Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

The Experience

February 18, 2005

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If you read anything by business guru Tom Peters ( you will hear the term Professional Service Firm (PSF) over and over again. This is what you and I do each and every day. Regardless of whether you are working inside a large corporation or as a freelancer like myself, you are your own PSF. At least, this is what Peters would like you (and I) to believe. I think he is correct and I have said much the same in previous columns.

I always try to think like a PSF and develop ways to increase my effectiveness with my clients. One major part of building your PSF, and differentiating yourself from others, is through the customer experience. As a consumer yourself, it should seem obvious that how you provide your services, as well as the services you provide, are the major factor in customer satisfaction. What “experience” are you providing for your clients and how is it improving your relationship, and profitability, with those clients.

A good friend

When I first started reading Peter’s books on PSFs, I had to do some hard thinking about what kind of experience I was giving my users. I started by dissecting each part of my work and the impression is leaves with my clients. The best description I have been able to arrive at is this – a consulting call from me is like having a good friend (albeit a highly knowledgeable one) visit to help you with your computer. Instead of some kitschy uniform like “The Geek Squad” ( or typical corporate attire, I just try to be me.

My attire for consulting calls can best be called friendly/casual. I usually dress with a nice shirt, blue jeans, sneakers and certainly, no tie. I am always neat and clean (barring an occasional major coffee accident which has happened only once), but I am certainly not spit-and-polish corporate office material. I bring my equipment in a nice rolling briefcase and do my best to keep mud off the client’s floor.

Listen, listen, listen….then listen some more

The next part of the experience, beyond the first impression, is that of caring. This isn’t hard for me, as I do care greatly about my clients, both in general and in their “computer life”, as I call it. One way I show this is by simply listening. My clients often have information they want to share with me before we actually get started. Sometimes this bears on their problems and sometimes not. Regardless, it is my job to listen and understand their issues. As you probably already know, this isn’t easy. Sometimes we want to jump right in and get to work, but I can guarantee you that listening is the best way to start any call. I decided at the beginning of this year to work even more on my listening skills. While it may be difficult, it is one of the best ways to improve your client’s experience.

The little things

Take some time to think about the small, but important, ways you can improve your client’s experience. If you are working on computer hardware, do you bring a little vacuum to capture all the dust bunnies that fly out when you open the case? Could you bring more printed materials to “leave behind” so the client can review them later? In my case, I recently wrote a quick primer on CD-R backups and I now add a web bookmark in client’s web browsers. Can you bring your own coaster, so your water, coffee or soda can isn’t dripping on their expensive, mahogany desk? Can you find some way to put a smile on your face (and your client’s), even when the day, and your mood, is gloomy? Can you provide loaner computers when their computer requires more extensive service? Can you maintain your vehicle properly so that it doesn’t drop oil on their driveway?

As you can see, there are thousands of ways to help improve the client’s experience, some only tangentially related to the work at hand. If you want to build a great high-tech career you have to on the lookout for ways, big and small, to make a difference. Ways that make it a pleasant experience to work with you both personally and professionally.

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