Monday, July 23, 2012


There is a term for customers I would like to share that makes a difference in the way businesses think and how they should deal with people: aspirants. In The Firm of the Future: A Guide for Accountants, Lawyers, and Other Professional Services, by Ronald J. Baker and Paul Dunn, customers are not described as clients, but rather as aspirants. Individuals aspire to something. If a business is doing something other than just compliance work for people, those people are expecting something more than to be treated as basic clients. 

They want to be transformed; they want their situations to be improved (even if they were already doing well, they want better). Maybe they want to be protected, which means they want their situation to be transformed into something safer. Maybe they want to accomplish a business objective that will transform their life in a positive way, or perhaps they are trying to settle some kind of bothersome dispute. Positively or negatively, if you are involved in a dispute, it is transforming. If you assist someone in that process, you are a Transformer. With this in mind, every time you speak to a “client,” think about how you could transform them, either positively or negatively. 

What’s at stake isn’t simply doing the work. What really matters is what the work says to a person. How it is going to transform their life one way or another? Someone could easily make a bad decision based on a product that is not delivered correctly.

If you are an accountant and you simply fill out a customer’s paperwork before flinging it at them, you are depriving them of the transformation they are ultimately seeking from you. Most accountants don’t get this, and while that’s a good thing for those accountants who do, it’s very unfortunate for the customer sitting across from an accountant who just doesn’t care or understand.

I have a buddy who was saddled with an accountant who surprised him by letting him know that, oops, he owed $13,000 more than projected. As my buddy sat there shell-shocked, the accountant looked at him with a straight face and asked, “How are you going to pay this?”

When my buddy could not come up with an immediate answer, the accountant told him to give him a call when he figured it out and advised him to enjoy the rest of his day. That accountant belongs in accountant jail.

It’s essential to understand, whatever your profession, the services you provide make a difference in people’s lives. If an individual knows that you understand this, they will feel protected through the interactions they have with you and can be confident they are exactly where they should be. If you care, no one can compete with you.

The important question here is: When you talk to customers, are you in fact talking to a client, or are you talking to an aspirant? Do you understand what this person is aspiring to be or do? In all of your dealings with aspirants, remember that what you say to them really matters. Take your words as seriously as they do. Think before you speak. Make it a transformative experience for them. Never think about the amount of trouble, hassle or time it will take to accommodate your aspirant. Embrace it. Think about what you can do to make them feel safer, confident, optimistic, and that progress is being made to meet whatever the challenge. This is the kind of stuff they don’t teach in accounting school, or engineering school, or construction school, or any other schools.

A good way to start empathizing with the aspirants around you, is by making yourself your first aspirant. Take a look within, at your own life, and examine the goals you currently have on the table. Once you’ve identified and prioritized those goals, think about the motivation behind them. Maybe one of your current goals is to become a better salsa dancer. A worthy, understandable goal.

Ask yourself: Why is this my goal?

What are you aspiring toward by wanting to achieve this goal? You’re a very hard worker. You work so hard, lately you feel as if your life has become all work and no play. Having a balance in life is vital. You feel that learning to become an amazing salsa dancer will provide a great social outlet to create the balance you’re seeking in life. Rather than crunching numbers, eating ice cream alone and watching To Catch A Predator on MSNBC on Friday nights, you think it would be better for your psyche, to hit the dance floor, get some exercise, make new friends—maybe make new, more than friends—and in general, be happier. It’s clear the goal is to salsa dance because the motivation is to improve your social life, your health, both physical and mental, and to provide variety in your day-to-day life. You deserve all of these things.

And so do your aspirants. Think of your own personal goals when working with aspirants and remember, their goals mean just as much to them as yours do to you. Don’t ever just fill out the paper work!

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