Pragmatic Consulting from the Client’s Perspective

In my career I have been fortunate enough to work for two of the best companies on earth: Accenture and Microsoft. In my eleven years at Accenture I got a tremendous education on systems development, project management, strategic planning, and client service. In my nine years at Microsoft, I took most of what I learned at Accenture and learned how to apply it in a very practical and effective manner. Both experiences were key to my growth as a professional.

When I left Accenture to go to Microsoft, I found myself moving from the consultant’s side of the desk to the client’s side of the desk. At Microsoft I had the opportunity to work with a large number of consulting firms in my various jobs managing IT projects, heading up Corporate Procurement, and managing Corporate Planning & Budgeting. In working with many of these firms, I had ample opportunity to reflect on my own career as a consultant and think about how much better a consultant I would have been had I viewed things more from the client’s perspective. It is this client-based, or pragmatic consulting that dramatically increases a consultant’s effectiveness and builds long-term win-win relationships with clients.

The “Ah-ha’s”

In moving from the consultant to the client role, I was able to clearly articulate some principles, or “Ah-has,” that many consultants either don’t understand or don’t practice on a regular basis, as follows:

Consulting is more about listening than speaking – Being an active listener and asking a lot of questions of the client is crucial to getting a deep understanding of the client’s issues and hot buttons. Too frequently I’ve seen consultants rush in with their perspectives on theories or problems without truly taking the time to listen to what is important to the client. Sometimes things worked out OK, but there were times where the consultant’s perceived understanding of the problem didn’t represent the client’s true problems. The end result was is a ticked-off client who viewed the consultant as a pompous jerk.

A consultant needs to resist the urge to present solutions before the client has a chance to fully explain the problems. It could be that the consultant understands the problem very well, but to develop a connection with the client, you need to let the client articulate their issues and concerns. That connect time with the client is important to building the trust and credibility that both the consultant and client need to work effectively together.

True credibility is achieved fastest by demonstrating a thoughtful understanding of the client’s problem – A consultant may have a strong understanding of industry or functional issues that other companies face, but that doesn’t mean that those problems apply to the client. When a consultant assumes that problems other companies face apply at the client, they take a definite risk in establishing credibility with the client. Even worse is when the client explains their problem and the consultant either doesn’t acknowledge the problem or doesn’t get it after repeated explanations. The longer it takes for a consultant to grasp the client’s problems, the shakier their credibility becomes.

A consultant needs to put themselves in the client’s shoes, understand the client’s problem from their perspective, and not make generation assumptions about the complexity or urgency of the problem. Show an “I feel your pain” perspective of the client’s problem and you’ll quickly get over the credibility hump and get the client to where they want to listen to you.

“Concise” is more important than “more” – I personally fell victim to this as a younger consultant. Many of my presentations were measured in part by how many slides and how much information I could cram into a presentation. It was commonplace for me to create 100+ slide PowerPoint presentations which would take several hours to go through. When I joined Microsoft, I was thoroughly thrashed the first time I created a pass-the-weight-test presentation. I learned quickly to focus on concise, tight, treat-every-word-like-you’re-spending-a-dollar presentations.

A consultant needs to shelve the urge to cram as many pretty slides into a presentation as they can. The client doesn’t necessarily need to see all of the gory details. I’ve learned to focus many of my presentations into a core deck and an appendix. The core deck focuses on three core components: a concise articulation of the problem, the proposed solution to the problem, and how the solution will be implemented. The appendix contains other supporting pieces of information that the consultant only reviews with the client if necessary. I’ve been able to get my point across to my client in a very crisp, concise manner and was able to deep-dive on questions as necessary. True, you may only need a small portion of your appendix and much of your hard work may never see the light of day, but if you’re solving the client’s problem, who cares?

The client generally knows the theory, what they may not know is how to practically apply it – I’ve been through one-too-many presentations as a client where a consulting firm brings in their industry expert to talk about the problems that face my industry. After they go on for about fifteen minutes telling me theory I already know, I would ask, “So how did you fix it?” More often than not, the industry expert only knew vague details about how someone else dealt with the problem, if the problem was dealt with at all. Knowing the theory only gets you through the first mile in a 26-mile marathon; knowing how to apply the theory in a very practical and effective manner gets you through the rest of the race.

Clients want to hear about how their problems can be solved in a practical, straightforward, effective manner, not about lofty theory. If your theories don’t solve problems, save them for late-night philosophical discussions over a favorite beverage.

Relationships are more important than short-term fee goals – True, consultants are in business to generate fees and make money. There’s nothing wrong with a profit motive and a goal to make money. Where it does become a problem, though, is when short-term fee goals cause a consultant to do something that is not in the client’s best interest. Those consultants that seemed to always have one hand in my pocket weren’t the consultants that survived in the long term.

The consultants I respected the most are those who told me things like “I really don’t think you need me on this,” or “You could probably do this yourself and save some money.” When a consultant puts my best business interests over their own fees, my trust in them goes up exponentially. True, the consultant may have a short-term fee hit because they didn’t sell a job, but the long-term potential for win-win between the client and consultant was more attainable and far more lucrative.

Saying “I don’t know” is OK at times – Being a consultant doesn’t mean that the omniscience fairy came to you one night, waved her magic wand, and deemed you the all-knowledgeable one. Sometimes issues will come up that the consultant can’t answer. Some of the ugliest situations I’ve seen were when the consultant tried to fake his way through a topic he had no business addressing. A simple “I don’t know” would have been far better than throwing up a smoke screen and hoping no one asks questions.

Having said this, there are two caveats to note: first, whenever a consultant says “I don’t know” they need to follow it up with “but I’ll find out and give you an answer by x date.” Second, a consultant only gets a few “I don’t knows” before they’re labeled as an incompetent doofus who doesn’t know their subject matter. Having a strong understanding of the subject matter the consultant professes to be expert in is mandatory; having a shaky understanding will get you voted off the island in the first round.

True effectiveness as a consultant means the consultant listens to the client, understands their pain, presents practical solutions in a concise manner, and demonstrates the utmost in honesty and integrity. Keep these things in focus, and you’ll earn and keep the best clients. You will establish yourself as a pragmatic consultant who sees things from the only perspective that matters — that of the client.

What is Micro-Consulting and How Much Does it Pay?

Okay so, you are probably wondering what micro-consulting is aren’t you, well, micro-consulting is a lot like regular consulting, but it comes in short bursts. That is to say that normally there isn’t a large amount of money that changes hands, and there aren’t any large reports, research projects, and work involved. Rather someone who is very entrenched in a given industry makes themselves available for questions. And entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and business startups can send them an e-mail, or a text message, or perhaps even call them on the phone with questions.

The micro consultant will answer these questions for a nominal fee and give bits and pieces of wisdom to the individual making the inquiry. If you consider Yahoo Answers and the types of questions people ask into the computer, perhaps you can understand why business people need a “go to guy” or gal in the industry that can answer important questions immediately. Sometimes business folks need the answer right away, but they can’t find it online because all of the top industry professionals don’t necessarily put out that type of information, and it’s often not common knowledge.

However, if you, as the micro-consultant make a deal with them for a nominal fee to be on call so to speak to answer basic easy questions, they are more than likely to pay you for your services. I’ve done quite a bit of micro-consulting, and the way I do it is; I have someone put $100 on my Starbucks card, or perhaps pay me $250-$500 on PayPal, and I make myself available if they have questions in the industry. Sometimes people never ask me questions, other times they may go months between questions. Sometimes my answers lead to even more questions, which is okay too.

Rather than trying to make a whole bunch of money off one or two consulting clients, in this way you can have 50 to a 100 clients and go about your daily life, and do a little traveling, and as long as you are near a computer or access to the Internet and get back to them within 24-hours or so, everyone’s happy. Best of all your clients will not quit, they will just use up their allotted time, and when either of you feels that you deserve more, you just make mention of it.

You’d be surprised how well micro-consulting works, and how easy it is to do, that is if you are an expert in your industry. Because if you are one of the best in your industry, you will always be needed as other business people in the industry need someone to bounce ideas off of, and to ask questions to. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

Call Center Consulting Psychologists – Dealing With Phone Nasties

If you’re working in a call center, you have no choice but to listen to each call. Some callers may be meanies spewing their rage. Since you are an employee, you have to stay cool all the time, which makes you impotent and angrily frustrated. Call center consulting experts have to deal with this problem – beyond technology, the use of psychology.

The Phone Rage Phenomenon

Phone rage is on the rise and the number of call center employees is increasing. Morale is low at the workplace and businesses should expect that their employees can lash back, making the situation worse. The company branding cannot afford this setback in the face of cut-throat competition.

Call center consulting mavens are ready to recommend online courses for people handling phone rage. The courses cover topics like identifying different types of callers, managing angry and passive calls, and using different approaches to manage the calls. The course also teaches individuals how to stay cool and practice control.

Phone rage is the latest to hit the chart of top rages, coming a close second to road rage. Call center workers are dealt with this blow everyday and in every form, from whining to aggression. The courses proposed by call center gurus come at time when businesses handling call centers at are their wits end trying to solve the issue without losing customers.

Why the rage? Unsatisfied customer experiencing poor service are outraged over the fact that bills promptly arrive, yet service is slack. Some of the reasons for poor service, be it snapped cables, a writer’s strike, and a host of other reasons, are simply beyond the business’s control.

Diplomacy on Call

If you are a call center employee working the graveyard shift, phone rage can keep you seething overnight, as you are not allowed to blow your top. You can only listen and try to identify the source of the anger and employ a response that will not infuriate the caller any further.

Remember you are the business’s front-liner and you cannot destroy the company’s image just because of one nasty caller. Managing the anger at your level can be difficult, but knowing the process can ease things up. Like you, other call center employees feel they are guilty for all the accusations hurled at them when they should not be.

The recommended program coming from call center consulting programs outlines every situation and processes involved in handling aggressive calls. You will be made to understand that angry callers do not see themselves as raving mad maniacs but the aggrieved parties seeking redress.

Looking at the situation from this perspective helps you calm down. This should also help your colleagues in the call center. Consulting professionals who can help provide an action plan also benefit individuals stressed out from handling phone rage.

Technology and Psychology

If you are the business owner needing call center consulting service, discuss the possibilities of phone rage and how your people can handle the problem. This likelihood is sure to occur as more people will be reaching for the phone to make inquiries and requests, place orders, and file complaints.

A call center consulting service will diagnose the current set-up, review CRM operations, and design a call center program that will eliminate some technological problems. But when it comes to phone rage problems in the call center, consulting the psychological experts will make your call center operations smoother and your employees happier.