Do I Want This Client?

Do I Want This Client?How frustrating! A senior member of a computer club that I attend recently sent me an email asking a rather interesting question:

Do you know of any US companies that provide quality computer help by taking over your computer to fix computer problems? I use iYogi and sometimes have difficulty understanding what’s being said as they are located in India. Also, every technician tries to have you purchase McAfee or Norton virus protection or to extend your warranty.

This would be an okay request except for the fact that the person certainly knows that I repair computers and tutor. I can even download and install things! He gets the newsletter that I write for local people, so he probably knows that my favorite security combination is Microsoft Security Essentials backed by Malwarebytes. (I hold “ComboFix” in reserve for my own use on troubled computers when clients have greater than usual difficulties.) So I would not be likely to suggest he spend money for anti-malware as he complains his current providers do. As a bonus, I am a native English speaker.

In other words, I can probably satisfy his needs and do it more cheaply than a large commercial operation because I would combine a house visit to address a computer problem with an informal tutoring session that would leave him better prepared for the next issue that arises. Yet he not only did not think to ask me for help, but he actually asked me to help him find a worthy competitor. This man is not stupid, so what went wrong? How have I failed to sell myself to him? He says that he likes my newsletter and reads it all the time. The newsletter makes frequent references to specific problems other clients have had and how I fixed them.

This one instance of customer confusion might be an unusual case, but it does bring home the problem that anyone who hopes to gain clients in the tutoring and repair business faces: how do you effectively sell yourself? Many of us who have self-selected for this activity are also rather unskilled at effective selling to the public. Although I might think that I am unabashedly pushing myself onto potential clients at social events, in the gym, or at club meetings, occasionally a wakeup call like this club member sent me will jangle my tranquility and be a warning that marketing is not doing its job. At best, this letter is a warning that some people have a different perception of my services than I do. At worst…

In this case, the probable fix is not difficult. I responded to his request with several alternatives (including using me, naturally) depending on what he wants and what his problems are. In fact, I made a rather strong pitch for using me. His response came within hours:

Thank you for your response. I was looking for a company that you give control of your computer to through the Internet, which eliminates the need in most cases to transport your computer or make an appointment. Does Computer Geeks take control of your computer, or is it done by phone direction?

That is the whole response. It made no acknowledgement of me being part of the field of potential suppliers for him for anything other than advice about which alternative to my services to procure. This time I responded that anyone with a recent version of Windows could, with his permission, access his computer remotely. Slyly, I inserted the comment that I had done it many times, but prefer the one-on-one tutoring to be face to face. Then I added that I have no idea if Computer Geeks offers any such service. Unspoken was the implication that I am certainly not going to do that enabling research for him. Enough is enough.

Throughout this exchange, I have maintained a friendly and non-threatening tone while trying to be informative and emphasizing that I am here — I am here, damnit!

A few minutes ago, another response came in, and it was more of the same. Now upon reviewing the whole exchange and thinking about it some more, I begin to wonder if this is a client I really want. Regardless of whether he hires me or not, we will see each other at meetings, and he knows many of the people I know. Increasing my clientele requires favorable word of mouth advertising. This potential client could be a loose cannon who will misunderstand something I say and decide I do not know how to solve his problem or how to teach him to fix it himself. A few words from a disgruntled client can wreck years of trust building with the user community. Perhaps my instinctual response to his initial request was the right approach: Stay friendly and vector him off to some other provider with my blessings. If I had it to do over again, I would not offer services so openly.

If tutoring and computer repair were my only source of income and a fulltime job, my attitude would be different. Anyone who might become a client should be pursued. As it is, without descending into snobbish exclusivity, I can afford to be picky about who would make a good ongoing client and who should be directed elsewhere.

From the various comments received on the subject of senior tutoring for seniors, I know that many other people face the same type of dilemma in going for new clients and how to deal with less than ideal ones. How do you resolve it?