What a Client Wants–The 3 A’s

August 8, 2013

What a client wantsToday I met with a wonderfully interesting and experienced consultant, Tom Siders from L. Harris Partners,  who was part of the management team that grew McGladrey from sub $400 million to over $1.3 billion in revenues. According to Tom, clients want the three A’s:

  1. Availability
  2. Affability
  3. Ability


Availability is a bit more complicated that it might seem. Consider for a minute whether you would rather eat at a full restaurant or an empty one. Me, I’d rather eat at a full restaurant, provided I’ve got a reservation or know the owner well. I don’t want to wait for a long time, but I’m leery about empty restaurants. They give me pause. Is there are reason why others are staying away? The same skepticism arises when I come across professionals who aren’t very busy. Sometimes they’re just starting out, and others haven’t discovered their brilliance; other times, they’re poor marketers or simply not very good at their profession.

Those with great reputations are usually busy, which is good, but sometimes their lack of availability grates on clients. As an Executive Coach, I cap out at 20 clients at any one time. I could squeeze a few more into my schedule, but I wouldn’t have as firm a grasp on my clients’ narratives as I do now. Plus, my clients are very busy, highly successful executives or CEOs, and they would not like it if I said, “Let’s meet in three weeks.” My clients appreciate my level of availability and love knowing that I have set limits on the number of clients I will work with at any one time. Don’t you wish your doctors did that? Doctors may be the worst at abusing their clients’ time and over-scheduling.

Are you difficult to connect with for your clients? Or do you make yourself available so they both feel and are recognized as important? What are the rules you provide to your assistant about who gets priority treatment (when they want to meet or when something needs to be bumped)?

Assess your availability.


The lack of affability can really hold professionals back. We have all witnessed highly-skilled professionals failing to achieve partner status or a corner office. Skill and knowledge only gets you so far when dealing with clients. If clients feel awkward, they may withdraw from the relationship without even providing a reason. In these situations, the professional will miss the business, and the client may miss the expertise.

It’s too much to expect, perhaps, for the smartest to also be the most sociable. I have heard that McKinsey and Co sends new partners to Switzerland to hone their skills in affability. That may become a larger trend, since clients value affability almost as much as ability, if not more so.


Ability is the first reason someone chooses their service professional. They have an issue that is not easily solved, and they need assistance. The issue may dictate whom the client chooses or the urgency: specialist vs. first available. In general, the more experienced the professional, the greater the likelihood they’ll solve the problem. Experienced professional are usually in high demand, however, so they may not be available. Unless, of course, they’re not affable. In which case, the client might choose…

You get the picture. It’s rare to find someone who is affable, able, and available. When you do, you know that you can’t do better as a client.

Or can you?

Should We Add a Fourth A: Affordability?

If you think the problem can be solved easily, maybe you can add “affordability” to the list. If the issue is important or complex, or important and complex, beware the cheap fixes/options. They tend to cost more in the long run. And you don’t want to try to underpay a skilled, affable, and available professional. They won’t be available for long, and when they book more high-paying clients you will be the one most likely to be replaced. Treat and pay the best professionals well. You want them to feel like they need to deliver superior service to you, so that they can keep you as a client.

What do you look for when hiring a professional? Which “A” matters most to you, and why?


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