Friday, February 18, 2011

"Can you Just...?" or When to Go Above and Beyond

We all do this - we need something done, so we turn to the person we're talking to and ask, "Can you just do this for me?" We ask doctors at parties for advice about a weird pain in our arm, we ask our friend the designer to make us a logo. We really do know that what we're asking isn't just one simple thing, but we've decided to pretend it is. After all, if they asked us we'd...

...but would we, really? How many times have you been approached by someone you know and asked for "just" one thing - you know, something simple like a promotional campaign or an explanation on the best way to do email marketing for their business or how to get a million Twitter followers quickly.

Erika Napoletano (@RedheadWriting) says it bluntly in her article about Theory vs Teaching: How NOT To Give Away Your IP : ...if you keep trolling the interwebz and your local professional events in search of people who will tell you how to blow your business out of the water for free, you’re an asshole.

Let's admit it - we're all assholes from time to time. At some point in time, we've all said, "Can you just...?" even (sometimes, especially) when we know that that "just" isn't simple at all.

On the other hand, how many times have we read articles that tell you customer service is about going above and beyond what the customer needs to really provide excellent service? How many times have we spent hours hand-holding clients, or talking them off the ledge of a really bad idea?

One of my very first clients was extremely needy. I had to spend a lot of extra time on the phone with them, did far more work than the project warranted and in the end...they stiffed me. No pay, no return calls, they blocked my emails and ability to contact them on a shared social network. I learned a very hard lesson with that project. Now, no more hand-holding new clients. They pay me, they get what I promised. That's it. They have to prove themselves to *me* before they'll get that extra time and effort.

Recently I was called by an old friend. She could not pay me, but she needed advice. There was no question in my mind - I immediately helped her out. Luckily, she's also quite sensible and wasn't asking for a ridiculous commitment of time, but even if she was, I'd have jumped to help - because I *know* that if/when I need her help, she'd be there for me to "just" do that one thing.

So, when do we "just" do something?

Here are a few Guidelines you can use to know who you should do "just" one more thing for:

Client Advocates - These people don't just use your services, they sell your services to everyone they encounter. They may be friends, peers and/or customers - they are part of your trusted inner circle. For these people, if you're not going above and beyond, you're missing an opportunity to thank them for all their work on your behalf, and a chance to make them that much more enthused about your services.

Repeat Clients - Despite the fact that competition is tough and there's always someone out there who will lowball, these clients come back over and over. These are the people to whom you first offer new services and goods, and when they ask if you can "just" add on one more thing, it's a good bet that it won't be wasted time.

Referrals - These people have been told that you are really good at what you do. Don't throw the whole book of tricks at them, but this is an incredible opportunity to pull out an extra stop and do that one last thing that will take the edge off their concerns. Get their shoulders to relax in relief, and you've got a client for the long haul.

On the other side of the coin here are some folks for whom "just" one more thing is likely to be a time-sink:

Family - I won't elaborate here. We all know this is true. Family has no idea how *hard* what you do is, because they so often don't really understand what you do. Draw clear lines right at the very start of the project, and be firm that no, you can't "just do one more thing."

On Again-Off Again Clients - These folks ping-pong back and forth looking for the best deal. They love you, until you quote a price, then they insist they can get a better quote down the road. Once they agree, they'll niggle and nag until they've weaseled a whole other project out of you...and they'll be the last ones to pay the bill.

New Clients - This sounds counterintuitive, because of course we want to wow new clients right out of their seats. Well, yes - wow them with what they contracted for and what you promised. Do an *amazing* job at exactly what they asked for. When it's all over and you have that check in your hand, suggest next steps, and be more open to doing just one more thing for them.

As with all things dealing with people, there is no one simple answer for this. The most important thing is to be mindful of who you're willing to do "just" one more thing for, and stick to your guns. And while we're at it, let's be mindful of who *we* ask "Can you just...?"

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is go above and beyond. Sometimes there's no question, you'll do the extra work because the relationship is worth it Knowing the difference is critical to knowing when you can do just one more thing.
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