How much responsibility should we really take?

Although many people use them interchangeably, I’ve always made it a point in my writings and in my talks to differentiate between the terms customer and consultant.

By my way of thinking, a customer describes a somewhat anonymous, impersonal transaction or connection. I am a customer of the cable company. I have no personal connection with them and they have no personal bond with me. In fact, I’m nothing more life ring2than a number – and a very long number to boot. The cashier in the supermarket can smile and be pleasant, but it’s definitely a one-time or occasional transaction.

On the other hand, I’ve always thought of my clients as “individuals or organizations for whom I willingly and proactively take responsibility.” We have anything but an anonymous relationship. In fact, it’s an extremely close relationship built on mutual trust and honesty and, theoretically, that trust increases as the years go by. At least that’s the way it usually works.

As a professional… a consultant… advisor… coach… and so on… we take responsibility to make sure that our clients do things properly, efficiently, and affordably. We also take responsibility to make sure they avoid mistakes and, when we see something, we say something… we proactively take steps to prevent them from making a bad situation worse.

In theory, taking responsibility for a client creates a bond between them and us. In return, they repay us not only for the specific “good work” we do on their behalf, but also for watching their backs. 

As a business and marketing consultant, I’ve always wondered how much responsibility I should take? Do I watch only the small things or only the big things? Do I watch only the big things and let the little things take care of themselves?

Where exactly does my responsibility begin and where does it stop? Is my responsibility to my clients only in my field of expertise… or should I take responsibility for every aspect of my client’s business? If, for example, I see them doing something the hard way, is it my place to say something… to throw them a life ring? Or do I hold my tongue?

On occasion I’ve done that… adding my two cents when I either saw an opportunity or a danger. In a few instances I got a dirty look that said, “Hey, you’re just the marketing guy. Sit down and be quiet.” At other times I shared what I knew and what I saw and my clients were extremely grateful.

From time to time, I’ve been caught in a situation where a tenacious sales person chased me for months. There were lots of calls and follow up (and good follow up, too). However, once my signature hit the dotted line and the service was provided, I never heard from them again.

I thought they would pay as much attention to me following the sale as they did in making sale. But it was then and only then did I realize I was on my own… managing my own account… self-educating myself about changes in technology… and so on. They didn’t want me as a client. They didn’t want to take responsibility after the sale. They only wanted me as a one-time customer.

Usually, at this point in my blog post, I’m able to come to some conclusion – to have the answer, so to speak – as to where exactly to draw the line between overprotecting clients or under protecting them. I suppose that every client relationship is different… in much the same way that every friendship is different.

But I am curious to know how you handle this. Where exactly do you draw the line? And how did you know where to draw that line?

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One Response to How much responsibility should we really take?

  1. Kent McVey says:

    We always talk about looking out for the clients’ best interest, but I think the only way to do that, and build a real relationship, is to be as responsible for them as you would be for a close friend. I’m reminded of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ when Santa sent the customer to Gimbels because even at the risk of losing business, his only goal was to get the best value for the customer (which as everyone knows, worked out pretty well for Macy’s in the end). Personally, I think it’s better to err on the side of taking too much responsibility vs. the other way around.

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