In your ongoing attempts to win a client's trust by providing value that exceeds their expectations in any economic environment, you could be lowering your value in their eyes and hurting your business. Many issues can arise when you overwhelm a client with out-of-the-park service they are not expecting -- or paying for.
Here are seven potentially harmful results of over-servicing a client that can cause as many problems - if not more - as under-servicing a client.
- Pricing pitfalls: When I first began my communications consulting practice, I felt a good way to win clients was to undercharge. I soon found that I was stuck in a bargain basement mentality and that some clients resisted when I raised my rates after proving the value of my work. Raising service fees does not come easily to many practicing professionals and can become an expensive habit that is tough to break. One thing to consider is that clients who choose you on price alone are likely to move to a lower-priced competitor as soon as one appears.
- Tightening timelines: Always delivering ahead of deadlines can make the client question whether those deadlines were too lax in the first place and cause him or her to tighten them. This can put undue pressure on you and your team by creating unrealistic client expectations.
- Scope of work confusion: In your enthusiasm to do a good job for the client, you may be tempted to do extra work that doesn't fall within your usual scope of work. This is fine for a time if you have the capacity and you want to impress the client with your commitment and expertise. However, if you continue this practice indefinitely, you will lose money and momentum, especially if you become busy with new clients or your client extends the scope of the work stipulated in your original contract. (Clients do not appreciate inconsistent pricing as it makes planning difficult and brings into question your ability to run a profitable and efficient business.)
- Value confusion: While raising the client's expectations of you and your team to unsustainable levels, you may be inadvertently pressuring them to pay you more. If you feel you deserve more for your work, have the conversation with them in a transparent way rather than taking a passive aggressive approach to pressure them.
- Questioning your ability: Undercharging and over-servicing can make you look desperate and few clients want to work with someone who is not in demand. They may question your professional ability and feel pressure to retain you in the face of doubt about your real value. Clients usually feel better about paying a professional a market-appropriate fee than a much lower amount. There is a saying to the effect that if you think paying a professional is expensive, ask an amateur to do the job.
- Bad habits: The client may ask that you go above and beyond the call of duty and help them out by delivering early or at a reduced cost. If you have already been doing this, the hit to your business could be significant. And you may be asked to do another pricing or service favour should their business take another hit.
- Fair value misconception: Clients worth keeping are comfortable paying a fair amount for value received. They tend to value services they have paid fairly for and tend to discount the value of the work someone has done for them well below market rates. A feisty purchaser once asked Pablo Picasso how he could justify charging such a large fee for an attractive pencil drawing of her that he completed in 15 minutes. He replied that his fee was indicative of the decades he spent to bring his skills to such a high level. A lesson we can all learn from.
Every professional or business owner seeks affirmation from his or her clients in degrees. It may come in the form of simple thanks for a job well done, referrals, or fee increases at contract review time. When you undercharge and over-service, you are losing money but also unconsciously pressuring a client to return the favour -- and no one likes to be pressured.