The Three Types of Client Pain, and the One Pain that Every PS Team Should Focus On

This is part one of a two part series on client pain. The two parts are:

Partnership development and growth isn't just about following up or "touching base" with your customers once in a while. Once you get past the periphery and superficial communication, what do you have left?


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I like to think a relationship between us and our clients is akin to one between a doctor and patient. Our clients come and tell us about how they feel and the symptoms they are experiecing. Their pains generally fall into three categories:

Our clients tell us a lot about their immediate pains When our clients come to us with immediate pains (e.g. "I can't get my code working with your API"), our first reaction is to find a solution so they can go back to their normal business operations. These pains are generally very tactical, and while solving tactical problems is important, PS teams that continuously sprint to solve an endless stream of immediate pains tend to burn out quickly. More importantly, clients get frustrated because all they see are short term fixes that doesn't help them tackle bigger and more strategic problems. 

Chronic pains (e.g. "We can't ever seem to reach the metrics we've set out from the start of the project") are pains that don't seem to ever go away, and is an indication that there are foundational problems with technology, process, or people. These pains are generally more interesting to diagnose and rewarding to solve for PS teams because they fundamentally help a business understand why they may not be attaining their objectives. 

Pain List.png

The commonality between immediate and chronic pains is that they hurt. The pain is affecting day-to-day execution or holding back business growth. We hear these pains loud and clear when we talk to our clients because articulating that hurt is easy and objective. What we don't usually hear up front are the root causes of those pains, which I coin as anticipatory pains. They don't hurt right now, but if we don't address them they will turn into chronic or immediate pain. They are hard to voice because articulating a pain that isn't hurting is vague, and vagueness seems unimportant and unobjective

It sounds so simple to solve pains that prevent more pains later on, but why are so many teams fixated solely on immediate and chronic pains? It may be because solving immediate and chronic pains prove worth to the client in the short term, and short term validation means a signed SOW, an extended contract - a way (a flawed way...for a team to measure performance. However, just solving immediate and chroinic pains is not sustainable, and it is not in the long-term interest of our clients. Digging for and solving anticipatory pain is probably the single most important thing a PS team can do. Why is that?

  • Because anticipatory problems cannot be seen on the surface, our ability to identify and diagnose anticipatory problems is clear evidence to our clients that we understand their business. 
  • Anticipatory problems tend to be highly strategic and can unlock a lock of growth for our clients. 
  • As Trusted Advisors, our clients trust us to give them objective advice and support that helps them grow and move their business forward. If we just coninuously spin the hamster wheel of immediate and chronic pains, we're not doing that. In fact, our clients will start to question whether or not we can be trusted if they see the same problems over and over again

For a PS team, identifying, diagnosing, and solving anticipatory pain is challenging and rewarding. More importantly, working on anticipatory pain is exciting and breaks the monotony of solving problems that have already been figured out. Tackling anticipatory pain pushes the team to constantly learn new things and grow beyond their roles. 

Next - Let's figure out a way to help our clients discover and solve their anticipatory pain.