Whose prescription are you filling?

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time talking to owners of service businesses and people who work in professional services firms. Most have spent years building up their expertise and knowledge, only for prospective customers — who know a lot less about the topic than they do —to turn around and ask them to do things that they know will not deliver the best outcome. Some are feeling frustrated and even depressed about what they do as a result.

This must be what doctors feel like when patients arrive in their office having consulted Dr Google and diagnosed their ailment themselves. In most cases it takes six years to become a GP, and a further six if you plan to specialise. Doctors have to spend 10,000 hours understanding how human bodies work. But because we all have a body, we figure we can click on the search button and work it out ourselves. A 2013 study of doctors’ mental health by Beyond Blue found that doctors report substantially higher rates of psychological distress and burnout compared to other Australians (professionals and otherwise). Though the study didn’t specifically conclude that patient behaviour has contributed to the problem, it can’t be helping. Imagine how tough it would be for a GP to have to justify herself 20 times a day to patients who think they know just as much about the human body as she does.

Like doctors, many professionals — who have spent years building mastery in what they do — also feel like they're wasting their time filling someone else's prescription. This is what happens when we get trapped at the bottom of the positioning cycle, responding to the customer’s agenda rather than creating our own.

Customers often see only the very transactional parts of what service businesses do, and it is dangerous to keep responding to an agenda that is based on this limited knowledge. This is what makes us into commodities.

All service businesses need to invest in regularly reviewing their knowledge, platforms, and programs to help customers understand the value in what we do. Without this, it isn’t just our revenue that is at stake.