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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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#971: Why Be a Change Agent When Your Client Really Needs a Transition Agent?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 23, 2009

My role as a consultant is to help clients get from their current operations to become best in class (or at least better). The problem, however, seems to be that improvements don't stick. After a period of improved performance, improvements seem to slip away as staff turn over and markets change. How can I help my clients extend the period of performance improvement?

Several years ago William Bridges made the distinction between change and transition. He said that too many companies are focused on change, which is an activity-based concept, and too few are focused on transition, which is a more continuous concept. The latter includes the transformation of culture required to sustain improved performance. As a consultant, part of your job is to determine to what extent your client needs support in each of these areas, given that both are needed.

Be clear with your client about the scope of their intended improvement effort and to what extent you can help them. Change activities such as new hires or training, improved technology, financial restructuring, or a new marketing plan are straightforward, although not necessarily easy. These are typical areas for which companies ask consultants for help. What is harder is the transition of the culture, the concept of operations, and embedding strategy into the organization. These latter outcomes are seen as softer and indirect foci of consulting and for which too few clients appreciate the need. However, without them, the "change" is temporary and performance improvement dissipates. The ability to carry a client through transition can be at least as important as traditional change activities.

Tip: Explain to your client the difference between change and transition and the role o each in where they want to take the organization. Perhaps both of you might read Bridges' book Managing Transitions and discuss how you can help with each aspect. This is a good opportunity to use your network to assemble a complete consulting team to provide skills in whichever area (change or transition) in which you lack skills.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  marketing 

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#970: Making Sure You Are In Sync With Your Client

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, January 22, 2009
Updated: Thursday, January 22, 2009
There are times when I leave a meeting with my client and we are just not on the same page. Sure, we agree on what activities have taken place and what remains to be done, but it seems like I don't know what is going on inside their heads

You are perceptive to recognize that this is an important issue. If you are going to be ahead of your client, or at least not behind, you need to understand their mindset, their concerns, and their emotions. It is easier, of course, to just consider your relationship with a client as transactional: they ask you to provide a service and you provide it based on your experience and skills. But that's not the basis of a trusted advisor relationship.

Decisions are highly influenced by emotion. Do you know to what extent your client or his or her staff are bound by emotion, even for "technical" decisions? What factors exist that could affect those emotions? How do they feel about you, trust your professional judgment, or consider you trustworthy as a person? How does the way they use or are aware of the emotional component of operating and decision making affect how you could, or should, present them with information or a request for a decision?

Tip: Before any encounter with your client, ask yourself "What do I want them to think and feel as a result of this upcoming discussion or event?" Am I trying to get them to change the way they think or feel about a certain issue, person or event? Do I want them to think or feel differently about me? Is where their head is right now conducive to my short or longer term objectives and is this the right time to inform them of a specific fact or recommend a specific course of action? Have I correctly understood where they are now and will my approach leave them in the desired thinking and feeling frame of mind?

P.S. Although some consultants may approach every conversation like this intuitively, get into the habit of asking yourself these questions before each conversation, meeting, or presentation. This technique applies equally to encounters with a group of people, such as when you are presenting your findings to a management team. Don’t get stuck just presenting “just the facts” and forget that you are trying to influence your audience, something
 

Tags:  client service  consultant role  consulting process 

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#969: Being a Valuable Referral Resource to Clients

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Updated: Thursday, January 22, 2009
I would like to be a better resource to my clients by being able to offer skills and expertise in areas related to my current work. My problem is that my network is just not that big and I have few people to refer.

Regardless of your company size, many consultants have limited ability to provide their clients with a solid reference for talented advice outside their own area of expertise. Large companies tend to be inward looking because they often provide many services internally. Small companies and solo practitioners spend so much time delivering services in their niches that they don’t get a chance to develop large networks. If you are to be a trusted, valuable advisor to your client, you need to be able to bring expertise in may areas of strategy, operations and culture. If it is not coming from you, the next best thing is to have a good network of referral sources.

Tip: Make a list of your most trusted colleagues and note, for each one, those services and skills you consider to be their core value adds. Review this list every month or two to see how they might be able to use those services or experience to serve your clients. While you are at it, make sure these referral sources are aware of your skills, expertise and current availability to provide services in your area of expertise to their clients and clients they know of. Consider even describing your current engagement (being careful to protect confidential information) and ask them how they might be able to support your client, either together with you or separately. Ask if they could do the same. Quid pro quo.
 

Tags:  client relations  client service  consultant role  practice management 

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#968: Offering a Guarantee on Your Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Recognizing that some clients are risk-averse in buying intangible services, I am wondering if it makes sense for me to offer some sort of "satisfaction guarantee" for my consulting services.

This is a common discussion among consultants and one that bridges two perspectives of the nature of consulting services. On the one hand, a consultant is delivering a professional service based on experience, best practices, and a commitment to the current client's interests. Consultation is not a manufactured product that can be created with a standardized process to narrow tolerances and tested for conformance. Much of the outcomes of a consultation, especially implementation of recommendations, are not under the control of the consultant. A consultant is responsible for diagnosis and recommendations; the client is responsible for accepting (or not) those recommendations and implementing them. In such cases, it is unreasonable to hold a consultant fully accountable for the impact of their services.

On the other hand, clients reasonably assume they are receiving high quality services, grounded in a consultant's professional competence and ethics. Consultants are frequently castigated for promising to provide services for which they are not qualified or making unfeasible implementation recommendations. A professional consultant, one who is committed to ethical practices and continuous improvement in consulting skills and behaviors, can promise that the diagnostic, analytic, and recommendation phases of an engagement are competently provided. These conditions are usually sufficient to assure a client that the services received for a fee, despite being customized and intangible in nature, can reasonably be expected to meet their expectations.

The point, however, is to what extent a consultant should offer to give up fees for services the client feels are unsatisfactory or offer to repeat services until a client is satisfied. Assuming a client is not trying to take advantage of a consultant, this issue comes down to what an explicit agreement between consultant and client as to what the client is buying. Clients are looking for a good outcome, of which a consultant's professional recommendations are only one part. The services are in the recommendation, not the outcome.
 
Tip: To avoid the unpleasant situation of a client refusing to pay for services rendered, have an explicit discussion of what you are providing. Relate this to a visit to a doctor, where your paying for the visit is not contingent on the diagnosis you receive. As long as you are providing competent and ethical services, you should not start down the path of offering to keep redoing services until a client is satisfied. There are strong opinions on both sides of this issue, but to offer refunds raises the issue in a client's mind that you are not completely confident of your professional skills and value of service.
 

Tags:  client  client service  fees  marketing  reputation  sales 

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#967: The Need for Innovation From Management Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 19, 2009
Updated: Monday, January 19, 2009

With the economy in rough shape, clients are focused on the traditional, basic, and core aspects of business. These are usually cost cutting, process streamlining, and top line growth. If these are not my areas of expertise, how best can I use my consulting skills?

These "core skills" you describe are always in demand, but this does not mean that they are the only ones needed by public and private sector organizations. By working harder to make more and spend less money, organizations can survive flat markets. But these are not just flat economic times. Businesses need to create value, not just squeeze more out of current accounts and operations.

This calls for innovation in technology, finance and management. It is this last area in which management consultants can provide significant value. Consider your wealth of experience in a range of settings and put your ingenuity and expertise to work to create new approaches to the new problems facing your client.

Regardless of your area of expertise, the current environment is unlike any faced by our consulting colleagues in their lifetime. Neither you or your client has any experience that wouldn't benefit from innovative approaches to emerging challenges they face.

Tip: Sit down with your client to discuss the need for new approaches. For example, if tight credit is a dominant challenge, think about how to partner with your suppliers to spread risk and manage cash flow. If talent management is the issue, maybe consider working with new outplacement firms or suggest some of your consulting colleagues willing to serve in interim roles. Do more than just bring your experience, create some new experience.

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