Project Management

A little something extra

High quality coffee beans could possibly save a rocky client relationship. Chip Camden explains how in his post about goodwill, respect, and kindness.

Back in the late 90s, I visited one of my clients on an almost daily schedule. They must have chosen their coffee vendor based on price, because its only redeeming value was that it delivered a barely adequate dose of caffeine. One day, I stopped at a local roaster's and picked up a bag of good stuff. I took it to my client's office and brewed up a pot. When I let everyone know about it, all the coffee addicts rushed the pot. I continued to brew up the good stuff every time I'd arrive on site. I must have spent about $60 a month on coffee, of which I only consumed a small portion. But I purchased an invaluable measure of goodwill. To the coffee-drinkers at my client's office (no small percentage), I was no longer an outside consultant. I had become a vital member of their community.

Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) sent me the following story about one of his clients:

On their file cabinet rests a whole little car collection, among them a metal Police Paddy Wagon from, oh, 1916. On my own, I brought over from my collection a 1:18 scale Model T Ford black Police Wagon and gave it to them, put it on the shelf. Now it is really about $20 on Ebay but every time they see that little gem ... I have an internal sales agent on-site.

The word "sales" may sound a bit dirty when applied to these little kindnesses, but marketing doesn't have to be evil to be effective. Perhaps it seems a little dishonest to say that your marketing should go beyond a straightforward exposition of your ability to perform the desired services at a reasonable price. By appealing to your client's emotional attachment to someone they like as a person, are you potentially doing them a disservice if someone else could do the job better? I don't think so. People aren't machines -- or if you will, they're complicated machines. To be effective, they need human relationships that work. The benefits you can bring to your client by engaging them as fellow humans can go far beyond the tasks for which you were originally hired.

That principle applies to business-related activities, too. Put a little extra something into your work that shows that you care about their success. Share your knowledge. Help your client's employees improve themselves and their business. Go beyond expectations, so that when they write that check or approve that invoice, they do it with a smile.

One day as I was reviewing my business history, I decided to run some numbers comparing the payment practices of my clients. The one with the best payment record of all was a smallish software house that had used me for one-off projects scattered irregularly over a decade. But they always paid me about 10 days after I sent them an invoice, without fail. I gave them a "customer appreciation credit" that they could use for future services, without any time limit. When I called the owner to let him know, he said, "I always thought that was just how business should be conducted." I told him that I agreed whole-heartedly, but I thanked him for being one of the few who live up to those principles. Thus, I took the genuine goodwill that he created in my mind and reflected it into goodwill towards my generosity. Respect and kindness breed more respect and kindness.

Sometimes you can even save a client relationship from a death spiral by injecting a little kindness. When someone pays late, disrespects you, or otherwise lets their end of the bargain down, you might instinctively react by pulling in your vulnerable parts and putting up a defensive stance. It's good to assert your rights, but if you can sweeten it with an act of kindness, however small, it shows that you're bigger than petty bickering. Of course, it may not work. Some people will seize any opportunity to take advantage of you. Once that happens, you know you don't want them as a client any more. The human-to-human aspect goes both ways.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

27 comments
albayaaabc
albayaaabc

i mean how effective on mode!!!!!!

grouchylibrarian
grouchylibrarian

Two quick comments - 1. See subject line: when I was in charge of IT, I did not take anything from a vendor unless all the crew received something - avoid the appearance of evil, so to speak. 2. (not an advertisement) if you are going with Coffee - I'd suggest www.coffeefool.com.. PK :-)

MDwyer
MDwyer

Some things never go out of style--this is right out of the Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People school. A nice read, available at any DAV store.

RW17
RW17

All of the Project Managers I have ever had to deal with, on 15 major ERP implementations in the past 10 years, absolutely balk at the ideas that this makes a difference. They would not share absolutely any budget whatsoever, as minimal as this may seem on projects that are $200 million in budget and more, and I was even punished several times for doing the "special little thing" for my client resources by myself! For example, I once ran the UAT for FI/CO modules at one client, and I seconded a meeting room for this purpose. I knew the client resources would hate to have to come to that room to do the tests, and they would not want to stay in that room for any length of time and would "short" the tests I need them to execute and report on as a result. SOLUTION: I bought cookies, bags of candies, taffy, and good coffee and put it in the room... and I did two more things: (1) I set the rule that you were only entitled to these goodies if you were testing in the room, and (2) I made "public awards of goodies" to those who completed test cases (with good or bad results... I needed to know about both, after all). THE RESULT: We finished all test cases over 1 week ahead of schedule. Guess what... the PM still gave me hell for doing this out of my own pocket and, yes, it cost me a total of several hundred dollars... BUT I got the test done with spectacular results... When I think I have behaved a little over-aggressively with my clients or my co-consultants, I apologize... not only do I apologize, but I apologize with boxes of chocolates and gourmet coffee. We ALL need to apologize at times, especially in the world of being a consultant on ERP implementations... do it with the effort that garners returned smiles. And, sometimes, I just do these things for no reason at all. That's the best. I learned a long time ago that flowers to a girlfriend were actually a gift to myself (in many ways, but mainly because of the joy my actions gave her)... but flowers to a girlfriend when there was no apparent or obvious reason for them made me the "king of men" in her eyes. Simply put, my service to a client is founded the most in my relationship with that client. Secondary is my knowledge. Trust, a level of service beyond the norm, and maximized communication... those are the #1 keys to success! You will only meet the challenge if you do those special things that go beyond the usual consultant-client replationship, and the result will be increased honesty and communication from your client that allows you to provide your knowledge to them even better.

albayaaabc
albayaaabc

for long time the relation of business and coffee so strong also other like "bebsi,coca cola..." and be famous in it because of energtic our brain with extra energy so we preference coffee with diet to be no dangeraous on healthy especially heart.

jhorton
jhorton

Having spent time on both sides of this fence (and expecting to do so again ere the end of my career), what Chip and many of you are saying is quite true: small kindnesses cost little and have high dividends. However, it is not a 'technique' or artifice as those would be recognized as fake and do more damage than good. The common thread to all of these stories is empathy - the ability to care about a customer as individuals - and that is what makes any business successful. It sounds trite, but an application of the 'Golden Rule' is ever a solid foundation for human interaction, whether for renumeration or no.

sipr
sipr

i deeply agree with this concept, but to be able to effectively apply you need to be able to spot the coffe, the toy car collection and so, and depending on the size of the organization, you have to apply an appropriate way to let people know that this was your move. either you have to learn an at least half thousand-item list of examples and their suggested solutions or you have to be an artist. the walk-on-thin ice nature of being personal enough to touch someone (so that they think of more than your price/perfornance ratio) but not to hurt privacy is an additional technique of this art. and what if there is a client where you really feel that you need to find their targeted something, like the coffee or the toy car, and the idea simply does not come? so why not start collecting (the stories that were and are really effective)

www.indigotea.com
www.indigotea.com

This one really hits home; I think it's one of the defining characteristics that can give a small business/consultancy the edge over larger, more impersonal organizations. Good job! That little something extra can be something as small as fixing formatting for a client that's too rushed to do it themselves, or sending them articles on topics relevant to their industry or business. It does go a long way!

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

This is the kind of intangible stuff that makes all the difference between success and failure in business (and not just from a monetary point of view).

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

As a field tech, something as simple as a folowup phone call after a service call the previous day can go a long ways towards building clients trust and insuring you'll be the first they call when trouble erupts again. Cleaning a display screen and a few baby wipes on a dirty keyboard helps to keep them thinking of you even after you're gone.

JamesRL
JamesRL

My mechanic told me the install of the part I bought and brought to the shop should take an hour. It took 2, mostly because my part came with fittings that didn't fit my vehicle. My mechanic apologized for the delay, and didn't charge me more than the quoted hour. He could have, and I'm sure many shops would have, and I would have paid. But he wants to keep customers happy, so he doesn't worry about the small stuff. When I was consulting and billing hourly, once the first hour was past, I never incremented to the next hour, until I gave them a full hour of work . They knew I spent many fractional hours on them for free, and that built trust and loyalty. If you treat your clients the way you would like to be treated as a client, if you do little things for them that lets them know you are thinking about them, but do them without expectation of immediate reward you can gain loyalty, and it always costs less to keep a customer happy than to find a new one.

reisen55
reisen55

My grandfather utilized this approach in truly significant ways. As Chairman of a packaging consulting firm, Edgar Steiner & Company (see True Magazine, August 1959 issue for a profile), he sent out corporate thank-you letters for sales and with them a small gift - a plaque, a medal, etc that were created for this purpose. One plaque, "There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit" was sent to Justin Dart of Dart Industries in the 1950s. Reagan knew Dart, liked the plaque, pocketed it and it wound up on his desk in the Oval office. True, it's right there. Also attributed to Robert Woodruff of Coca Cola - same phrase, same plaque and Steiner worked for Coca Cola in the late 1950s too. Guess where that plaque came from??? Small things go a long way. I delivered a box of doughnuts to the law office today. Six were gone in about 2 hours.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but it's amazing how much good will a service technician can build with just a couple of screen wipes.

albayaaabc
albayaaabc

you can eat in workplace especially house some icid like Amino acide and glutamine with king honey to increase ideally. I begin so any ellse$bay

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I wrote my reply to sipr before I read this -- you said it better than I did.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It isn't a science that you can apply equally to all people in all situations. What works for one will not work for another. The key is to establish a personal connection with that person, and then do for them what you think they will genuinely appreciate.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... people who work for big companies often feel the need to be impersonal, but it happens. We're all people. I guess we small organizations are forced to build relationships in any way we can, rather than having them handed to us by the sales force. Thanks for the kind words.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Over the years I keep on learning that business is more about people than it is about technology. Or money.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

They'll often bring that kind of treatment up to others when their speaking about you, too.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... that none of those doughnuts would ever make it to the Oval Office, but it seems that what they turn into after being consumed forms a large percentage of the brains in DC. Great story, Bob!

MikeGall
MikeGall

But as an in house IT or just technical guru when not working in IT I find spending a couple minutes figuring out what people due is often well looked at. What I mean is not just coming in the office and configuring the IP of the new workstation but actually getting an idea of the work that that particular person does. Often you'll find that they have something that bothers them that they've been too embarrassed to being up are didn't even think there was a solution to. Heck showing people windows-e brings up explorer, and ctrl-shift-esc does task manager without ctrl-alt-delete + clicking option looks like magic to some people and they'll love you for saving them 30s a day for something they use all the time.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but in many cases it really says, "Gods of us all, how can you see anything through those fingerprints and pizza grease???" :D But the user doesn't need to know that.

MikeGall
MikeGall

Is when the pizza greaseball shows up in your office and wants to show you the problem with your nice dual 20" setup. It takes all the will power I have to not say "hey greaseball stay 1ft away from my monitor and keyboard at all times." Pointing doesn't work any differently when you physicially touch the screen as when you don't I'm not sure why people don't get that. Sadly iPhone and other touch screen devices are teaching people bad habits. I swear the first greaseball that tries a swipe gesture on my desktop screen is going to get physically removed from my office.