What your clients want (what they really, really want)

Chris Clearfield
3 min readNov 19, 2020
Credit: Jambulboy

One of the things I’ve had to learn as a consultant and a coach is that my clients mostly want results.

They have a problem that they want to solve: how to create a culture of innovation, say, or how to make their law firm run more smoothly.

My mental model is that they don’t really care how it gets solved (as long as it’s within the bounds of integrity).

In general, they’re not so interested in the fact that my approach is grounded in Gestalt, or machine learning, or whatever. As long as the solution is credible, I could give them a button to push to solve the problem and they’d generally be happy. What they care about is getting the problem solved.

That’s important, because it helps me focus on the fantastic results my clients will get (and they do!) rather than on the process.

I think that Amazon’s obsession with their customer is a fantastic example of this at work. That obsession, which isn’t usually noticeable because it manifests itself as a total absence of friction in transactions with Amazon, springs into relief when I have to deal with a business that doesn’t think about its customers.

I buy a lot of things off of Amazon and the experience is generally incredible. Even when something doesn’t work, it’s usually no hassle to return things.

But, very occasionally, I buy things in the real world. And, very often, I regret that decision.

A little over a year ago, I bought an Instant Pot at QFC, a local supermarket chain. I got it home and, lo and behold, I realized it was way too small. So, I boxed it up with the receipt and put it in my car for the next time I was close to a QFC.

About a week later, I went into another QFC location I happened to be near to return the Instant Pot. I waited in line at customer service, receipt in hand. Here’s what happened:

Clerk: Hmm… I don’t think you can return that here.

Me: …?

Clerk: We don’t sell those at this location.

Me: …?

Clerk: If you returned it here, we’d have no way of getting it to another store.

Me: …?

Clerk: We couldn’t do the accounting properly. There’s no way to move the credit from our store to the store where you bought this.

Now, this clerk was just doing his job. I harbor him no ill will.

But I’ve been trained by Amazon to expect awesome customer service. I don’t really care how the grocery store’s internal accounting system works. I don’t care how their internal supply chain works.

I just wanted to return the Instant Pot.

This is an important lesson for business of all kinds. What problem is your client trying to solve? And what’s the best way you can help them solve that problem?

Thinking in terms of solutions can help shake some fundamental assumptions about your business.

Let’s say you run a law firm. Do your clients really want to deal with hourly billing? Or is that a convenience for you that shifts the risk on to them? Would they (and possibly you) be better off if you had fixed fees for well-scoped services?

Back to my grocery example: I eventually drove across town to return the Instant Pot to the original store. And I haven’t bought anything there since.

What about you? What things are you doing in your business that may not actually solve your clients’ problems?

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Originally published at https://www.chrisclearfield.com on November 19, 2020.



Chris Clearfield

Host of The Breakdown™ podcast. Co-author of MELTDOWN, a book on why our systems fail & what we can do about it. A lot, it turns out. http://bit.ly/1-meltdown