Valuing Professional Services in the App Age

March 22, 2015

Melissa H SayerBy Melissa H. Sayer

For twenty years, people have been saying that the Internet would change everything. It may be a stretch to say “everything” has changed, but the way we utilize a variety of goods and services is definitely different. Those of us who are professionals have seen some change, which for now remains at the margins of our practices. However, bit by bit, being a professional service provider in the age of Google and smartphones is changing the fundamental rules of our professions.

It used to be that one of the advantages professionals enjoyed was access to information not generally available to the public. Whether a lawyer, financial advisor, stock broker, accountant or doctor, each of us had information that customers did not. As professionals, we offer expertise and experience, but in many cases, our clients simply saw us as the gatekeepers to information and our fees were merely the price of admission.

Ready access to information changes things. Each one of our clients now carries the world’s greatest encyclopedia with them at all times. Even calling it an encyclopedia is too limiting … the complete library of human knowledge fits in our client’s pockets. If our profession is simply about access to information, we are in trouble.

However, we can compete because information is only one piece of the puzzle.

Once you have the information, what do you do with it?

What are the risks of your proposed transaction?

How will others react?

Is any information missing?

What is the best way to utilize the information you do have?

Level of Acceptable Risk – Risk assessment involves not just an objective analysis of probable outcomes (something a computer can do if provided with enough data) but also the more subjective analysis of how much risk is acceptable based on the situation.

The Human Element – How will other parties react to something? Does what you are asking for seem fair or reasonable in this particular instance? What subjective criteria might cause a change in the future? As most of us know, the reactions of real people can be inconsistent, illogical and sometimes unpredictable. Smartphones might be great for checking email or Facebook or looking up basic information but they don’t anticipate the actions of a disgruntled or unhappy human nor do they handle surprises very well.

Identifying Omissions – As anyone with spellcheck knows, computers can be brutally effective at spotting errors on the printed page. What they can’t do is evaluate a document and recognize the absence of important terms. Spellcheck can tell that you misspelled “eggs” on your shopping list; but it has no idea that you also wanted bacon.

Individualized Solutions – Clients are paying for solutions to their problems, not just information. A prescription is a tiny piece of paper with the name of a drug which the patient takes to the pharmacy; what the patient is actually buying is the medicine prescribed by the healthcare professional to treat that patient’s current health issue.

An agreement drafted by a knowledgeable attorney will be much more expensive than a computer generated form. If the client is looking for a piece of paper, the computer will always win. But if the client wants a thoughtful and appropriate document that weighs risks, considers situation specific issues, and accurately reflects their needs, a human being is best able to provide that.

Professional services have never really been about control of information but rather determining what to do with the information once you have it and how best to use it to fit the client’s particular needs.