I’m on the VLine train on the way to Geelong, for my second day of guest lectures at Deakin University. I decided to catch the train yesterday for two reasons:

1. I need to build muscle around public transport before Microsoft Melbourne’s move to the city (well, Southbank anyway). Having spent most of my transit time over the past 8 years behind the wheel of a car, I am very sensitive to

a) the crazy old man who insisted on standing over me yesterday while he ate his pie and kept mumbling crumbs at me,
b) the three young school girls swearing so crudely that they managed to offend a lady sitting next to them who’s tattoos made my Japanese half-sleeve look like a lick and stick
c) and let me not forget, the suit who felt compelled to share the sordid details of his self-assessed “corporate crucification” with the whole train (yeah buddy, we were all in awe at how LA Law you looked…tosser!).

2. I don’t like driving long distances, I prefer the time to catch-up on blog posts and chill out.

So along my journey, I met a couple of people, who got me thinking about the concept of the Customer Consiglieri. (Remember the role of Tom Hagan in the Godfather?) 

Firstly there was the ticket dude, an affable old scruff, who helped explain the intricacies of purchasing a one-way or roundtrip, economy or first class, single destination or multi-stop pass to me. He was polite and helpful, but not subservient. He knew his stuff, but didn’t explain it to me like I was a child, just outlined the way it worked, and left me to fill in the detail with the confidence that I had lived enough years to put 2 and 2 together.

Then there was the stewardess, who helped me work out the carriage setup. First class is the last carriage, the front four are economy. Even though the rear door is open, you can’t make your way into the carriage until the station master invites passengers to do so over the PA. She again was polite, but not condescending, she simply informed me of these measures in a matter of fact way, assured that I would accept these guidelines, which I did. There didn’t seem much point to asking her a bunch of useless questions as tot he why and how, it’s just the way its done, for whatever reason.

These two simple interactions made me realise something that many consultants need to remember when dealing with customers: guidance and advice under respect, the core principals of the Customer Consiglieri. What the hell am I on about? Has the cheap instant coffee from the newspaper stand finally eroded my primary cortex? What I mean is, many consultants approach a customer engagement as an opportunity to sell something. That wonderful window of opportunity where, as a wise colleague (and Sales Manager) once said, if you can’t dazzle them with detail, blind them with bullshit. What they miss though, is the opportunity to gain the customers confidence through strong guidance, demonstrated discipline, and above everything, respect. Respect for who the customer is, respect for the position they are in that has brought them to invite you to meet them, respect for what your role is as the consultant and what you must do for the customer.

So this brings me to what you must do for the customer, as the Customer Consiglieri:

Feel their pain! If you make their problems your problems, you’re going to be able to use your unique experience and skill to the greatest advantage, solving a problem they cannot. It will also ensure your solution meets their problem, thus aligning the success factors.

Be there guide, not their servant! Consulting isn’t yes sir, no sir, three bags whatever, it’s about guiding a customer through a scenario using your skill and capability. I would never dream of asking my accountant to use his fantastic numerical skills to do my maths homework would I? So make sure your customer understands your role in the relationship, and never give them reason to misinterpret or abuse that role (or relationship).

Be their Tom Hagan! This one is easy, make them feel like you’re their to ensure the outcome that’s right for them. If that means telling the salesperson during the pre-sales meeting to “tell the truth”, or mediating between the customer and a rogue vendor, or just getting the job done with minimal “Excuse me’s” to the customer, then your doing a great job. The residual feeling to the customer is that you’re someone they can trust to get the job done, without the need for the customer to get their hands “dirty”.

Anyway, just some thoughts, and by the way, don’t read too much into my references to Tom Hagan, I don’t want any consultants chopping up horses or appearing at establishments of ill repuit on behalf of their customers!