Sally had enough. Jim just didn’t seem to understand her or be sensitive to her needs. She tried to talk about it with him, but when she did he seemed impatient or uncomfortable, so she gave up trying, choosing the path of the obedient wife.

Of course this didn’t help and made matters worse. Jim thought Sally was content through her silence, but he was wrong. One day Sally left, and Jim was shocked and confused. He just didn’t know it was coming.

This fictitious scenario can be likened to a client/service provider business relationship. The client (Sally) and the service provider (Jim) form the business marriage. The provider thinks the client is happy because they are not complaining, until the client goes elsewhere for good, leaving the provider shocked and confused.

When a client leaves a service provider, it is not just the loss of income for the provider. It is the loss of reputation which can repel future clients. Also, new clients are much harder and more expensive to acquire than keeping existing clients happy.

A business relationship divorce often is due to the provider being unaware of the constant hidden debt they owe their client. It is the client who pays for the providers lunches, holidays, part of the kids education, and more. But how often does the provider really, wholeheartedly show genuine gratitude? A card at Christmas does falls well short.

The client debt starts early, at the time the client signs the engagement with the service provider. The client has gone to a lot of trouble to get to this stage and they are taking a big risk because they don’t know what will happen with the service or what the result will be, and it’s going to be some time before anything is delivered. It’s all everyday fare for the provider, so they sit comfortably. On day one, the provider owes the client.

Moving forward, the service (or part of the service) is delivered, however the client can’t gauge the quality. They likely still feel uncertain, perhaps even feel a bit like a speculator. The provider owes the client another one.

Then the client is not phoned at a time as promised. It could be the client’s misinterpretation, but it doesn’t matter. The provider owes the client another one. How many slip-ups like this happen? The provider does not know, but the client does and the debt increases.

Quickly and easily there is now a large perceived deficit for the client. The client does not communicate fully, effectively, or at all to the provider about this, perhaps to avoid conflict or to avoid interrupting the provision of the service. The provider thinks the silence is golden. One day, the client leaves and the provider is shocked and confused. The provider just didn’t know it was coming.

The provider did not understand the unique accounting system of the business relationship. Always assume the relationship balance sheet is worse than it seems. Client disappointment can start on day one, and continue throughout the engagement. The client wasn’t expecting a good job; they were expecting a great job just like the provider promised.

If you make a client think you can do a better job than you can do, they will be disappointed and maybe even feel misled or lied to. A client’s satisfaction is the difference between what they expect and what they get. Therefore, hype is a suicidal marketing strategy. Most prospects are happy with good, not necessarily great. They just want the job done to their satisfaction without any drama or issues.

Understanding the difference in psychology between a buyer of a product and the buyer of a service is necessary to partly appreciate what is going on in the clients mind with all of this.

When someone buys a product, it is usually something they desire. There is normally no big lead-up to the purchase of a product, and they feel pleasure in buying it, using it and seeing it.

The purchase of a service on the other hand is usually something a client has to do to move forward or be in a better situation, and there can be a big lead-up time of research, education and due-diligence before the purchase. Examples include hiring a lawyer to help avoid dispute, an accountant to help with taxes, or a financial planner to help with finances. The purchase of these services brings no great pleasure and the service is largely invisible, unseen except for those cases when information contained in the service is required.

On top of the client having to perform a kind of ‘necessary evil’ by hiring a service provider, the really good parts of the service are invisible to them because they are not experts on the subject. They do not really know what service success looks like. They will, however, see the bad parts very visibly and clearly. Any failures will hit them right between the eyes. The provider needs to constantly and wholeheartedly advertise and illuminate the service successes to the client.

It’s all in the client’s perception of what success entails. An example to illustrate this is the accommodation service industry. Hotels always need to promote cleanliness. They wrap the glasses tightly in the napkins, the toilet seat is covered in the sanitized paper cover, the sheets and towels are crispy and white. Hotel guests do not know if the room is actually clean, but they perceive it to be clean through the hotels packaging. Good service is fundamental, but the client’s perception of good service is critical.

So the provider needs to keep promoting the service to the client by always revealing successes. Remember, the client hires the provider often because they have to, not because they desire to, and the provider’s successes are invisible to them. When a deadline is beaten by two days, let the client know. When things come in under budget, let the client know. When something happens that you are especially proud of, let the client know. Don’t expect the client to know how hard you work, how much you care, and how well you perform. Show them immediately, because so often they are the last to know.

Finally, most relationships with clients are uncultivated. Thank your clients more than you need to. Remind them constantly of the quality they can’t see. Try to make every client happy every day. You must work hard after the service has been provided to make the client feel good about the invisible service they received, just like the lovely product they bought which brings them joy each time they see it.

Services are human-based products. Their success depends on the relationships of people. People can be frustrating, unpredictable, temperamental, and often irrational, but people have patterns about their behaviour and it is these patterns we must try to understand to be better at keeping happy clients.