Do you charge clients for "diagnosis" time?

Do you charge your clients for the time it takes to diagnose their problems—even if you determine that you can't fix them? Put in your two cents on this consultant topic.

TechRepublic’s discussion forums are a great place to sound off about industry trends and solicit answers about day-to-day problems from your peers. Recently, TechRepublic reader Karl E.started a discussion in which he asked if clients should be charged for time spent diagnosing their problems.

For instance, Karl E. wrote, Client A had lost all of his data on an NT workstation and had no backup. Client A decided to reinstall NT himself, and when another problem arose, he called Karl E.

“He did not tell me [that he had lost data and reinstalled NT] on the phone, just that he had a problem seeing the network on NT Server [even though he did not have NT server]. When I got there, he had a completely different problem than he described. It required a reinstall of NT, hence up to a day to get the network back to scratch.”

Due to other client commitments, Karl E. did not have time to take the job. Should he charge Client A for the time he spent researching the problem?

So far, the responses to Karl’s query have been divided between those who think Karl should “sock it” to the client and those who think he should charge a flat fee.

For example, Tbradley wrote that he set a flat fee of $25 to $50 per hour just to show up and make a diagnosis. “I made it clear up front that those fees were non-negotiable and due upon arrival…If I had to make a return visit, I would apply the money already paid to the total, eating the travel costs for the second trip.”

On the flip side, Rzan suggested that Karl charge the troublesome client a penalty fee. “If I were you, I would charge the client double for you having to waste time going to inspect a machine which had more damage done to it because the client decided to perform a do-it-yourself fix-it job on it,” he wrote. “When the client realizes that his or her tinkering will cost them twice, they will patiently wait next time and not attempt to totally destroy the machine beyond recognition.”
If you were Karl E., would you charge the client for “diagnosis” time? If you diagnose the problem as one you can’t fix, does that change your answer? E-mail us your opinion, or answer Karl directly by adding to the discussion.

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