What do you owe your customers

Originally published at GerardMcLean.com

Imagine I was a butcher. A man walks in off the street and demands that I perform open-heart surgery on him. I try to explain that I don’t do that kind of work, but since he sees me work with a knife, I have a big mallet I can knock him out with and I can thread up a beef roast, I should be able to do it no problem. And, the heart surgeon wants 100X more than he is willing to pay. Surely I can make this one work?

But no matter how hard I try to persuade him that while a surgeon and a butcher both use a knife in their work, our skills are very different. In the end, he marches off in a huff, saying that I am the worst butcher in the world and he will never buy meat from me again. Not only that, but he will tell his friends to not buy meat from me either.

Do I woo him back and tell him that I will perform the surgery for him to save my reputation? Of course not. I’m a butcher and no matter how careful I am with my knife I would probably kill the patient.

Yet how many of us try to make thing work when clients come up with false expectations of what we do? I suspect more than is healthy.

Clients see us work with computers all the time, so if we can do SEO/SEM work, surely we can write 5-7 blog posts a week. And if they call with a Windows error, we can fix that. And if they need a logo for their business cards, can’t we just make one on the computer?

My example above comparing a butcher to a heart surgeon may have been a little extreme, but for anyone who provides services within niche industries, it is not too far off the mark. Writing requires a very different skill set than computer illustration, even though both may be in the “creative” fields and both use a computer. Designing a blog requires a different skills set than writing one, even though the two may have been intertwined early on.

I think we owe our customers a clear explanation of what we will do for them and then deliver on those promises. If a customer makes assumptions about what those skills mean, we may owe them a correction. But, we don’t owe them more than that.