You and I, walking along in the middle of Portsmouth. Someone calls out from a car: “I need to get the Isle of Wight Ferry! I am in a hurry!”
Sounds reasonable enough and if someone called through their car window asking for directions, we might well just tell them how to get to the ferry. Why would we not?
But let’s unpick this a little and pretend for a moment, we’re experts in getting to the Isle of Wight. Who isn’t?
We have met our client’s needs. We answered their question, for which they might be entirely satisfied. Job done. In other circumstances, they might be quite prepared to pay our fee. But have we really done the best job we can for them – as experts in our field?
Our client has said they are in a hurry. Because we are experts in getting to the Isle of Wight, we actually know there are many ways to do that. All different and each one ‘the best’ in certain contexts. So we take a moment to find out what the client’s ultimate objective is and what their needs are, beyond finding the ferry terminal. We find they have a meeting in Cowes and then they’re coming back. We then find we are able to advise on the best way to reach that ultimate goal.
It turns out the ‘best way’ for them is, in fact, to catch the hovercraft. It is quicker to cross and by leaving the car behind, cheaper too.
If a business comes to me with a specific request, for example, please help me buy this building to put my business in and all I do is help them buy the building then I am a service provider. If I enquire into the reasons behind the purchase and challenge the assumptions and motivations behind the request and if inform the client and build their understanding of the implications and consequences of purchasing a property to put their business in and if I help the client to use the right mechanisms for owning the property and leasing it back to the business then I have shown myself to be an expert and that in fact is what the business owner needed, rather than a service provider.
I have not just been helpful in meeting the client’s needs but have been an expert in guiding them towards a significantly better solution; perhaps one they had not contemplated. Even though they had all the data, they didn’t have the skills, knowledge and experience to realise that ‘better solution’ from it.
That’s what experts do.