What clients really want in their service providers

Dennis Schrag/Tree Full of Owls

Affability. Availability. Ability.

It was nothing serious. A very minor medical issue that I had been putting off. I had procrastinated long enough. It was time to act.

Since I was a new patient to the clinic — but not the medical center — I was told it would be about six weeks before I could “get in.” The appointment scheduler assured me that I would be seen by a “world class” physician. I told her that this was a very minor issue and that a “local class” physician was just fine. I was not going to wait six more weeks. After two years, I was ready to act.

She insisted that all new patients had to see the “world class” physician on their first visit. I told her “we” had two options: a. An appointment within three weeks b. Some other clinic

She and I agreed that some other clinic was the best and only option. I got in to another clinic within one week.

Typically, professional service clients seek three very specific qualities. Affability. Availability. Ability. Clients seek those qualities in that order.

Affability: How much you care.

Affability means: “a disposition to be friendly and approachable, easy to get along with.” Clients don’t care “how much you know” until they know “how much you care.” That is a cardinal rule for 90 percent of professional service clients. Trust trumps everything. Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When dealing with the clinic, I discovered that affability was not one of their main concerns. Having a rule that first-timers needed to see the world class physician, no matter what, stinks. That rule told me plenty: megalomaniac on board. The clinic is internally focused and not patient focused. I knew a pack of physicians were connected to the clinic. I don’t need the Pope when a parish priest can bless me just fine.

Availability: Sooner rather than later.

Availability means being at hand when needed. Clients seldom have problems that will wait. For financial, political, safety, or psychological reasons, receiving professional service sooner is almost always better than later. It is simple. Clients seldom contact professional service providers when everything is going along just fine. Clients get in touch with their professional problem solvers because something needs a solution.

When the appointment scheduler told me it would be six weeks, my reaction was simple: that is not reasonable. When she further explained the reason, it was a double whammy. Most people today are long-suffering intolerant. Lack of concern and a long wait are not appealing to me.

As a client, it also means I expect a prompt reply to telephone calls or messages. It means that getting essential paperwork completed quickly is expected. The busier a professional service provider gets, the harder “availability” becomes. Wise providers know that I don’t need to speak to the expert. Speaking with her representative works fine. I want to work with someone who wants to work with me and can do so.

Ability: I know your problem, have seen it before and can fix it.

Providing quality solutions is the price of admission for most professional service providers. If you are licensed, certified, degreed, registered, published, offer training or survived your first five years in business, most clients figure, you know what you are doing.

As a client, I don’t really know if you are good at the service you provide. I must trust others, who tell me you are competent. When I need a world class service provider for a world class problem, I’ll find one. When I have a toothache, the dentist I have been seeing for 25 years is the person I turn to.

Like Southwest Airlines, Google, and my dentist, they do what they do well, again and again and again. I don’t know how they do what they do. I don’t want to know. I just want them to do it.

Some clients will add a fourth quality: affordability. If the other three are present, affordability is negotiable. It is the holy trinity of professional services: Affability. Availability. Ability. One without the other two is never good enough.