In today’s tumultuous global climate, people inevitably face forces or situations that test the limits of their control. Natural disasters, political and economic turmoil can all threaten feelings of control over personal and professional outcomes. Hurricane Sandy or the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma show how people can be strikingly affected and feel a profound loss of control over their lives. Even if not suffering from tragic losses of stability, customers often seek help from service providers for an issue or situation when feeling that things are moving out of their control. A freelance journalist may seek tax advice as her income begins to grow; a start-up biotech company may need larger-scale technology support as it forms new alliances.
In these types of contexts, how can you, as a service provider, best satisfy your customers? After meeting and identifying key issues, is it best to inform the client that you will manage the issue and do all of the hard work, so that the client can relax and entrust the problem to you? Or, is it better to seek the client’s input; perhaps even ask to tackle some of the more difficult tasks with you? Along with a colleague, Keisha Cutright, at the Wharton School, we examined this question at a broad level, asking when people prefer products or services that position themselves as “heroes” (products that will do the hard work for you and deliver impressive outcomes) or as “helpers” (products that will aid you in achieving the same impressive outcomes, but require you to invest hard work). Continue reading