You care about your clients, and your business depends on your providing a good service to them every time. But an emphasis on client service can lead to a problem: client over-servicing.
Over-servicing is more of a problem in some industries than others. Graphic design, for instance, has to deal with many small tasks, client approvals, and more. This puts service providers into a difficult position: how many revisions should they allow clients? How much work can they spend on a given task?The project scope should be clearly defined from the beginning.
Every task could, technically, be the last, and there are plenty of other companies competing for that client’s attention. Bigger and better projects will lead to bigger and better projects, so it’s in your interest to make sure clients are satisfied every time.
However, if you’re constantly stretching your team to meet expectations, you might have an issue with client over-servicing.
What is client over-servicing?
Client over-servicing isn’t going above and beyond to keep customers happy. It’s not like an online retailer trying to make it up to you after sending you a damaged product, running out of what you need, or other common inventory management mistakes. (Although we’ll talk about Amazon later.)
Client over-servicing is the result of two issues. Your client relationships, and your management processes.
When interacting with your clients, over-servicing can be a result of a kind of insecurity. Every young company has a slim portfolio of clients. If you can’t afford to lose any of them, you’ll go above and beyond to make them happy every time.
But as a company grows and they have to let go of the “DIY mentality”, a healthy consideration for “customer obsession” in the company culture can become a problem at scale.
You can describe over-servicing as a “cycle” because a lot of it is about expectations. If you have a client who’s been with you since the early days of the company, they’ve come to expect a certain level of service and responsiveness from you.
If maintaining that level of service is unsustainable – because either your company has changed or because you were always pushing yourselves hard – that’s a problem. Not only for your team but for other clients whose work might be de-prioritized to keep up with another’s demands.
If this is the case, you might not be accounting for your company’s over-servicing habit in your project management processes.
This itself can cause more over-servicing due to consistent failures to properly account for scope creep, deadlines, quality assurance, and allocation of resources. It’s another vicious cycle.
One concrete example of over-servicing is a lot of re-working of deliverables. If your clients know you and the team are available at all times on your toll-free number, they can get used to requesting a “quick” change here and there whenever it suits them.
Since your people care about customer service they’re happy to oblige. But those small changes can add up, and you can quickly have lots of unpaid work going unnoticed throughout your company.
If you’re planning your projects as if your team doesn’t have a problem with re-works, those re-works will eat into your other projects. Projects will expand, deadlines will have to be moved around, quality assurance and review stages might be rushed. Worse, your people will be struggling to wrap up Project A while their colleagues need them on Project B.
Over-servicing eats into your profit margins. This means you can’t invest in the resources you need and can force you to over-extend yourself and the team. This lowers morale, which lowers workplace productivity, which lowers your revenue. It’s another unhealthy cycle.
On profit, Darryl Salerno from Second Quadrant puts it plainly. “If over-servicing your clients is something you do to the tune of 10%, it’s like working for that client for free from Thanksgiving through year-end.”
Breaking the cycle
Breaking the cycle of over-servicing won’t happen overnight but a lot of it is relatively simple tweaks to your project management.
The best management books will cover practices like project cost management and scope control, but they’ll also tell stories of outstanding service.
The recent book Working Backwards mentions CEO Jeff Bezos personally packing orders and reviewing all emails to customers. He continued to do this long after it was really sensible. Till his last day as CEO, his email was available for customers looking to reach out.
You might value that kind of all-hands service in your business, but it’s easy to miss the point of that story. The lesson to take is that Bezos and other leaders at Amazon went on to systematize everything they learned there.
If you want to give your clients the best service you can as you avoid scope creep and reduce churn, you need to account for extra scope in your initial project planning.
To get a handle on the changes that need to be made, consult relevant stakeholders at all levels. Sales Operations and Revenue Operations managers would both have valuable input here. They’re seeing different parts of the problem every day. Your most junior staff members will have the best “front-line” view of how projects grow beyond what was initially agreed.
When you start making changes, how will you know you’re succeeding? Set clear metrics to track over-servicing specifically:
- What percentage of your projects deliver more than what was specified in the brief?
- Can you measure how much each of those projects overshot? What’s the average?
- Can you track how much that overshoot ate into your profit margins? What about every project this year?
- Can you track how much your project deadlines have slipped due to over-servicing?
To get a handle on scope creep, implement specific scope change procedures that have to be followed every time. This will be different for every company. But as a rule, everyone should be responsible for making sure scope changes are brought up to management, communicated to any relevant stakeholders, and recorded in one place for easy data analysis.
When it isn’t a systemic habit, over-servicing can be a kind of compensation for another issue. If you’re a signmaker and you’re missing material to complete a job on time, you might go the extra mile to keep the client happy by handling all the installation yourself.
Avoid gaps in your resources by keeping your resource schedule visible to managers. Depending on your industry, you might need to have a rough sketch of your resource availability on months-long timescales.
If deadlines are an issue, consider pushing to get some projects done in advance if you know they’re likely to suffer scope creep. This is a short-term solution just to get out of a rut while you manage multiple tasks and other processes kick in.
Review the way you talk about deadlines with your clients and have a productive meeting with this in mind while managing their expectations. If clients ask about it, make sure you’re keeping good data on how project deadlines have moved in the past so you can justify your caution in some areas.
Mentioning some of that detailed thinking to your clients won’t just demonstrate an expert understanding of the nuances of the job. That honesty about how much can be done and when demonstrates clear communication which is important in any relationship.
Some of it comes down to improving communication. If your team is distributed across different sites, even looking into tools like voip software can make a difference. What’s a VoIP phone number? Among other things it just lets you answer calls from the same business number across many devices: on a mobile, desktop, or browser.
Increasing communications within the team mean you can be informed of any problems or delays with a project. Also, with all your communication channels in one place, you can keep a better record of what changes were made.
Another important source of information is customer feedback.
By paying close attention to what your clients value in your services, you can double down on things they care about while letting go of what they don’t. If they appreciate your speedy turnaround times, they won’t mind you optimizing your pricing to account for extra re-works.
In a smaller company, this might involve some conversations with your most valuable clients. At scale, you can use voice analytics.
What is voice analytics? In this case, it uses AI to make transcripts of all your customer service calls and highlight keywords and phrases that keep coming up. If you don’t have voice analytics you can make use of customer satisfaction ratings and reviews to help you identify what your customers are actually concerned about. Or why not send them a survey and ask them directly?
If after all this you’re still having issues with some clients, that relationship might be the thing that has to change. If you’re no longer the small company that had to push hard to make clients happy, you’ll have a diverse portfolio of clients. You’ll also have the skills and reputation to grow it.
Bring changes to your service policies up with clients directly. If they push back, consider where you can afford to let them go. Over-servicing is a vicious cycle, and escaping it is essential to growing your company further.
The virtuous cycle
Stopping the cycle of client over-servicing can seem daunting as it affects so many parts of your business but that means there are plenty of opportunities to tackle it.
Once you do so, you’ll start to see a virtuous cycle emerge. As you work in a more efficient, predictable, sustainable manner, team morale will improve. This will lead to more productivity, healthier profit margins for you, and happier clients overall. No over-servicing is required.