Consultant Client Woes and How To Address Them

| MGG Answers


Usually MGG Answers articles deal with technical troubles and their quick solutions. Today, though, we explore the nuances of the Consultant/Client relationship and how best to manage that. Join us in the comments below to share your advice, too!

Lee writes: I am a Mac Tech that owns a small business. Since you have done the type of work that I do and many of your members may have a Mac Repair or consulting business, I thought this question to be appropriate. I usually do on-site work at my clients’ homes or businesses as I do not have a storefront.

I went over to a client’s home the other day who has an Intel Mac Mini. I did the usual diagnostics and updates on his computer and updated his Mac Mini to 10.6.4 after I did a Time Machine backup. The next day he called me because his Apple Pro speakers were not working even though they are showing up as a USB option in the sound preferences. I walked him through several troubleshooting steps but that did not fix the issue. The Apple Pro Speakers are from 2002, I believe, and I think he must be using an iFire adapter by Griffin to get this to work with his system.

I looked online and found out others had solved this issue by booting from an external disc in 10.6.3 and then going back to the internal boot drive. I do have an external boot drive with 10.6.3 on it, but that of course requires me to visit the client in person again.

Here is my question: My client emailed me to tell me he didn’t want to pay for me to come back as it was working before I arrived. 

I wanted to know what you have done in this situation as I’m sure this has come up for you before. When we do updates some hardware and software may not be compatible with the update and that is just the way it is, but the clients don’t always understand this. They only know their computer worked OK before I worked on it. I am feeling like I should at least charge for an hour of my time and travel, but I have a feeling he may not go for the charge. Any feedback you have from your experience would be great.


This is definitely an interesting one, Lee, and yes, it’s something I’ve seen a few times, for sure!

In a nutshell, it comes down to why the 10.6.4 update was installed. Was the customer involved in that decision? Even if it’s based on your advice, getting the customer to agree to and want the upgrade is key. When going into any consulting job, I always made a priority of it being me and the customer vs. their machine, as opposed to the customer vs. me and their machine. When training new employees for the consulting business I used to have, I always called this, “moving to their side of the desk.” You are there help the customer, be their advocate, and be their expert. They are paying you for your time and expertise, and they get to use it as they see fit. So if you suggest a 10.6.4 upgrade, explain the possible benefits (and any known/possible downsides), it’s always ultimately up to the customer to approve the change. There’s no way any of us can know all the possible downsides, and that’s why it’s paramount that the customer understands implicitly that you are there performing their work for them. Sometimes that means doing (or not doing) something that you wouldn’t normally do to your own computer, and that’s OK. You’ve advised the client, they’ve made an informed decision, and now it’s your job to carry out their wishes.

If, in the course of that, something breaks, well, it’s still you and the client vs. their computer. But if that hasn’t been cemented before the (new) problem crops up, you’re doomed! wink

If you had realized the speakers didn’t work while you were still there, then you’d still be on the clock billing for the time solving that problem. The mistake here (and it’s an easy one to make) was not testing it (and/or not having the customer test it) before you left. When consulting, I would always have the customer turn the computer on from scratch and try the couple of things that were important to them. Ninety-nine percent of the time that found these little pesky problems, and the clock was still ticking. I’d dig back in and fix, then have them test from scratch again.

In this situation, I’d suggest calling the customer and explaining to them that you’re still here to help and that if you’d found the problem before you left, you would have just fixed it while you were there. Since you didn’t test it (and therefore didn’t find it), offer to waive the drive time and just charge the customer for the time you’re there on the return visit. You’ll eat a little bit of time, but it’s a good lesson learned, and you’ll probably make the customer quite happy.


This question was originally answered on MGG 271: Shortcuts, AppleCare, Consulting Advice, and More

About MGG Answers:

Each week Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun provide some great troubleshooting advice to listeners of the Mac Geek Gab podcast. Here with MGG Answers we share some of those tips with the rest of the world!



While I agree with Dave on this one, customers are often less than fully present in such scenarios.

Reminds me of when I worked in IT and would say hello / what’s new to people I knew, without doing anything to their PC—not even touching it. Sometimes they would email me later to ask what I did to their PC. They would claim that ever since I stopped by, something was not working on it!

Dave Hamilton

Good point, ibuck, and that’s why it’s imperative that you, the consultant, make sure that the customer IS involved. I would regularly run into people who wanted to remain hands-off, and to them I would explain, “it’s your computer, and you’ve asked me to help you with it, but once I leave it’s in your hands. I need you to test it so we know it works the way YOU want it to.” That usually brought ‘em around. And if it didn’t, at least it would give me something to point to in the future.


It’s been a few years since I ran my own consulting business but I remember these situations well.

I made it a point not to update customers software unless it was involved directly in fixing the problem that they called about. When I did updates I made sure the customer was there and knew that other things might stop working because of it. By and large I told my customers that unless their computer wasn’t doing what they needed it to do any longer that I felt we were better served by leaving well enough alone.

Some of my colleagues laughed at me telling me I was “leaving money on the table” by not updating all the customers software every visit but I felt that keeping the customers computer function as they expected it to be was much more important to their satisfaction.

That being said I did make it a point to mention when I felt a customer had developed a particularly kludgy answer to a problem and would recommend a better solution with a cost estimate. If they said yes I would facilitate it, if they said no, I left it alone until it became a problem.

The important thing that I found was to do the work that was requested and not do other things not requested without clearing it with the customer first.


Hi, I am the one that asked the question to Dave. Booting back in 10.6.3 off external drive then back on the internal fixed the issue but then issue would come back again a few days later.  The first time I came back he paid me 50 bucks for 15min of my time.  It happened twice so I suggested he buy new speakers like Dave suggested I do.  I would have bought the audio engine as they look like great speakers but he wanted very, very small speakers.  I got the portable iLuv speakers since he wanted them the same size as the small Apple speakers. 

It works great and so far it seems to have done the trick.  They are USB powered but use the 3.5 connector for the audio.  I went back twice for free but both times I was in the neighborhood anyway which I didn’t tell him wink  You guys are so right.  I thought I was doing him a favor by updating him but I learned my lesson now.  Don’t do anything unless they are involved in the decision or it will fix the issue they called about, and make sure it something they approve me to do.
As Dave said “It’s me and the customer vs. their machine.”
  I will not do updates anymore unless necessary or they approve me to do it after I tell them the pros and cons.  Dave’s advice is so helpful and thanks for everyones input as that is helpful also.

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