A little over a year ago we recognized we were over-servicing our clients, while it’s commonplace to be attentive to clients, we’d taken things too far. We were so focused on making sure our customers were happy that we’d inadvertently turned into helicopter parents. Which is not to say we view our clients in the same light, far from it, in fact, they’re all really lovely.
By always going the extra mile we’d created three problems:
- We were giving away our profits (over-servicing is the No. 1 profitability killer in service businesses).
- We created a level of expectation that simply wasn’t feasible. If someone continually over-delivers, rather than question it, we embrace it as the new norm. In this regard, our clients were no different.
- Our team was stressed, working like mad to keep on top of their mammoth task lists. When we won a new client, no one wanted to take it on. They just didn’t have the capacity.
Recognizing the problem was a step in the right direction, but the real work lay ahead, we had the unpleasant task of retraining our clients and team. The best way to approach most problems is with a solid plan.
Here’s how we addressed the problem.
I’m a huge fan of workshops. When properly run, they offer a space for interactive learning where everyone benefits, including the person leading the workshop.
I called the team together and explained the problem, using a graph to drive home my point. Most things in life happen gradually, imperceptibly almost. This means by the time you’re made aware of it, the problem is already way bigger than you might imagine.
That’s what had happened with my team. They were literally shocked to see just how much we were over-servicing our clients. Each of them admitted to doing more than they should have, but without exception, they all firmly believed they were only doing ‘just a little bit more’. The main point here being that until I called this meeting, the team was blissfully unaware that we were giving work away for free.
1. Bringing about awareness
We used a time tracking system to identify where we’re spending our hours. We compared the team’s overall output with what the clients are paying and quickly identified where we were over-servicing.
We then started highlighting all over-servicing ‘missteps’ by a client in our weekly staff meeting. We did this for two reasons:
- To send a clear message to the whole team that combating over-servicing is a business priority.
- To identify which clients are getting more bang for their buck so the relevant teams know to adjust their activity accordingly.
We made a point of not creating a blame culture. We wanted employees to complete their timesheets accurately (clean data is a must) and more importantly, we wanted them to not be fearful of being reprimanded for over-servicing. The point of the exercise was to make everyone aware of the problem and to give us the opportunity to support each other in addressing it.
2. Focusing on important details
The next point I drove home was the value of working on the right details, as opposed to just anything. When you’re servicing clients, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of becoming an administrator.
Occasionally a client will ask you to do something that’s not really within the scope of the contract, but you like them and do it anyway. But like anything, these seemingly inconsequential tasks quickly add up. Before you know it you’re dedicating an hour (or more) a week to any endeavors that aren’t contracted.
We reminded the team that our clients hire us to help them achieve certain KPIs, which meant we had an obligation to use our allotted resources on the activities that move us closer to these goals.To drive the point home in our monthly team meetings and performed post-mortems on employees’ task lists and timesheets in their appraisals. We worked on nudging them away from performing unnecessary tasks
3. We Learned How to Push Back
Next was a lesson in pushing back. It’s ingrained in us that the customer is always right, so telling the team to push back had them squirming initially. To this end, I provided them with a set of tools that enabled them to push back with grace and aplomb.
I isolated information on the clients we were really over-servicing and had the team members responsible for them keep a detailed timesheet of everything they did on the account. I then shared these timesheets with the clients in question, offering black and white proof that they were getting more than their money’s worth.
In some instances, we negotiated better rates. In others, we worked with the clients to get activity back under control: when they asked us to work on things outside of the contract, we made them aware that this meant we wouldn’t be able to do something within the contract. We then left it up to the client to make the final call.
4. Reward the team
Finally, I implemented a bonus system to combat over-servicing, I updated our bonus system to reward the team on hours billed, rather than hours worked. This motivated everyone to take on more billable work. However, it also meant they had to make capacity for more billable hours, and the only way to do that was to stop giving spare time away.
On the surface, over-servicing looks like you’re just doing a really good job. But the truth is far more insidious than that. If you’re over-servicing your clients, what you’re actually doing is working on stuff they don’t pay for.
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