No matter how obvious a problem, no matter how apparent a solution, no matter how clear the path is to go from point A to point B, service providers can’t make a client do anything. Yes, there are things that can be done on behalf of a client, but ultimately the client is responsible for what does or doesn’t happen on a project. Whether the client hires an accountant to do the taxes or a lawyer to represent them in a court case, the client is still ultimately responsible for the outcome. Each service provider relies on the information the client provides.
Questions and Answers
Ask a question, get an answer to that question; circumstances and data provided. Change a variable, withhold information that doesn’t seem relevant, or is “forgotten”… change the outcome. Add more or different data and information … get a different answer. Ultimately, clients control the interactions with the service provider and the flow of information to them. The service provider is not present 100% of the time with the client, so doesn’t have full knowledge of the situation. Thus the client bears the full burden for ensuring that relevant information gets to the service provider, that results are achieved and that “stuff” happens. It is the client’s business.
This doesn’t mean service providers don’t have responsibility and accountability for their role. Service providers must make an effort to ask the proper questions, gather comprehensive information, and fulfill their role as defined in the relationship agreement. It must be an active relationship where the service provider is looking for the things the client may not know to share, may not understand would be relevant, or would be reluctant to disclose for whatever reason. (Sometimes to influence the outcome of the opinions being offered by the “independent” advisor.)
So what is a service provider to do? As a service provider, ensure that you have:
- Clear, concise, defined agreement on work to be performed
- Clear, concise exclusions on what is NOT covered
- Clear and consistent payment terms
- Scheduling and deliverable requirements
o Define what happens and when
o A clear understanding of client deadlines and the impact of missed client deadlines
o Who and how a client authorizes work, changes in scope, etc.
Service Provider Clients: Drink Well
If you are the client, what expectations should you have? The same recommendations apply: The clearer the terms and understanding of what is expected the better the relationship will be for both parties. A few other things are important and need to occur BEFORE you seek out service providers:
- Understand what type of help you need. Are you looking for accounting help? Will it require a bookkeeper, a CPA, controller or CFO type? What are the differences? If you need legal assistance, is that for “general” legal work or something specific, e.g., an employee issue, intellectual property, litigation? Who and what are you looking for?
- Define the problem as clearly as you can in your own mind BEFORE you make the first call.
- Ask for referrals, recommendations, and research the names you get BEFORE you make any calls.
- Decide you are going to listen and HEAR what is being said by the service providers you are interviewing. Ask questions to get information not only about your situation but also about experience, credentials, and style. You want the service provider to be someone that can really help you deal with your issues, not someone who will just tell you what you want to hear.
- Be ready to hire a person whom you may not be entirely comfortable dealing with. You may need to hire someone who makes you uncomfortable with his/her strong personality, knowledge, experience, and/or attitude. He or she may be just the person you need to expand your skill base and challenge preconceived notions. You don’t want someone who will push you around, but you do want someone capable, knowledgeable, and equipped to fully represent your interests even when you might be the one getting in your own way.
Leading the Client …
Providing services is very much about leadership. There is no “making” the client do anything. Service providers are advisors and resources to the client. The client makes the decisions about what will and won’t be done. Whether a service provider is transactional, tactical, or strategic, the ultimate responsibility, accountability, and ownership for what happens rests with the business owner and management team. Everyone needs to understand that relationship and work to maximize its effectiveness through complete and honest communication. Sharing of opinions based upon full disclosure (or as full as is realistically possible) will result in better decisions and advice.
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