What Is A Client?

A roll of hundred-dollar bills
The client relationship isn’t just about money. (istockphoto.com, (c) DNY59)

I just got some lousy customer service from a gazillion-dollar consultant.

He’s famous for earning — no, let me say, raking in — enormous sums every year. He charges premium prices for his services. I was especially interested in his take on a particular topic. I had an hour and wanted to listen to it right away, so for the third time I decided to purchase something — in this case, an MP3 recording — from him.

Placing my order for a recorded teleconference, I got a message that my purchase was pending vendor approval. Strange, I thought, that a vendor needed to approve a sale, but I chalked it up to slow computers on Cyber Monday.

Hearing nothing for a day, I wrote, “Dear friends, yesterday I tried to purchase the November teleconference recording. The status on the receipt showed as “pending.” So far I have not received a link to download the teleconference. Can you help me?”

The response: “Patience, we received your order today, you’ll get it tomorrow.”

It would not occur to me to respond to a client in such a back-of-the-hand manner. I was shocked by the lack of regard.

It made me think about what it means to have a client.

Ask a group of business owners, “what is a client?”, and you’ll typically get answers like:

  • a client is someone who pays you money
  • a client buys something from you
  • a client is your best opportunity for more sales

And all of those may be true, but they don’t define a client. Originally, a client meant “someone who has come under your protection.” We hear this meaning still in terms like “a client state,” meaning a country that is dependent on another nation.

Our clients rely on us. They look to us for conscientious service. They look to us for help. It is possible to abuse them, to treat them with disregard, but it’s not wise. It lacks integrity.

Once someone becomes a client and comes under our protection, why would we not do our utmost to provide the help they seek?

We may need on many occasions to challenge or correct our clients. We may need to contradict them. But there is never a need to be dismissive. There’s never a good reason to give sub-par service. Of course if there is a client who asks too much of us, we should separate ourselves from them as soon as possible. A client who needs more than we are willing or able to provide should be given an immediate refund and sent on their way. But as long as they are still our client, they deserve our best.

My expenditure with Mr. Gazillion Dollar Consultant was a mere $150, but the education I got in how NOT to treat a client was just about priceless.

Is there a way in which you could give your clients better service? A way to serve them with more dignity? A way to meet their needs faster or better? What have you learned from sub-par treatment as a client? Please share your lessons by leaving a comment here.


11 Responses to What Is A Client?

  1. Update: After receiving Mr. Consultant’s curt reply, I wrote back: “Patience? It’s a digital product. Your competitors can fulfill this kind of order in seconds. You are charging a premium price with inferior delivery. Perhaps you’d like to up your game. I would have been completely understanding if you had given a different response. But “patience” feels dismissive in the extreme. You lost points with me. Based on your response, I doubt you care.”

    And this is how he responded: “I don’t know what set you off, but I don’t take kindly to being lectured. I don’t have any competitors. You came to me, I didn’t ask you to buy a thing.

    Your credit card hasn’t been charged yet, hasn’t cleared, so I’m throwing out your order. I don’t want to do business with people with your attitude.

    I lost points with you? Like that would make me care???!! What are you, the hygiene arbiter of business? You start your day like this, snarky and outraged and miserable?

    My communities are filled with supportive, positive people who spend tens of thousands to participate in events with me. You spend $150 and have some kind of hysterical fit because you don’t have instant gratification?

    Somebody needs to tell you off. Consider it done. Write back and I will post this on my blog and point out that people in my community never have to worry about competing with people like you.

    How’s that for being dismissed?”

    What can I say? If questioning 48 hour delivery on a digital product is a hysterical fit, count me guilty. I’m not his client.

  2. Oh, Margaret, for someone to say that to you, of all people, he deserves to be outed. You do him (and all of his potential customers) no favors by keeping his identity a secret. His initial response was, indeed, dismissive. It was belittling, as you’d say to a child. He could just as easily have said, “We’re having some back-end issues and request your patience until tomorrow.”

    But his response to your note of disappointment was outsized and reflective of his obvious narcissism. You’re well rid of him — and I’d be eager to stay clear of him.

  3. Wow, Margaret. That reply is unbelievable. And I agree completely with Julie. Tell us who this is! He deserves it and you might save some other people from spending a lot of money to be subjected to that. I admire you for turning it into a learning experience!

  4. Forgive my lack of creativity but Mr. Gazillion Dollar Consultant is Alan Weiss, the author of Million Dollar Consulting. A wise woman once told me that you’re only as big as the little things that get you down. I can’t believe he’s so bothered by me. Could it be that I struck a nerve?

  5. as we kiwi’s would say. what an arrogant tosspot. reply to him so he blogs then he will have to stump up to his unprofessional behaviour

    • Wendy, I did reply. So far his threat to blog about me has been idle. He is, however, currently holding forth on poor customer service that he has received.

  6. Unbelievable. What a nasty reply to a very reasonable request. Whatever happened to “the customer is always right?” Trying to shame a customer for wanting an electronic download to be available in less than a day or two? Shame on him. Simple courtesy should be kept, in any case. And “I don’t have any competitors?” Arrogant jerk. I think I did buy one of his books a few years back. Out it goes.

  7. This story reinforces my experience with him at conference a number of years ago, and my inferences from reading his newsletter, to which I long ago unsubscribed. It sounds like he’s been reading his own press releases a little too closely. Feh.

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