It’s the little things that matter

In many businesses, particularly in service businesses, clients often cannot tell whether you are any good at what you do – there are no benchmarks.

Consumers often only find out how poor a supplier has been when they finally change to another provider. For example: the new accountant picks up a heap of errors the previous accountant had made.

Now, there is no substitute for doing really good quality work – great service and products – but it’s often not enough to be “technically excellent” as many of our clients do not have the skills or expertise to assess your technical competence.

So how do our clients determine whether we are any good at what we do? How do they determine your “relative competence” compared to other professionals in your field?

Because they are often unable to judge the “technical elements” of what we do, our clients will usually focus on the things they do understand – the little things. (We all do this as we are all someone else’s client). We will make illogical connections between elements to determine our assessment of relative competence. For example: your clients will pick up cues from how you present yourself, your attention to detail with emails and contracts and generally how you “treat them” to determine whether you’re a good accountant, lawyer, stock broker, consultant, surveyor, etc.

Making seemingly small errors, like misspelling a name, poor grammar and spelling in communications, sloppy dress standards, tardy response times, etc. can often have your client doubting the overall quality of your work. The logic is that if they can’t get the “small things” right, then how can they be trusted to get the “big things” right. Likewise getting the small things right often equates to a higher validation of your technical skills.

What can we do to ensure that we are always seen in a positive light by our clients? I believe that the factors are defined by a subset of the Trust Equation promoted by David Maister.

The Trust Equation traits, that I see as important are: Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy. “Self Interest” is an important part of building trust but I think that the top 3 elements of the equation are more powerful in determining our relative competence.

Credibility: this is all about being convincing and believable. Qualifications, associations, connections, awards, website and track record are all important here. This is where your LinkedIn profile can be a great adjunct to your business website and CV. It’s also about being confident in the delivery of your technical information/products. Your website should also demonstrate your capability with video and articles that show you know your stuff” – this is very powerful. I think of “credibility” as being the baseline in helping clients to decide on the quality of what you do.

Reliability: this is where the “rubber hits the road” and where your customers will get many of their cues from about the quality of your services. Reliability is “doing what you said you were going to do” and in my experience is a critical factor for perceived customer value. The logic is that if you do the “little things” well that your customers will often perceive that you do the “big things” well. Reliability is a critical element of relative capability.

Intimacy: This is having a deep understanding of your customer and their industry and business. Take the time to do your research and understand your clients. Use systems like CRMs to record the knowledge so that it can be shared across your organisation. Do your preparation before meetings – read your clients last few social media posts, check their website for changes, update yourself on industry issues and trends, google your clients and their business for latest news stories, etc. This is not about being “creepy” but about being informed. I see “intimacy” as the glue that binds deeper business relationships.

I rank “Reliability” as the primary driver for helping clients to see you as a quality supplier with “Intimacy” and “Credibility” providing a great support act. However, without the simple things that make you reliable – attention to detail and delivering on your promises – you can have all the credibility and intimacy in the world, but they will still discount your relative competence.

So, in summary, understanding relative competence (or “are you any good at what you do?”) is about doing great work, delivering excellent products and services – there is no substitute for that. But it’s often not enough to be technically excellent as the majority of your clients are unable to determine the extent of your technical skill and will rely on a variety of seemingly unrelated factors to determine your relative competence. Focus on being “reliable” as a key platform to building relative competence supporting with credibility and intimacy building strategies.

For more information on growing your business – visit

Russell Cummings

Business Coach and Advisor

Search this website