The other day Anthony, my friend, called me up to get my professional opinion on an issue he is having with a client. I said, “Sure, what’s up?” Well he calmly, but passionately launched into a bit of a rant about a client that is repeatedly calling him to ask “a quick question.” He doesn’t mind helping out here and there but, feels that in this case, the client is abusing the opportunity. Personally, whenever someone begins a conversation with me by saying, “Hey Scott? Quick question?” I always utter to myself, “No such thing.” And yah know what gang? In my line of work, there isn’t any such thing as a quick question. There are only questions you want me to answer while you avoid appearing burdensome to me, my time or my schedule.
Frankly, I contend that while the client isn’t intentionally misusing my time, he sure can’t be wholly unaware of his abuse of it, or then why on earth would the package be contained in such a self-conscious wrapper? Thus, one might qualify his question as one that is quickly asked, quickly pondered and quickly responded to, but in reality, the only thing quick about the entire transaction is the speed with which my brain is examining how quickly I can return to what I was doing to actually earn a buck.
And before you snap to the conclusion that I am a selfish so-n-so, consider this: the thing you need me to answer, the problem you’re having that I can solve, the “quick question” you have is precisely the question I was answering for someone else when you interrupted me. And that question I was answering before the interruption was one I was being paid to answer. So in other words, the quick question you need me to answer is the question I answer all the time to keep food on my table.
So here is what I suggested Anthony do.
When the same customer repeatedly calls you seeking advice, guidance, assistance or insight from you that can only be supplied by someone with your set of skills, tell the client that the “quick question” you are currently answering, is the last you can afford without being compensated for your time.
“Say it like this,” I said to Anthony.
“Jim, I really want to help you and I appreciate your confidence in my answers, but the questions I’m answering for you are exactly the kinds of questions I earn money answering for other customers. So, the time I pledge to solving your problems, no matter how fleeting it may seem, is the time I dedicate to solving the problems of those customers I have scheduled to put time toward today.”
Yah see, my customers call on me because I provide them with prompt and reliable solutions at a cost they find reasonable. It is, very simply, how I make money and probably more importantly, how I keep my customers coming back and subsequently, how I keep them happy. Each time I donate time to a client’s “quick questions,” there is a paying customer elsewhere not getting from me what they’ve paid me to supply and that’s just bad business.
So the next time a customers of yours is unintentionally misusing your good graces, your charitable disposition and frankly, your time, politely, but firmly inform them that you require compensation for your services and in the case of the quick question, you require equally quick payment.