Trust Me

The question of location comes up a lot in software consulting. Will the work be done on the client’s premises, or the consultant’s? There’s no right answer. Some clients don’t have the office space to accommodate an entire development team. Others already have a large IT department and want the consultancy’s team co-located with their existing staff.

Working at the consultancy’s office may afford certain perks like a relaxed dress code and flexible hours (are there still inflexible hours?). At the client’s site, the developers will have greater access to the people they need to talk to.

But I think that client-site work offers a lot more than this. Manish Sinha noted that

In the age of phone calls, email, and remote working, I can’t stress enough how much my clients value a personal presence. Being in the same office and sitting across the same desk considerably increased my first client’s comfortability in working with me. Meetings with pencil and paper and white boards are very powerful.

Working at the client’s office removes a lot of fear around the engagement. The client can see the team working, they get to know them, they see the software development process in action. They know that the vendor is not doing a bait-and-switch with the staff on the project.

All of these things go towards building trust between the client and the vendor, and trust is a huge part of business. A trusted company gets more business. A trusted employee gets the critical work. “Trust me” doesn’t work; trust has to be earned; and you earn it in installments.

A client trusts the vendor more when they interact with them every day. Phone calls, email, text and instant messaging just don’t cut it because there are subtleties in tone that get lost in those media, and they’re not as efficient. A simple raised eyebrow is all it takes to let the consultant know that what was just said isn’t acceptable. Try that in an email! It would take an hour to delicately compose the right words that convey the point without sounding like you’re angry. Sighing, and typing *sigh* are two very different things.

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” because IBM was a trusted name, and that statement is just as true today for the big software consultancies like Accenture and CGI, despite all the evidence to contrary. So if you’re a software consultanting company then you need to earn the trust of your client before moving the work to your own office. It’ll make for a healthier relationship in the long run, and it’s the long game that you should be playing.