Consult vs. Serve

German Approach

The Germans prefer consulting over serving. To consult the customer, to consult with the customer, is to work auf Augenhöhe, literally at eye-level, with the customer. The German people instinctively reject any form of master-slave business relationship.

And, the German customer prefers a supplier, consultant, vendor who insists on a business relationship auf Augenhöhe. Germans don’t want to be served, they want to bbe consulted, by an expert, at eye-level. It is a shared logic. All companies are both customer and supplier.


American Approach

Americans do not make as clear a distinction between serving and consulting. They go hand-in-hand. Two sides of the same coin. Consulting is always a service to the customer.

Serving should always include bringing into play ones subject matter expertise. However, an American consultant, supplier, vendor, seldom sees themselves at eye-level with the customer. The customer is in charge.

And the American customer sees the relationship in the same way. It is a shared logic, a shared understanding. American customers want to be served. And yes, they want an expert. But an expert who is fully oriented towards their needs, as defined by them, the customer.


German View

Germans can find their American colleagues to be too eager to serve the customer in ways which are imbalanced. It can appear to them that Americans jump into action at the faintest sign of a request from the customer. From the German perspective, American customers are too, or unrealistically, demanding. 

To truly serve the client means to maintain your independence and autonomy, in order to objectively advise the customer of how to solve their problems. In the end, the German customer neither respects nor wants a servant, but instead an expert who is willing to place their expertise at the center of the business relationship.

American View

From the American perspective the German approach not lead to success. It comes across as supplier-, and not customer-oriented. Customers can easily gain the impression that they should be thankful to be served by the supplier. 

This is a very risky approach in the US business context. The German approach to serve versus consult, therefore, can come across to American customers as arrogant and unresponsive to their demands. 

Advice to Germans

Make unmistakably clear to your American clients that you are fully focused on serving their needs. Signal to them that you are listening and responding attentively to their situation and want to help them in any way possible.

Especially in the early stage of your collaboration avoid using the terms consult, consulting, advice or advising. Even if you are in fact doing those things, use vocabulary which say service and serving. Consult and consulting can be misinterpreted by an American customer as distanced, not fully engaged, not serving, merely advising.

Advice to Americans

Germans respond positively to American customer-orientation. However, if that friendliness and responsiveness is not backed up by a solution to a German customer’s problem, they are viewed as providing little value.

Give clear indications to your German customer that you are focussed fully on solving their particular problem. They expect a strong consulting element in your approach to serving them.

Early in the business relationship avoid the terms serve and service. Even if your actions are clearly customer- and service-oriented, use the words consult and advise. For German ears serve and service can come across as a substitute for real and proven knowledge and expertise.