Are you a valued client or just a job number?

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.  –Henry Ford

I’ve had two very recent interactions with the new generation of entrepreneurs that left me walking away scratching my head as to what business and customer service principles are at the core of their work.  Let me describe them to you.

First is a small group designing websites and developing branding concepts for businesses. They have a long list of customers and their work is definitely targeted to help build the overall brand image as well as the website.  So, a couple of months ago we invited them to visit our offices and discuss a potential website project.  They were definitely full of ideas, concepts and couldn’t wait to show us their portfolio and to give us advice.  So far, so good.  After the meeting my partner asked them to send us a proposal.

And here’s where the wheels came off.  We received nothing – no communication and no proposal.  When we finally talked to a mutual friend who made the initial introduction, he explained that they were very busy at the moment with multiple projects, but would definitely get back to us.  Still nothing.

Fast forward two months later and out of the blue we get an email from this group saying that if we were still interested, they now had time to work with us.  We declined.

Example number two.  We are looking for architects for a building project and one young up-and-coming firm came highly recommended.  We met in their offices, liked their portfolio and approach and asked them for a work plan.  The senior partner kept saying how busy they were and how they had many important projects in the works. He was definitely enamoured with his own success and was especially proud of one assignment in Europe for a very important client.  The upshot of this interaction is that they maybe could fit us in a couple of months. But of course, they did want our job.

Both these experiences left us feeling like we were “just a job” as opposed to being a valuable client.  I believe, like Seth Godin, that unless you are willing and able to make each and every client/customer feel “special” and important, you are damaging your long-term success.

People want to feel like valued clients or customers, not a job number on a planning schedule of work to be done.  Unless you are willing to treat each and every client or customer as special, your business is highly vulnerable to those who will.

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.  –Jeff Bezos, CEO

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
This entry was posted in corporate culture, Human Psychology, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Are you a valued client or just a job number?

  1. mimijk says:

    I think this is a generational disconnect that is going to take some adjustment. The communication that we are accustomed to – the sense of timeliness, customer service, comprehensive attention and responsiveness – are qualities which were requisite parts of our professional tool-kit. Chances are that these younger company heads are meeting with success with their peers – they are not making it across the generational divide. The problem of course, is that there is still a wealth of business to be had for which they will not be able to compete. On the one hand it’s a shame; on the other if there are lessons learned, then so be it.


  2. John,
    You touch upon something I’ve been wondering about for quite some time. And perhaps you guys just got “generation gapped”… What do I mean by that? Well – I’ve experienced the same kind of numb or slow reaction from more and more of my contacts lately and i must say, that especially the generation that is following me is carrying the characteristics you describe. Now, I hate to sound like a grumpy old guy (at 45) – abut nevertheless the sense of urgency and the readiness I like about younger people I work with seems to be missing out more and more by their peers these days. It seems like the “wish to want” is far more dominant than “the ability to do”. Now – up until today, I just had it in the back of my head as something I needed to keep in mind as a pointer for shifts in various corporate cultures (my field). – But reading your blog just made it surface as a clear artifact.
    But how do you react wisely to it? – Is it really a case of them not wanting to work with you? – I doubt it, but I still find myself struggling with finding a good way to communicate over the generation gap – because that is what I think it is…
    Thanks for sharing John.
    Kind regards
    Jens Victor


  3. I have experienced the same diminished service.
    I wonder what kind of service young talent expects for their business? Are they willing to “be a number?” Disregard deadlines? If they are frustrated by poor service, is it a generational issue or a recognition issue?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s