Build or burn?

What it means when a client queries your bill

Gauging how happy a client is with the service provided by a professional firm can be surprisingly hard.  The relationship between service provider and client is intimate and in the UK we find it uncomfortable to give even mild criticism directly to someone’s face.  There is however one sure fire way of knowing for certain if a client is unhappy with your service.  They will query your bill.

The nature of a professional service – lawyers, accountants, consultants of all hues – is that if a client is very happy with your service, the value you are adding will be far in excess of the costs you charge.  They won’t care how much it costs.  If they spot something in your bill that was unexpected, or an expense that they don’t know precisely why it was incurred, or an extra they thought was included in the original fee, they will probably let it slide.  If, however, the client is unhappy with your service – even if they have not given you any hint they are unhappy – they will be all over your bill.

It never ceases to amaze me how many professional firms don’t understand this.  Failing to realise there is a problem with a customer relationship that needs fixing, they instead defend the charge, explaining in great detail why the original fee did not include such and such work.  They miss the point entirely.  Some firms call this ‘being commercial’.  Well, good luck with that.

If you are client side of the relationship, here’s a tip for finding out how good a service you really received.  It works for any professional firm. Ask them how proud they are of the work they’ve done for you.  Specifically, ask them where your job lies in the rank of personal pride taken in all previous engagements.  The answer will reveal how much effort they put in, the value they put on the work and – probably – a bit about how they perceive you as a client.

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