In recent months I have had the need to hire an attorney (usually they hire us) and a new computer technician. I categorize them, like us, as service professionals. These experiences have been interesting and have served as a reminder that there are vast differences in the impressions made, sometimes by even small details, when someone hires a service professional. This lesson is important for me to consider to ensure, in the business I co-own, that we are doing things right when selling our services. Small details include the basics, like returning telephone calls! And, having a business card, one that is not tattered or torn. Although we may no longer keep cards any longer than it takes to enter them into a computerized contact manager, the impression of handing over a card, while not as formal as in Japan, is still noted. (At least one of the computer techs did not have a card.) Beyond the basics, the next steps are often contracts or engagement materials. I know ours are extensive and have grown over the years. One of the computer tech companies presented a well prepared scope of services document spelling out what was and what was not covered and at what costs. Another had nothing. Guess which one got the job? As for the attorneys, I saw at least 4 engagement packages. Two were fine, though different. It surprised me that one of these was just 1 page, down to the basics. The other, while longer, was straightforward and to the point, perfectly acceptable. Of the other two, one made it painfully clear they were expensive, but they really did not seem to understand my issue. Everything seemed one sided. The other was brief and clear, and they did understand the issues well, but they were unwilling to say what they were going to do for me, what actions they would take, what their plan was for handling the matter. Much of the information for this firm was in the form of email correspondence in which they had ample opportunity to explain these details, and inspire some confidence in how they would handle my matter. In that they had not done so, I hoped to see it in the engagement letter. I did not. I found someone to hire, but it was an arduous process. And, interestingly, neither of the 2 firms who I found to be less appealing bothered to follow up with me to see if I had questions or was ready to proceed. I hope my clients do not feel that way. My materials are lengthy and contain lots of terms and conditions intended to answer questions or anticipate issues we have faced many times; I intend our materials to be thorough but not onerous as at least one of the law firm proposals was. But, overall, hiring these 2 service professionals reminded me of one of the biggest challenges we have in providing professional services. The proof of our worth comes after the service is provided, that is, we not sell a tangible item people can hold, feel, or examine. So, the sales process involves selling work to be done after the client purchases it. Thus, the process needs to be reassuring to let the client know what they are getting and how the service will be provided. And, the little details matter!
First impressions count. This statement is a tried and true maxim of social psychology that is well known among many non psychologists. Just as one’s personal appearance and demeanor determine the impression one makes on others, a service provider’s written materials also convey information important in determining whether a potential customer/client will hire the company. Due to an unfortunate situation involving my company’s long time computer technician, my spouse/business partner and I had to replace him and his company with a new computer support firm. I contacted 2 companies, based on recommendations from someone in another professional service business. One computer tech never bothered to return my call; thus, needless to say, I never followed up with him. The other computer tech returned my call, however, when he and his employee arrived at my office for their interview, they were unprepared and lacked any written materials, for example, business cards, a brochure, a price list for services we had discussed on the phone, etc. My partner was not impressed with my efforts in finding a suitable replacement for the computer tech, such that he called an attorney client of ours (who happens to be a friend in addition to a client) to ask for his recommendation. This computer tech was well prepared for his interview and he provided us with a well written contract that clearly spells out the services he provides a well as their cost. It seems like a simple thing to ask a service professional: “What can you do to help me and how much will it cost?” However, given recent and countless other experiences, it appears far more difficult than many people appreciate to find someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to make an all important positive first impression, thereby ensuring he/she will get the job.