Like most industries, professional private investigators work in a results-driven market. An investigator’s value to clients is typically weighted on providing relevant facts which not only satisfy the case objective, but more importantly, our client’s expectations. It is these heightened beliefs which drive some professional investigators to always bring their respective “A-game” to each assignment. However, this may also lead some investigators to insomnia in those rare occasions where your results may fall short of your goals (as well as the client’s interest in future engagements).
As with most businesses, we unfortunately do not always have the luxury of hand-picking our clients. In some instances we are faced with certain clients who can be more of a burden than a blessing. Nothing is more frustrating to an investigator than a client who potentially intrudes, withholds, or prohibits an investigator from accomplishing their objectives.
As with any relationship however, there are two sides to every situation. What an investigator may consider as outlandish demand by a client, can in fact stem from simple lack of communication throughout the process.
So what does a professional investigator do to prepare and manage these situations?
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Upon accepting any assignment, it is critical to communicate to the client the importance of sharing as much information as possible from the onset (no matter how minute the details may be) in order to further assist you with performing the task at hand. It is equally as important to “tone-down” any preconceived notions of what they may expect you to deliver. Like any relationship, the most effective way is to communicate to your client not only what information is potentially attainable, but more importantly, what may not be within the confines of the law. During the course of your investigation, keep the client apprised with a brief email or phone call so that they know you are on top of their situation.
Keep Your Promises to Yourself
You may find yourself, at times, caught-up in the trap of providing overly aggressive “promises” to clients or potential clients. The difference between having a one-time engagement or a long-standing relationship with a client can be as simple as avoiding (empty) promises. Keep in mind that nothing makes a person happier than getting more than they anticipated (under-promise, over-deliver).
There are No Guarantees!
As much as you may have the confidence that you ultimately will be able to attain the desired result for your client, nothing is guaranteed (except death and taxes, of course). There is nothing more disappointing than setting the level of expectations so high that they are not attainable, leading to broken guarantees, an unhappy client, or worse. The answer? Include a disclosure on your investigative proposals informing the client that results are never guaranteed (your insurance liability carriers may even thank you)!
Put it in Writing
As with any business proposal, it is critical to always draft an investigative course of action. Prepare a descriptive agenda of your client’s objectives and what efforts you will make to accomplish those goals. Be sure to also include your anticipated turnaround timeframe and most importantly, the agreed-upon fees associated with any engagement. Documenting your parameters into a contract or service agreement alleviates any future potential disputes over objectives, timing, and fees.
Conduct Investigation in Stages
By segmenting an investigation into focused stages, you provide the client with a measuring stick to gauge the progress of the assignment. Upon completion of each stage, you should prepare a continued action plan highlighting the immediate findings as well as additional avenues to now further investigate.
Another constant dilemma we as investigators always seem to face is how to budget accordingly. It is often difficult to predict if it will take 15 minutes or 15 months to locate that key witness. Nothing is more frustrating for us or our client than under-budgeting an investigation and having to request additional funds before providing results. This is another prime example of why conducting an investigation in focused stages is critical, since it allows the client to see your plan of action executed and alleviates the embarrassment of under-budgeting. When outlining fees, be realistic about how much time the objective “should” take and always communicate the worse case scenarios.
Focus Your Investigation
Oftentimes, it is the clients themselves who lose focus of the case objective and what you have been hired to do (Ex. getting a 3:00am call from a client after they just watched a detective drama on television). The key is to always maintain focus on critical areas which are pertinent to the ultimate objective. Shifting gears before a specific task is completed, leaves the investigator chasing down rabbit holes instead of maintaining focus and expectations.
Give an “Honest” Assessment
It is both our right and responsibility as professionals to inform a client when something cannot be accomplished, so long as you have communicated accordingly. Ultimately, the clients worth keeping will appreciate your honesty and will be sure to use you again.
Following these guidelines should assist with taming overzealous clients and better facilitate your future engagements.
What do you think? How do you manage client expectations? Please leave us a comment below and let us know!
About the Authors
Brian Willingham, CFE is a New York Private Investigator and President of Diligentia Group.
Kevin M. Cosgrove, CFE is a New York Private Investigator and Certified Fraud Examiner.