Exposing Client Mentalities

(I wrote this post 18+ months ago after a minor run in with a client. Revisiting the post now, it still seems as fresh and relevant as ever. I like to share my experiences in the hope that you guys, my valued readers, have either experienced something similar and can relate, or you can at least be armed in advance if you encounter similar dysfunction from a client in the future)

So we get a new feature request in from our client who wants to extend their bespoke billing system to enable a customer self-service area where they can pay for their renewals online. Currently most payments are processes manually over the phone or by cheque.

My reaction to this new feature request? “Cool!”

In hindsight, I should have recommended this feature to them months ago! Not only would it reduce the burden on the client’s staff from taking payments over the phone and having to process cheque payments, it would contribute to an improved experience for their users.

I worked up a simple, straightforward cost proposal as usual. Part of the email response I got back from the client was as follows:

We thought this was going to be a relatively straight forward dev

Ok, fine. Are you asking me to reduce my estimate or what? You’ve just made a statement that has no meaning. Say what you mean!

My response consisted, in part, of the following:

It is relatively straightforward. But I presume you mean you expected it to be quick and cheap? Putting this in context, I see this as one of the biggest features added to your system as it allows for self-service renewals by customers. I am sure this is a valuable step forward for you guys. If I was charging on a “value based pricing” model my quote would certainly be a lot higher ;-)

I thought this would just be acknowledged with a virtual hat tip and we would move forward. Bear in mind, I have worked with this client for over half a decade and I have consistently proven my honesty, reliability, expertise, intelligence and VALUE. With that in mind, the following response made me both chuckle and squirm with frustration:

Value based pricing — what has the value of a feature to us got anything to do with you the supplier? That is ridiculous Jon. If we have a requirement, it should be quoted on how long it take, not your perceived value of it. If you really wanted to place a value on this dev, then it is very low.

That says it all really. There are so many things wrong with this it is difficult to know where to start! I’ve outlined some of my criticism below. (and no I didn’t send any of this through to the client!)

First off, value is everything. If this feature has little or no value to you, why are you bothering?

Second, you either can’t see the value, or you are choosing to ignore it. If you can’t see it, then as a manager within your company, this is disturbing. If you can see it, but are choosing to pretend it has little value in your eyes in order to make a point, then you must take me for a fool. A fool, good sir, I am not.

Third, your choice of wording, calling me “the supplier” clearly reveals that you do not appreciate the value of “partners” i.e. those suppliers who help you build your business and add value. If I am still “just another supplier” after all these years, then we have a problem.

Finally, “that is ridiculous Jon”? Well no actually, it isn’t. Your attitude on the other hand? I was attempting to expand your horizons, be open and honest about pricing and budgets. You chose to reply with a close-minded, embarrassing and disrespectful response.

*deep breath*

So I didn’t send any of the above through to the client… obviously! Instead I said I probably shouldn’t have raised the topic of value based pricing and that I understood and respected their position/opinion.

It just shows that in business, even with long standing customer relationships, dysfunction and lack of understanding can persist. Can we help educate these customers? Perhaps. Some of the individuals I deal with are at the mercy of the backward mentalities of their superiors, so unfortunately nothing is likely to change in the near future for them. Often we simply have to grin and bear it. But we must stand our ground when the time calls for it. We often have more power than we realise. To explain. To inform. To educate. To show them that their reasoning is flawed.

As always, please let me know your thoughts. How would you have responded to the client’s first reply? When I was less bothered about this kind of thing, I would have probably just ignored it. It may have been a throwaway statement, but in my mind it needed to be addressed. What do you think?

Originally posted over on my blog: http://blog.jonjackson.co.uk/post/109585640131/exposing-client-mentalities#sthash.oNBEBHO6.dpuf

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