to the buyer and stated that I was ethically bound to report what I had seen, described the factual evidence, and suggested some possible resolutions. At least half the time, the buyer asked me to assist in the resolution and told me simply to "add whatever is necessary to the existing fee arrangement." Frankly, though, I'd do it for free, because of the long-term advantages.

A good client has a legitimate need and could use a favor. You'll find that clients who have never taken advantage of the relationship will find themselves in hard times for any number of reasons. I'll happily expand my project to include something else - or implement on a wider basis than I otherwise would - to make sure the client is well served. Eventually, when things improve, I'll be at the top of the list when the client needs help.

You can learn a lot about something you don't usually handle. A client might say, "I know this isn't your area of expertise, but I could use some good common sense here." I once helped in an impasse about compensation practices, although I don't know much about the technical aspects, because I could provide the common sense. I learned about how compensation practices are formulated and introduced, and can now converse about it quite well (although I still wouldn't consult on the technical aspects).

You're dealing with an unknown. There are those times when you don't know what you don't know, and neither does the client. You agree to go forward without a formal agreement, confident that you and the buyer will reach a win/win accommodation. This has happened to me with "trouble in the Chicago field office" and "a failure of communication between customer service, production, and inventory." It's not a free needs analysis, but is actually a brief investigation to allow the buyer and me to get our arms around the issues. The client might decide to do nothing, of course, and I would respect that, but I'm confident that my insights and recommendations will lead to a project.

I'm all for discipline and clearly defined parameters for any project, but I'm also of the mind that high-powered professionals have to know when to make legitimate and intelligent exceptions. I would be more reluctant to engage in any "extra mile" enlargement for a brand-new client, although I might if it were a Microsoft or Boeing. The key is to use your judgment: Is the client's request an honest call for help or an attempt to get something for nothing? Is the client in imminent danger if no action is taken? Do you stand to gain in the long term despite the short-term extra work?

The beauty of value pricing is that you don't have to worry about billable and nonbillable time. You just have to be concerned about the client's best interests and your role in the client's future.

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