Are you really addressing your clients highest priority?

friday, 2 march of 2007

Are you really addressing your client's highest priority?

by Trey Ryder

Maybe not.

Yesterday, I was speaking with one of my client's clients, who was offering a testimonial about the lawyer's services. Near the end of the conversation, the client explained that while he was in a hurry to get through the legal process, he thought his lawyer (my client) seemed more interested in saving him money, which the client explained was not that important to him.

This raised the issue: When you work for your client, how sure are you that the needs you're addressing are your client's highest priority?

Twenty years ago, my car mechanic, Bill, was also the maintenance director for a county fire department. This man could fix anything. Bill was well known for responding to a 2 a.m. call from a disabled fire truck -- 50 miles from the end of the world -- and getting that fire truck back to the shop with little more than "bubble gum, baling wire and bungee straps." To this day, Bill is a close friend.

Whenever my car needed an oil change -- or anything else -- I would drive 30 miles one way to Bill's fix-it shop, which was at his home. (This attests to the power of trust. I would have gladly driven 100 miles.) And, coming from his bungee-strap philosophy, Bill really knew how to pinch pennies. In fact, much of his identity was built on how well he could fix things at a very low cost, always taking verbal pot shots at car dealers.

One day I was patiently waiting for Bill to change my car's spark plugs, while his phone rang off the hook and people walked up his driveway asking for help.

Bill told me I didn't need new spark plugs. Instead, he said he could clean the old ones and they would work fine for another two months. He pointed out that at $2 per spark plug -- for the high-priced ones -- he could save me $16.

Was this a good deal? Yes, if all I cared about was delaying a $16 purchase. But in two months, when I needed new plugs, I would drive 60 miles round trip, lose another 3 to 4 hours, and endure this exercise again.

Bill's goal was to help save me every last dime. And while I don't shy away from saving money, my need to save 3 to 4 billable hours was much greater than my need to delay a purchase of $16. Bill assumed my priorities were the same as his.

Many of us fall into this trap. Often, we assume our clients' priorities are the same as our own. If my focus is on how I can save money, I assume my client wants to save money, too -- even if that’s not true. If I’m focused on the quickest way to achieve a goal, I assume my client also has a sense of urgency, which may not be the case.

Going back to my original example, my lawyer client learned that his client preferred a quick response and a good result, telling me that the lawyer’s fee wasn’t that important.

Don't assume all your clients share the same motivations as you. Don't assume all your clients want first and foremost to save money. And even if you and your clients are motivated by the same things, realize that their priorities may be different from yours.

To find out what's important to your clients, ask. You may discover their highest priority is time. Money. Winning. Protection. Peace of mind. A quick result -- any number of things. Then, once you know your clients' priorities, make those your priorities, too.

Your clients are much happier when you put their needs first. But you'll never know which needs are most important to your clients until you ask.

© Trey Ryder

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