Recently, I hired a consultant to conduct an analysis and develop a plan to improve the growth of twenty spruce trees on my property. Most of the trees were not growing as fast as they should and many looked closer to death than I prefer. It was obvious my approach to growing these trees was not working and it was time to call in an expert—a consultant in this field, an arborist.
Meet Dave the Grumpy Consultant
The person that handles my landscaping referred me to Dave the arborist. After playing phone tag for about a week I finally connected with Dave. He told me his fee was $60 to look at my trees and provide a recommendation. Dave was upfront and told me the recommendation would include an option for his company to do the work or I could do the work. I liked this!
A Summary of my Meeting with Dave:
- Before saying hello, he asked me why I did not call him back to confirm the appointment. I explained that I called back after his switchboard closed—Dave already had me on the defensive.
- Dave's next verbal exchange included a reminder of the consult fee of $60 and the fact payment was due today—the tone he used was more scolding than comforting.
- Dave proceeded to tell me the reason many of the trees looked unhealthy was I made a mistake when selecting the type of some of my spruce trees—oh stupid me – if only I had a time machine!
- When I asked if we could help the trees that were there, Dave recommended the name of a specific fertilizer, but he added another reminder about improper tree selection.
- I asked Dave for details on fertilizer application and he told me to determine the area of the circle around each tree then he condescendingly rattled off a formula from high school geometry—not only was I an idiot related to tree selection, now it was time to add geometry to the list!
- Last but not least, he scolded me about many other areas of my landscaping most of which were the work of the landscaping company that referred Dave to me—so my landscaper is an idiot as well.
Besides the things listed above the meeting went well; however, all in all I felt like a landscaping dunce after my meeting with Dave with only slightly more insight about my tree problem.
Customer Engagement Tips to Avoid Being Like Dave
All of Dave's knowledge and professional insight were lost because of his approach. Here are some tips to prevent consultants from "Daving" a new customer:
- Use an email message to confirm appointments
- Include a reminder about the agenda of the initial call as well as related fees (if appropriate) in the confirmation email
- Begin the initial meeting focused on the customer as a person and build some rapport to minimize relationship tension--there will be plenty of time to talk business
- When making the shift to the business side of the conversation start out by talking about positive things—a compliment or two goes a long way to further reduce relationship tension
- Use empathy and understanding when talking about problems
- Avoid using condescending words and tone when providing feedback
- Never trash the work done by the person that referred you to a new customer