How to alienate potential clients without even realising it

The meeting has been arranged to take place in a café; I’ve asked for some recommendations, done a bit of research and contacted three companies all of whom provide the same technical service I am looking for (in this case, digital design). I have a very specific requirement and a budget to achieve it; one of the companies will get the business.

This is the first of the three.

The provider is in the café when I arrive. He has bought himself a coffee. We greet one another in the usual way and go through some initial introductory chit-chat. He then starts his pitch which goes on for a wee while. He has made a reasonable stab at understanding what it is I want and shows me an outline of that on paper. It is then that I spot his first mistake – there are three different spellings of my name of which only one is correct. A sure-fire way to annoy somebody is to spell their name incorrectly, including capitalising where that person doesn’t use capitals and omitting spaces where that person has spaces.

Luan de Burgh

The meeting proceeds to its natural conclusion and we say our goodbyes, with him promising to send more information and follow up, and that’s that. The spelling mistakes have already put him down a rung or two but are forgivable (especially if the work is top-notch) but the second mistake doesn’t do anything to redeem this – at no point during the entire encounter did he as much as offer to buy me a coffee! This is someone to whom I am planning on giving business.

Some readers may well be thinking, ‘Oh come on, don’t be so precious; that doesn’t matter – it’s about whether he can do the job.’

Well yes, to an extent it is, but in a crowded market place it is the little things that matter. To continue with that thought for a moment, when we’re in a market place it is often not the product or prices that sway us to buy our fruit and veg (a carrot is a carrot after all*) but rather we are drawn to the stall holder who remembers us, is all about the customer service and chucks in an extra carrot here and there to make us feel special.

I am aware that the provision of expert legal advice is not akin to the selling of carrots but few of us is so unique that we can sell any old carrot and not think about the customer first and still have a long queue at our stall.

While writing this article, I heard from a GC who told me that they will no longer be using their current legal provider (a well-known name in the sector) due to ‘not making the whole of my team feel important, especially more junior members, perceived lack of interest and responsiveness and arrogance’ in favour of another firm which delivers ‘far better customer service.’

The small things that separate us from others are the things that our clients will remember – be interested in other people, be responsive and respectful and don’t give the impression that your client or potential client is lucky to be working with you but rather make them feel that the opposite is true.

In case you are wondering, he didn’t get the job.

Luan de Burgh of the de Burgh Group is a professional public speaker and presentation coach. More of his articles can be read here.


*For carrot-enthusiasts, I am aware that there are many different varieties of carrots of course (Scarlet Nantes, Thumbelina, Chantenay et al) but am simply making a point!