6 Reasons Why I Hesitate to Make Recommendations to Clients

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Guest Post by Ronn Hanley:
I have never refused to answer a direct question from a client, but I have been known to cringe a bit when I’m asked for recommendations about specific computer equipment, software or technology purchases.

It’s a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way through trial and error (mostly error…). If you’re in the process of starting any kind of technology based business or even just helping out a friend, it’s important to realize that choices you make for yourself won’t always match your client’s needs.

Here are my six top reasons to always think twice when offering advice or answers to clients about technology choices.

1. Recommendations can blow up in your face

Your clients need computers or other technology devices to do specific tasks for them. Trouble is, they may only have a vague idea of what they want to do based on some Microsoft commercial that talks about how amazing the ‘cloud’ is. Once they ask you, the problem becomes yours to solve.

If you’re at all conscientious, you’ll approach the question from the standpoint of reliability, functionality, and ease of use. The biggest thing you want to do is be honest about the technology since you know that it has its upsides and downsides. As a matter of fact, a lot of what you might say to them is based on your own biases, there isn’t much you can do about that, if you been working in the field for any length of time you will have developed specific likes and dislikes.

Here’s where it gets difficult, your clients needs and your dislikes or likes aren’t going to agree. You’ve developed your skills along a specific path, usually due to trial and error. When they ask about a specific computer brand, that’s where the inclination to steer them away or towards a brand comes from.

It’s very possible, even with the knowledge you possess, the product you ‘recommend’ might not suit their needs. There are many reasons for this, but ultimately if things don’t work out, it becomes your problem for recommending the product in the first place. I’m not saying this happens every time, but its well within human nature to blame the person who made the recommendation.

2. There might be too hard or too long of a learning curve

Your clients are busy people. They have a business to run and they don’t intend to spend a lot of time learning new software or hardware. Businesses are all about making money. They aren’t making money if their staff are taking time learning the newest app or hardware gadget.

I’ll be totally honest, they don’t really care about new whiz-bang stuff like that. They want it to work right out of the box. They don’t want long winded explanations and they certainly don’t want a lot of techno babble doublespeak.

I realize this sounds harsh, but remember, you didn’t get into this business to be coddled.

3. The client will have to change too much to make the software/hardware work

Sounds trite, but clients are people and people generally avoid changing how they do things. It doesn’t matter that you ‘know’ what you are proposing will work better, that’s never the point. You must to be prepared to handle this mindset. Don’t believe me? Ask an older tech, I bet they’ll tell you the same thing. Business owners are slow to change from what has worked for them in the past.

It’s not a bad thing, it’s just something you have to factor in when making recommendations and one reason that I will make sure I ask a billion questions of my client before they ever get even a small recommendation from me. I’ve run into clients who are upset that what I offer actually works better than their current pet machine or product. You are messing with people’s ideas and emotions when you make a recommendation, be prepared for that.

4. The software/hardware solution may not work for them depending on how they try to use it

Every office runs different. If you want to see push-back, try introducing Open Office in a Windows or Microsoft Office environment. It doesn’t matter that OO if free and pretty much works the same. Your clients are only worried that their documents are readable by the receiving end. And there is that pesky learning curve to consider. It’s very possible that the recommendation you offer, be it hardware or software will simply not work based on how the client does business.

Internet Explorer has been the standard browser for more than 20 years. MANY Citrix, Electronic Discovery or SharePoint applications simply will not work in Firefox, Opera or even Chrome (To be perfectly honest, a lot of them won’t work in IE9…). It’s not your fault, it’s the way the system works, so you have to be careful about any recommendations you make in this regard. And you also need to be prepared to make corrections on the fly when something doesn’t work properly.

Yes, it’s true that many companies are changing their back office systems, but Windows is the largest out there and that’s not going to change any time soon.

5. All recommendations are subjective

Just because you had a good experience with a certain hardware or software solution doesn’t mean that your clients will. It’s no different than movies or food, your tastes aren’t always going to be in alignment with your clients. I’ve had friend who swore by a certain cable company, and I’ve also had friend who wants to find medieval ways to destroy the same cable company.

Any recommendation you make is completely subjective, which sucks since you are just trying to do your best for your client. Be aware that your job is to think things through after asking questions. Get to know your client well before you offer anything. It’s a policy I’ve learned the hard way and I won’t change it no matter how ‘simple’ it might make me seem to a new client.

Trust and believe that when you get to know your clients and how they do business, you become a valued member of the team, not just some guy or girl who fixes stuff when it breaks (this is both good and bad, but I’ll save that for another article). Your recommendations will still be subjective, but at least they will be flavored with solid knowledge about what works for particular clients.

6. You very seriously run the risk of losing customers

Losing customers is never a joke. It’s hard on you, it’s hard on them, and its hard on your bottom line.

The problem is, you can never please everyone. Think about it this way, even the worst client contact usually is nothing personal. You are a vendor, they are a client and they need you to do a job. Your recommendations need to follow the same concept. You aren’t helping a friend (even if it is a friend), you’re helping a client solve a problem. Treat them all as serious – I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that your clients are.

Ultimately you have to determine the risks

In the end it’s up to you whether or not you want to offer advice or recommendations. You know your clients and you know their way of thinking. The best advice I can offer is to be honest in your appraisals of their questions. If you don’t know about something, SAY SO. A good client doesn’t expect you to know everything, and if someone does, then that’s not a person you need to be working for anyway.

Guest Post by Ronn Hanley: Ronn is a technology enthusiast from way back, during the dark ages of the Arpanet and the Purple monochrome monitor screens. His first computer was a Commodore PET and his first laptop was the size of a suitcase. Despite that, he loves computers and technology to distraction and has been working in the tech world for almost 10 years full time, currently as the owner of a Desktop and Network support company in Atlanta, Georgia.



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Comments (20)

  • Richard says:

    Making recommendations is part of the service my clients expect from me.

    I am happy to provide recommendations to them, once I question them to find out what they “really” want or need to do. If I don’t know enough or perhaps anything about a specific item or topic, I say so. I am willing to research it for them and charge them a modest fee for my research effort.

    If the product or service does not perform up to the client’s expectations I might lose them. However, if I don’t help them they may find someone who will and I will certainly lose them then.

  • Chris says:

    This is the strangest article I’ve ever seen published here and I couldn’t disagree with it more, though I suppose your entire position on this subject rests on your business model. If you work with consumers I can (more easily) understand this position, but if you deal with business-users you better get comfortable with making suggestions. If you don’t know what and how to make those recommendations you’re no good to them and they will be forced to look for answers elsewhere (and that’s not a good position for you to be in). It’s possible I’m missing something in this article, but a companies technician should be able to address every single one of the concerns posted here with confidence and authority.

    • F1 Systems says:

      I suspect in addition we have a division here between the pizza-techs who do house calls at ridiculously low rates with low expectations and real professionals who charge properly and do the job right.

  • Ryan Meray - ctechsinc.com says:

    If you’re not making recommendations to business clients, you’re going to be trying to figure out some crappy proprietary or custom system that was sold to them by a commission-chasing salesperson on a non-stop basis.

    If your customers can’t look to you for expertise on what’s effective, efficient, and appropriate for their needs, knowledge level, and situation, then I would say you’re in the wrong line of work.

  • Willett says:

    I agree! When a person recommends an item, etc., the client makes it your problem if it does not do what they want or expect. Instead of telling them what to get, I choose to show them all of the options that will work for their needs and let them make the choice. Letting them take ownership of the choice, then they feel part of the process. I find it also creates questions that can be used to help inform them of the device, software, etc. If they do a little exploring on their own and find something, I only let them know if it will work or not.

    I have found the client is much happier if they are a partner in the upgrade.

    If they force me to make the decision, then I will only after we sit down and discuss the options offered to them.

    I not only recommend their options, base on price, based on reliability, and such, I also stress the service provided by the company should warranty work be needed. One company can have the best product and reliability, and have the worst service record. This is not a good combo.

    There are times when the client puts everything in your hands. Then you have to make the best of it.

    • Ronn says:

      What you’re saying is exactly what I do. I give them several options based on my knowledge of their circumstances and their business model. There’s a reason I’ve had a solid base of repeat clients for the last three years…

  • Ronn says:

    Perhaps it wasn’t clear, but the point of the article wasn’t to say that I don’t make recommendations, I do it every day. The point was to say that I don’t just willy nilly start slinging parts at my clients because it’s what’s expected of me as their tech.

    I take the time to get to know what their requirements are so that when I make my recommendations the decision is sound and I’m not creating more work for myself.

    Business clients are consumers, no matter what else it may seem like and businesses themselves act JUST like individuals when it comes to purchasing products (more so because they are investing large amounts of capital into a recommendation).

    My clients look to me to be professional, knowledgeable and tech savvy, and that’s exactly what they get.

  • Chris says:

    Ronn,

    I see what you are saying, but I think the title should probably be different then. Maybe, “Six Things You Need to Consider Before Making Recommendations.” The way the article came across was that you should never make recommendations. I see from your response that was not what you were getting at, and your points to consider are valid. Our clients trust us to make recommendations based on our experience. They don’t want ten different options. They expect us to narrow it down for them and make one recommendation.

  • Trusted IT Solutions says:

    Great article Ronn. Thanks.

  • Albert Anvals says:

    I quit making recommendations after too many, “well you recommended it!”.

    What I say now is, “I don’t make recommendations; I only relate my experiences on the subject. You have to make your own decision.”

    That seems to work out well.

  • Nathan says:

    I never make recommendations, From the customers requirements list I give the customer a list of options that they can choose from. This is the “Form follows Function” idea. Make it so they own it! All of the requirements and choices belong to the customer.

    What do they need to do? The customer has to give you the list (it is their list not yours). Make suggestions but it is always their list. To achieve these functions you need this software (sometimes a choice of SW) and here are the HW systems that can support that software.

    I have had customers return saying well, I can;t do ____ (you fill in the blank) to which I can always reply, “You did not put that in your requirements list.” I showed you options that would fulfill your requirements list and you picked one. If you had given me a different requirements list, I would have presented different options. Once they realize it is there error and they have ownership of there error they will usually come around and you won’t loose them as a customer.

    OBTW write down everything.

  • Gerald says:

    The best and only recommendations to make are the ones that consider the above factors but always have your customers best interest in mind. I make many recommendations; some times ones that “cost” me the. Sale. However, if anything I hear how great of a recommendation it was or they should have listened.

    My motive is to serve their best interest; not mine, not the latest technology, some vendor, or supplier; but always the customer.

  • Leon says:

    This may be the best customer service article I’ve read on TN since I started coming here. It covers pretty much every situation i’ve run into in this regard since 1989.

    I’ve had customers that nothing I recommended ever worked because I didn’t know them good enough. They tell me they wanted to do X, I suggested A & B as I’ve seen it work with others wanting to accomplish the same thing. But when they get the product they find out what they really wanted to do Y & Z.
    Then you have the people that ask your opinion on something, fishing for free help, then turn around and do something completely opposite and try to get you to take the blame.

    Great job Ronn.

  • Rosemary G. says:

    My clientele is very different from businesses.. I work with Seniors, but the problems with recommendations is the same. Many are having to switch over to newer systems that what they learned on.. with many unhappy Seniors.
    I am very careful to tell them that they will have to learn new ways..(never a good prospect for someone over 75!) and nothing will LOOK the same.
    Preparing them for this helps.. and when they can’t do it, or are not happy, it gives me a fall-back position.
    What I really NEED is a gentle way to tell them, that they just can’t handle the thinking anymore. I have to make the hardest recommendation of all.. to give up the computer and go back to the telephone!.
    Pointing out the possible problems, and making sure the customer realizes they are making the choice is vital!

    • F1 Systems says:

      Amen. This can be trouble and makes it hard to do a good job as they simply cannot / no longer wish to understand.

  • $300 Data Recovery says:

    Clients often ask us: “What hard drive do you recommend”? Of course, since they all go bad, we have a saying: “We don’t recommend any drive over another, they all die, so buy 2, and keep a backup.” Wouldn’t you know, even this wasn’t good enough for one client, who instead of leaving a 5 start review (after recovering 100% of his data for about 1/3 the cost of anyone else), gave us 4 stars citing that we “wouldn’t” give him a hard drive recommendation. It’s impossible to please everyone.

  • Mike Smith says:

    Nice effort Ronn, there are some good constructive criticisms which will make your next article even better I’m sure. It’s hard writing from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know what you mean, or how you do it, and I for one am very guilty of making far too many assumptions like that in my prose.

    @Rosemary G may I suggest ubuntu 12.04 LTS and XFCE. Looks and works like Windows XP and wont be changing for the next 5 years. I think your clients will be happy. Run it in a virtualbox VM for testing. You’ll like it too.
    There are videos on youtube that will show the installation of each.

    @$300 Data Recovery, that was funny right there.

    Recomendations are fine. we all make them and as IT folk, we can’t help it.
    Bear in mind that the recomendation you make is based on the information you have at hand at the time of the recomendation.
    This is handy when making a client feel better for choosing the wrong thing. “I’m sure you made the best decision you could with the information you had, and now with this new information you can make a better one.”
    The other side of the coin is also true; “I recomended “X” becasue you told me you wanted to be able to “Y”. Had I known, you needed “Z” too, I would have recomended a different product.”

  • Eric Clemens - Acroment.com says:

    I completely understand the spirit of your post and I too have been stuck in a recommendation gridlock. However as pointed out by several other commenters, I think to service your clients in the best way possible, you have to push through and make a decision. I often put on my “if I was running your company, what would I do?” hat.

    You wont be right all the time. You may not have complete control of the outcome. You may not be able to offer the solution you are recommending. But a decision must be made, and by asking you, your client already agrees with that. NOT making a recommendation is likey to do more harm to your relationship, than making a bad recommendation, or one they are not happy with.

  • Walter Carter says:

    The old analogy measure twice and cut once is never more important than when recommending solutions to your clients; especially business clients. It is our job as their trusted consultant or technician to have the integrity to research the technical solutions for the client before making the recommendation. This is never more important than when your client is going to make the purchase through your business. Its just good common sense to ensure happy clients which will intern ensure a profitable business.

  • F1 Systems says:

    The customer comes to you the professional for answers. If you cannot answer their questions or help them to find an answer, you have no business talking to customers. Some customers will expect you to know more than you do and you must always be honest about what you DO know. IBM used to have salespeople answer, “I do not know but IBM does and I will get back to you.”

    Want to keep a business or other high value customer? Be up to date on your information and ready to answer their questions. As someone else here said, this then lets you call the shots on what they need, what they buy, how it is installed and how it is supported. This helps you develop the relationships that will pay dividents in the future. Of course, if you don’t care enough to stay informed, the customer will catch on to that, too.

    We pride ourselves on being the answer guys and our customers count on our counsel. In fact, we tell them not to buy as often as we tell then what to buy. Who else is going to tell them the crap software on TV is junk and that guy on the phone cannot fix you PC without an Internet connection? Who is going to tell grandma that Walmart has a $279 laptop that is fine for them as opposed to the $900 one Best Buy is pushing on her?