A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting of professional consultants. One discussion centered on a question a client might ask a consultant and that is, “Can you guarantee your work?” The consultant initiating this discussion stated that the reply always given is, “Can you guarantee that you’ll do everything I recommend you do?” It’s unlikely that a client will do everything the consultant advises and even more unlikely that the client’s employees, including the executive team, will do everything the consultant or even the CEO advises. Given such circumstances, is a consultant foolish to offer money back or any level of guarantee?
In conducting some brief, non-scientific, research for this article, I found that consultants offer a variety of guarantees.
- One suggests that after his/her work is completed that if the customer is not satisfied that either an adjustment in the consultant’s tasks will be made or the contract will be terminated. A money-back guarantee? Not exactly.
- Another firm guarantees that they will respond to all concerns in a timely manner. No mention of money back there or even the offer of correcting faulty work.
- Another does make such an offer. This consultant offers a 100% guarantee for work not performed to the client’s satisfaction. The work will be redone – IF the client notifies the consultant within 10 business days.
- Yet another consultant suggests that if a consultant cannot guarantee outcomes that the consultant can at least guarantee service. Say what?
- Another takes this idea a step further and states that he/she will provide a 100% guarantee on services, if project objectives have not been met and if defective work cannot be corrected.
- One consultant suggests giving your client the following three options.
1. If the client is unhappy, they pay nothing.
2. The client pay only for work that has been completed to the client’s satisfaction
3. At the end of the project, the client only pays for what they feel is worth the fee.
Don’t Like Those? Try These
- Approaching any project as if you are the expert who has the only way to solve a client’s problems is a guarantee for failure – not success. The truth of the matter is that neither the consultant nor the client has all the answers.
- On the other hand, the client who assumes that just because a consultant has solved the same or similar issues in another organization, the consultant can do it in this one. This too, can lead to client unhappiness. Every organization has its own unique culture, products, services, and systems. The best guarantee here is that if a consultant doesn’t have the skills and experience required for the project that he or she would gracefully bow out and perhaps recommend a trusted colleague.
- Helping clients to understand how the consulting process works and that the journey is really the process that brings the core issues to the surface can help guarantee a project’s success. This helps eliminate the client from the belief that the consultant is going to swoop down, be a superhero, fix every problem, and then fly off into the sunset leaving the client without a worry.
- Finding a good fit where the consultant and client work well together can help guarantee a successful journey. Without this key element, disaster can lurk around every corner.
The Guarantee of Collaboration
In short, the best approach is a collaborative one. Forming a partnership with a client whereby they are involved in as many aspects of the project as possible can help guarantee success in many ways, here’s why.
The Adult Learning Theory Can Help
One basic principle of why this works comes from the theory of adult learning. That theory is that adults learn by doing. Participation at this level helps the client to experience the challenges and the process of the journey first hand and in real time. This solidifies the client’s ownership and commitment to solving problems.
This in turn, also provides the client with the ability to learn problem-solving techniques they can take into the future for long-lasting results. In addition, it helps solve future problems more efficiently and quickly. Many consultants may avoid providing this often-neglected element of consulting for fear of not being needed for future projects. Nothing could be further from the truth. Further, the client may be far more willing to refer you to other colleagues.
Why Are They Stuck?
A collaborative approach is the best way to discover the core issues of problems. Remember that your clients aren’t stuck because they lack skills. The inability to move forward may be due to organizational policies, procedures, or systems. As the consultant, you are in a position to ask powerful questions, provide expertise when warranted, and to offer challenges while providing support for solutions.
Diversity is Diverse
Finally, collaboration offers the opportunity for diversity, not just the diversity of genders, ethnic, or racial backgrounds, but also the diversity of perceptions, ideas, experience and values. This type of diversity helps organizations to break through the stifling and non-innovative atmosphere that often envelops them. Moreover, organizations need to look at ideas outside the company and value both insight and outsight.
Your Fee Guaranteed
While collaboration in and of itself is not a guarantee for avoiding mistakes, client dissatisfaction, or a misdiagnoses, it does help to quickly determine when things are getting off track. Moreover, it builds accountability on both sides of the desk, political support and most importantly trust. Without trust, teams, organizations and partnerships are doomed. The best part about forming a solid collaboration effort is that more than likely, your entire fee will be guaranteed safe.