Consultants: Don’t Own ( a Problem ) and Warranty It For Free

By Wayne Schulz posted 10-29-2019 13:36


How many times do you hear this - “Hey, quick question.”

(My Translation) - “Would you look at this and fix it for free?”

I frequently encounter this during upgrades when I’m almost finished and ready to head out the door. The quick question typically is about something completely unrelated to the upgrade.

Sometimes the question is truly quick. In other cases, the question is something the customer has failed to bring to our attention for the past year. The answer frequently is quick. Unfortunately, many times, the answer is also more complex than what I realize.

Here are a couple of Sage 100 related questions I’ve gotten in the past year that are not always as easy as they seem and should have their own project:

  •  Change the Sales Order Packing List report so exploded Bill of Materials kit items sort in the order they appear in the Bill.
  •  Install a product update ( In many cases a data conversion will be required of all companies - plus answer phone support questions about workstation sync )
  •  Call support for an error message not in Sage’s knowledge base and which arises in a system with 5 integrated solutions ( If you determine it’s not Sage’s issue you next have to call 5 ISV support departments and find out whose issue it is)
  •  Move Sage 100 to a new server thinking it will only be a quick copy/paste

A few of these quick questions may, in fact, be quick.

More often, these types of questions take on an unexpected life of their own as you begin to spend more time trying to be a “nice person” and quickly fix an issue without first obtaining an understanding of the scope and proposing a cost for the service.

I catch myself at this frequently. Wanting to be a “nice person,” I’ll sit down and look at whatever issue the customer has brought to my attention without quoting a price and by default owning the problem and warrantying whatever solution I provide — all for no extra money.

And when I do, I’ve just begun the walk of scope creep. Where, without performing a diagnosis or fully understanding the problem, I’ve jumped right to the “doing the work” without any discussion of whether there is an additional fee or what the value is to the customer.

Virtually no other profession offers free quick questions:

  • Doctors won’t prescribe without you visiting them for a paid diagnosis
  • Attorney’s won’t provide free quick question support over the phone and instead require a paid initial meeting

Guess how much the fee usually turns out to be when the customer hasn’t been advised in advance?  Typically much less than your normal price or in my case, frequently $0 since I bill entirely at a fixed price.

Key Takeaways:

Once you start a project - no matter how small - a customer feels you owe them two things

  1. Own the problem resolution
  2. Warranty that the solution you’ve provided works
Don’t start free projects without first diagnosing the issue and agreeing on a price for the work. If you jump right into the work then you must realize that you now own that problem, and any fix you provide will likely be warrantied by you - all for no money.

During upgrades, you can avoid this issue by instead making a list of all questions not related to the upgrade. At the end of the engagement, you then meet with the customer, determine the scope and value ( if any ) to fixing the issue before providing them a price to do the work.

For all other quick questions consider taking a step back. Ask the customer what the value is to them in solving the issue. I’ve found developing a minimum fee is VERY helpful at getting the customer to decide whether a particular issue is important enough that they will pay to have it fixed.

Whatever you do - don’t take on any quick questions without determining a price, or you’ll quite likely own and be expected to warranty your solution for free.