The Joy (And Danger) Of Giving


Why do people donate? It’s quite an old question but I’m not looking at the social aspects of the act of giving, rather, I’m interested in the dangers of giving too much.

To be more specific, it’s from an office anecdote where my fellow teammates in the Client Success department (just a fancy name for account management) sometimes give too much to their clients.

We’ll come back to that anecdote in a bit. Some people donate to feel like they have the power to give something to others.

In other words, people donate to feel good. Of course, there’s a handful of truly altruistic people who give unconditionally to help those in need.

I admit that I donate to feel like I’m helping out, like how recently I’ve donated to COVID-19 funds in Singapore to help.

The ones who risk their lives by going on the ground to help test thousands of people and provide care to the infected ones, they are the true heroes – especially those who volunteer despite it not being their job.

Now, back to the office anecdote from earlier. If we sincerely want to help our clients, we’ll think of a sustainable way to help them without compromising the agency.

This piece is mostly a reminder to myself, because I, too, am a victim of my own overzealousness of wanting to appear as a “hero” for my client, and partly some career advice for anyone in a similar position.

Business is business

As someone who’s servicing clients, mainly bosses or decision makers of small and medium businesses in Singapore, I face dozens of situations where one single call can determine whether the project goes down hill or sails smoothly to a contract renewal.

As a business owner or decision maker, the client surely wants to get the most out of the dollars they paid us to do the work.

Often, they’ll try their luck by requesting for something outside of the project scope, because as anyone would know, it never harms to ask the cashier about any promotions or discounts.

However, business is business, and for a company to survive and thrive, it must be profitable. In our case, the agency must be paid for its workers’ time to do the work.

As part of the account management team, it’s my duty (and in my best interests) to make sure the client gets what is stated in the contract and that the agency gets paid where it’s due.

Most clients will understand and back off when we tell them that their request is scope-creeping if we do it tactfully.

There are some occasions where their request might be out of scope but is easy to execute – in those cases, we have to make it clearly that we’re doing them a favour.

Even then, we cannot give too much.

The danger of giving (too much)

So what happens when we give too much? The client will continuously overstep to a point where our agency can’t deliver, and the project falls apart and maybe even some reverberating consequences.

Newer and fresher account executives or managers are almost always the target of manipulative clients.

It’s easy for thick skinned or demanding clients to ask for more, it’s tough for inexperienced account managers to deflect and reject politely, sometimes it kills them inside.

I know because I was on that side before. Even now, when one of the agency’s biggest clients prods for something obviously outside of scope, it’s hard to say “no” diplomatically.

Then there are the clients who are unreasonable, saying that their understanding of the contract is different and that they’ll want to speak to our sales team or boss.

What do we do, then?

Present a solution to the boss

Now, all business owners hire employees to solve problems, not to create more.

Of course, in this particular case of unreasonable clients, the boss knows the problem lies with them, not the team.

Sometimes, the solution can be as easy as giving what the client wants, but we won’t pitch for any future deals.

But most of the time, the agency needs the business and we have to come up with a solution that will give what the client wants while protecting the agency.

Anecdotally, one way it has worked for me is to find another way to get more revenue from this client by delivering the project well and above expectations, making the conversation for bigger deals easier.

This might sound counterintuitive but unreasonable clients can become your best partners, only if we handle the relationship tactfully.

I have to admit these situations don’t always go the way I planned it to, but I’ve had some success in making the most out of these challenging projects.

Sometimes it’s down to not tackle the problem (ie. the client) head-on and find other entry points to score a goal for the agency and myself.

Well-managed accounts mean an easier life for me down the road, anyway. Did I also mention it comes with recognition from managers and bosses that I have my way around tough clients?

Don’t always take the easy way out

Often, we take the easy way out, and in this particular case, it’s giving what the client wants and giving all we can offer.

But if our cup is empty, where will the water come from? We’ll end up bleeding ourselves dry.

I think the same can be said about giving in general – giving in or handing out to someone in need might not be the best way to help him or her out of the situation.

Teaching the person how to help him or herself can be the better solution.

There’s an old (and clich√©) Chinese saying, “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.”

A more modern perspective would be,

“Help a person in need and save that person for this one time. Show the person how to save him or herself and that person will bring that skill forward to someone else.”

About the author

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.

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by Vance Wong


Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.