Quality Work Does Not Mean Quality Service

“Managing the Professional Services Firm” by David Maister is considered to be “core canon” among consulting professionals. Though it was originally published over 25 years ago (1993) it has aged gracefully and almost all of its content is still relevant today.

One of our team’s favorite distinction, as pointed out by Maister, is the difference between Quality Work and Quality Service. Specifically, that a consultant can perform technically competent work, but leave the client and the team feeling underwhelmed or even unsatisfied.

We have all experienced this – whether it be our tax accountant or the technical support person at the cable company. Even if the problem is solved we are rarely “raving fans” afterward. So if you are serving clients (remember, your clients could be internal to your company) here are some helpful tips to consider:

Here are five examples Meister gives:

– Give good explanations of what you are going to do and why,
– Keep the team informed on progress (status reporting),
– Involve the team at major points during the engagement,
– Avoid confusing jargon, and
– Make the team feel important.

Here are a few things we try to do on every project:

– Provide a high level project plan with key milestones prior to project start,
– Have project kick-off meetings where we discuss organization context and communication plans,
– Provide and discuss process workflows so everyone understands what we are doing, why, and when,
– In conversation, try to communicate with the client the way THEY want to be communicated with,
– Always send meeting agendas, read-ahead material, and establish goals prior to a meeting,
– Follow-up important conversations and meetings with a summary of our notes,
– Validate our understanding with process owners before taking it to their boss (or management),
– Try to anticipate and answer important questions in advance, and
– Putting everything we can into intuitive dashboards (rather than long paragraphs).

The irony in quality service failures is that the tasks are simple to execute, critical to each of our professional success and reputation, but still often neglected in practice. If each of us are deliberate in our approach to service – it will go a very long way toward creating satisfied clients and colleagues.

If you have your own set of tricks to “superplease” clients (as Maister says), share them in the comments.

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