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Telephone Consultation Fees

By TheVirtualOne ·
One of the biggst mistakes that I have made is to allow my customers total access... to me. I need to announce to my clients that I can no longer spend frivolous time trying to explain matters to them that they do not yet understand over the phone so that they can try to fix "simple" issues themselves.

Does anyone have a document or advice that they can share with me and the other members prepared to handle this? I'd love to hear any advice that I can get on this serious problem that may plauge you and your staff too.

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Sorry, it should have been in your contract.

by DC_GUY In reply to Telephone Consultation Fe ...

There's no graceful way to tell your customers that you intend to stop providing a service they've become accustomed to as a no-cost extra, no matter how just your position is.

The best you can do is talk with each of them personally, explain your problem, and announce that in 90 days you will begin charging by the hour for phone consultation, with a 15-minute minimum, at a rate that is somewhat lower than your on-site charges.

This is yet another good reason why every consultant must have a standard contract that has been reviewed by an attorney who is familiar with your particular business.

You should probably consult your attorney even before you tell anyone with whom you already have a contract that you intend to start charging. Other professionals such as auto mechanics and even physicians don't charge for phone consultation. It may be a violation of common law for you to decide to stop doing it when it's not spelled out in your contract.

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by TheVirtualOne In reply to Sorry, it should have bee ...

It used to be that I didn't use a contractwith a lot of in-home users, and soho clients, some of them have been with me since I started my business, they were my bread and butter for a while. They needed the hand-holding and I needed the "marketing time".

re: Your advice about the 90 day window.
Could 30 days be sufficient and what is your opinion on an annual, or monthly recurring charge to offset those really short calls -vs- the occasional 12 minute call?

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Get a retainer

by wordworker In reply to Telephone Consultation Fe ...

I recommend setting yourself up on retainer with them. You put in writing, "I will provide X hours of tech support per month for $xxx paid in advance at the beginning of each month, and unused hours do not roll over."

Then decide what's the minimum increment of time that you'll debit against their account. Send the customer a statement that reads like this:
mm/dd Call from Joe regarding e-mail 0.25 hour
mm/dd Call from Jill re lost file 0.25
mm/dd E-mail support re Jill's file 0.5

Then show the hours available minus the hours used.

If they go over the number of retainer hours in a month, do you charge extra automatically, or do you have a fudge factor, i.e., "$600 per month gets you 10-12 hours of support." Anything above 12 gets billed at $65/hour.

Then they'll think twice before they call you for every little thing. Your services will be perceived as more valuable, and they'll "save up" the important issues, knowing they'll have to pay.

I have used this model and customers like it because when they pay you a retainer, they feel like they own a piece of you, they feel confident that you'll get back to them within 24-48 or whatever SLA you establish. The alternative, if you're doing stuff for free, is that they don't own you, and you'll get back to them whenever you can.

But just answering the phone or e-mail ad hoc anytime they have a question? Never give that away for free. Your time is worth a dollar an hour for that kind of work, at least.

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by TheVirtualOne In reply to Get a retainer

Good advice!

I appreciate your comments and stories they are helping me develop a similar strategy to use with my clients.

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