The clients speak: from a client’s perspective
This chapter focuses on the client perspective, delving into the successful and productive relationship between the consultant and clients. Based on an international empirical study, this chapter highlights the motivation clients have and how they find the right consultant. The ‘top five’ list of qualities that clients want from consultants is emphasised. Clients advise future clients about the critical issues of the client–consultant relationship.
Among information consultants, conversations about ‘what makes us successful’ are frequent, and it seems we share a set of approaches and behaviours that contribute to a productive relationship with appreciative clients. But what are the key elements that make for a business relationship in which we, the consultants, take satisfaction in a professional job well done and they, our clients, feel they receive true value for money?
In this chapter we let the client speak. While in previous chapters focus has been on the consultant, here we present the aspects of a successful information consulting engagement from the client’s perspective. We take a closer look at what makes information consultants successful and how they develop a productive relationship with their clients.
To get a deeper insight into the relationships of information consultants and their clients, informal studies have been conducted and empirical data was collected in various countries: interviews and questionnaires were distributed in Denmark, Canada, Hungary, Sweden, the US and Iceland. The responses and comments shed intriguing light on the process of successful cooperation between consultants and clients.
We welcomed any and all other commentary as well. We informed respondents that we intend to prepare a ‘guidance document’ for the consulting community to support professional development in the field.
It became more apparent during the study that a successful consulting assignment also requires careful management of the interaction between client and consultant. This is often a complex issue, involving a great deal of psychological insight and social competence.
The results point to the fact that clients and consultants often have different aspects on the same service. While getting feedback from the customers, the service providers may recognise that the customers generally appreciate the quality of communication much more highly than the service providers usually think.1
3. What was your impression of the process of working with the consultant(s)? If you think of the various aspects of the project, perhaps you could comment on ‘what worked well’ and ‘what was challenging’ in each.
Prospective clients often do not know that there are experts who may offer services for their specific problem. This underlines the importance of visibility and marketing activities on the part of information consultants – as was discussed in Chapter 7.
There are a great number of various reasons why managers search for the assistance of information consultants. It is obvious that in many situations the managers’ expectations of an information consultant are much wider than only to get access to information. Therefore, it should be emphasised (again) that besides expertise and technical skill, there are many other qualities which make a successful consulting engagement.
Beyond visibility, the building of trust seems to be powerful (not with the methods of advertising, but public relations, which facilitate the establishment and maintenance of trust). Most clients reach the consultant through word of mouth. The following list exemplifies some of the clients’ answers for our questions ‘How did you find the information consultant?’
I didn’t search particularly for an information consultant, but I knew him well and I remembered that he was always telling me interesting news, trends, etc. I thought that he could be a useful partner for me in the current strategy development.
These types of services could be much more useful and better marketed using effective distribution of information materials. One might use the copyright sign to indicate that this material or result is based on the work of XY consultant. This is also important if the client wants to use the material in the future for reference.
For a further discussion on the choice/selection of consultant, see also ‘Clients’ advice for future consultants’ later in this chapter, where clients’ answers to the question of ‘If you have to do it again’ are presented.
Susan Detwiler collected2 some advice for clients on how to find/select the ‘right’ information consultant. These are elements of the ‘natural’ trust-building during the initial process of contacting when the client checks some conditions of mutual cooperation.
While in Chapters 6–8 we highlighted the skills and competencies required in information consultancy, in this chapter we aim to extend the discussion about the personality of an information consultant. We believe that too much emphasis on competency sets can be counterproductive as they disengage the whole-person approach, take no account of the role or context of the person, and ignore the person and environment relationship. The way in which a message is communicated, the words used and tone adopted will have considerable impact on the way in which it is accepted.
In our questionnaire we have explicitly asked the clients to specify: What would be on your ‘top five’ list of qualities and characteristics on the part of a consultant that make for good value and quality? Most of them gave more than five characteristics, and it was clear from their answers that they do examine/evaluate their consultant by their personal qualities too.
communication skills (express themselves in clear and common language terms; communicate easily with the staff and client; demonstrate care and interest in your client; good manners; courtesy; good memory);
In the literature there are many studies about the personality of information professionals, but most of them have been undertaken in the US where, it could be argued, the organisation and nature of the profession is very different from that of Europe.
Work within the information and knowledge field has been radically transformed by technology, social and political priorities and economic policies, so the natures of people who like to be successful in the information profession have changed. Given the changing paradigms of the information workplace, it may well transpire that the attributes traditionally considered necessary for a successful career in information work (e.g. order, attention to detail) are not now those most needed by the profession and that others (e.g. leadership, flexibility) are essential for the workplace of the future.
We will present below those quality aspects of an information consultant which have been identified by the clients themselves. These views have been collected by interviews and by the questionnaire, expressed spontaneously and based on their own experience.
In this context we should like to refer to an extensive academic research study where our findings are matching very well those desirable personal attributes which – by the clients or employers – in similar situations have been identified. The referred study, ‘Professional characters: the personality of future information workforce’, was funded by the Library and Information Commission in the UK in 2000.3 It was aimed at analysing the particular personal qualities of the information workforce demanded by current employers.
The findings revealed a high level of consensus on qualities such as flexibility, confidence and interpersonal skills as being the most important deciding factor when selecting recruits for information work. Written communication skills and commercial awareness are other qualities that employers regard as essential for the profession.
To highlight in more detail the ‘ideal profile’ of an information professional according to employers’ requirements in the above-mentioned UK study, we present in Table 10.1 Cattell’s 16 personality factors (16PF), which is a widely used tool for assessing personality profile. Table 10.2 gives a short description of the typical characteristics of a low- and high-scoring person.
|Factor||Low score direction||High score direction|
|A||Cool, reserved, impersonal, detached, formal and aloof||Warm, outgoing, kind, participating, likes people|
|B||Concrete thinking, less intelligent||Abstract thinking, more intelligent, bright|
|C||Affected by feelings, emotionally less stable, easily annoyed||Emotionally stable, mature, calm|
|E||Submissive, humble, mild, easily led, accommodating||Dominant, assertive, aggressive, stubborn, competitive, bossy|
|F||Sober, restrained, prudent, taciturn, serious||Enthusiastic, spontaneous, heedless, expressive, cheerful|
|G||Expedient, disregards rules, self-indulgent||Conscientious, conforming, moralistic, staid, rule-bound|
|H||Shy, thread-sensitive, timid, hesitant, intimidated||Bold, venturesome, uninhibited, can take stress|
|I||Tough-minded, self-reliant, no-nonsense, rough, realistic||Tender-minded, sensitive, overprotected, intuitive, refined|
|L||Trusting, accepting conditions, easy to get on with||Suspicious, hard to fool, distrustful, sceptical|
|M||Practical, concerned with ‘down to earth’ issues, steady||Imaginative, absentminded, absorbed in thought, impractical|
|N||Forthright, unpretentious, open, genuine, artless||Shrewd, polished, socially aware, diplomatic, calculating|
|O||Self-assured, secure, feels free of guilt, untroubled, self-satisfied||Apprehensive, self-blaming, guilt-prone, insecure, worrying|
|Q1||Conservative, respecting, traditional ideas||Experimenting, liberal, critical, open to change|
|Q2||Group-oriented, a joiner and sound follower, listens to others||Self-sufficient, resourceful, prefers own decisions|
|Q3||Undisciplined, self-conflict, lax, careless of social rules||Following self-image, socially precise, compulsive|
|Q4||Relaxed, tranquil, composed, has low drive, unfrustrated||Tense, frustrated, overwrought, has high drive|
|Factor||Brief description Low score – High score||Employers’ preference|
|A||Cool v warm||Friendly, pleasant and people-oriented|
|B||Less v more intelligent||Inquisitive, logical, analytical|
|C||Emotional v calm||Able to accept pressure|
|E||Submissive v dominant||Neither|
|F||Sober v enthusiastic||Energetic, enthusiastic, leader|
|G||Expedient v conscientious||Dedicated, committed, thorough, hard-working, responsible, reliable|
|H||Shy v bold||Confident, people-oriented, motivated, able to accept pressure|
|I||Tough v tender-minded||Neither|
|L||Trusting v suspicious||Open-minded, empathetic|
|M||Practical v imaginative||Adaptable, hard-working|
|N||Forthright v shrewd||People-oriented, responsive to needs, friendly|
|O||Self-assured v apprehensive||Confident, ability to accept pressure|
|Q1||Conservative v experimenting||Innovative, inquisitive, open-minded|
|Q2||Group-oriented v self-sufficient||Neither|
|Q3||Lax v precise||Detective-like, meticulous, responsible, organised|
|Q4||Relaxed v tense||Neither|
Table 10.2 illustrates how employers’ preferences map onto the 16 personality factors. Brief descriptions are given for the two extremes for each factor. The highlighted characteristics indicate the direction that employers would like their employees to incline towards. Evidence for this is given in the survey where the employers listed some of the qualities perceived as essential for the future information workforce.
Through the identification of the personality profiles suitable for information work – viewed from the perception of employers – one can find useful hints also for information consultants who want to check if they possess these essential qualities.
The findings of the UK study have identified a gap between how students and educators in the IS field think about personal qualities and aptitudes to succeed in the information profession and employers’ requirements for staff. It is clear that in some key areas there is a mismatch between the expectations and perceptions of the key players (employers, students and educators). Employers appear to believe that educators are not developing the appropriate qualities meeting the recruitment criteria of information professionals able to flourish in a high-pressure environment and to face the challenges in a confident and dynamic manner. There is also a mismatch between the IS students’ self-perception and their knowledge about the required personal qualities in the labour market.
Although there appears to be a match between curricular objectives and outcomes in education and recruitment criteria, this extended study shows that there is a lack of competence within the IS field in areas such as flexibility, commitment, reliability, written communication, analytical skills, problem-solving, etc.
Having identified this gap, this study will hopefully reduce the gap between rhetoric and reality in current IS education and adjust the self-perception of the field – not only in the UK but in the whole of Europe and elsewhere.
In this chapter we summarise clients’ impressions, experiences and viewpoints on the process of working with the consultant(s). After thinking over the various phases of the project, we collected their comments on ‘what worked well’ and ‘what was challenging’ in each step of their assessment.
We also asked them to reflect over the following: if you had to do it again, or a new project gets established, what would you do in the same way or differently as a result of your experience, and why? In summary, what would be your advice to colleagues looking for help from an information consultant?
Below is a list of the clients’ answers in their original form (following closely the clients’ words). The responses are selected and ordered in the main steps of the communication process between the client and the information consultant.
To be very sure that the consultant has properly understood the problem and he is starting and conducting his work in the right direction. This saves time and money, and it helps to avoid empty loops and frustrations.
He [the consultant] managed to find time rather quickly for a first meeting. I was very satisfied with him from the beginning, because I felt that he gave time and effort to learn about my problem. Through all the communication process I enjoyed very much talking to somebody who treated my ‘individual’ problem with a professional attitude, great concern and empathy.
Since it was not one particular problem we worked on, to find out the optimal way for an effective and quality-assured information collection for my area of interest, our contacts were, and still are, going on continuously in the form of discussions, giving advice and tutoring.
I should like to offer more time and attention to formulate more precisely what my expectations are and how I can control and check the results. I think that it is important to explore how to get the consultant really interested and involved in your problem, because in that case he is serving your interest.
We developed together a timeframe for the selection of data/information as well as for the type of media and sources to be used. I asked him to think openly and widely, and help me to see new aspects and perspectives around the given problem. I asked him to be provocative against my own statements.
We keep contact by phone and personal meetings during all phases of the work. He delivered in time the collected information, and in the form of personal meetings we discussed and evaluated the material.
Both the data and information, relevant to the period of time and media, they have been delivered in accordance with our agreement. I felt that the material was a bit ‘different’ from that which I had in my mind, but, at the same time I thought: ‘…the whole idea with this external and professional contact was to get something new in my mind!’ Thus, this little surprise, it was the most important result, and the help I was looking for.
We had a good result due to our mutual cooperation. It was a challenge for me not getting immediate answers to important questions or I had to ask explicitly to get feedback for particular problems. I learned that it is not so easy to dig out the ‘exact’ information!
The choice/selection of consultant is important. There is a need for a professional forum where the consultant can be registered and the client has the guarantee to find a competent and reliable person to work with.
3Goulding, A., Bromham, B., Hannabus, S. and Cramer, D. (2000) Professional characters: the personality of the future information workforce. Education for Information. Vol. 18, No. 1. pp. 7–31.