Skype Prime: Interesting, but not for real consultants

I’m surprised to read the usually on-target Darren Rowse suggest on his blog that the newly released Windows-only “Skype Prime” would be a good match for entrepreneurial bloggers and business consultants. I couldn’t disagree more.
The idea behind Skype Prime is basically the 900 number model: set up a phone number where you can charge callers on a per-minute basis. If I charged $60/hr for consulting, for example, I could automatically have Skype charge $1/minute and give you my number for you to call at any time. Want to chat about the weather or check to see if I’m attending a particular upcoming conference? Sorry, the meter’s running, that’ll be $3…


Generally, I find Darren one of the best professional bloggers in the biz, but in this instance he’s just wrong. First off, unless I was calling paid tech support, I would be strongly offended by any consultant who charged by the minute. Even the local medical practitioners — heck, even my massage therapist — doesn’t do that.
For a massage, for example, I pay an hourly rate and if it ends up being 65 or 70 minutes, that’s fine, it’s just part of business. What Skype Prime encourages, however, is the “50 minute hour”, as psychologists call it, a set amount of time within which you fit in whatever you’re going to cover. When the buzzer rings, time’s up, even if you’re in the middle of a sentence.
Admittedly, it’s not quite that bad, but as someone who spends a fair amount of my time coaching and consulting with clients on the phone, I have long since learned the value of not keeping track of time. Why? Because sometimes we can get to a resolution in far less time than they anticipated, while other times the call goes far longer than we expected, 75-90 minutes when we had thought a 30 minute call wuold be more than sufficient.
If we’d agreed beforehand on a specific duration for the call, I’ll stick with that amount rather than the time spent, for the same reason my acupuncturist doesn’t bill me for 67 minutes even if I don’t manage to get up from the table and out of their office until that amount of time actually passes: it’s both common courtesy and general professionalism.
Further, I believe that the “non-business chat” that accompanies any consulting call is critical to the success of the coaching, because it establishes trust and creates a human connection, a bond, between the client and consultant. If the meter’s ticking, however, then you’ll skip all of that to ensure that every minute counts! This is, at least in my opinion, a high price to pay for what is at best a quasi-efficient call system.
For my own consulting calls I either use a standard phone line and calling card or my VOIP line, and we’ll often use a free conference call system so there’s a recording that they can access and download after we’re done. Clients love to have their calls recorded and if we can do so without any fuss, it’s a win:win. I never worry about time and almost all of my coaching is charged on a “per call” basis, without a time limit specified or measured. The result? I’d say 80% of my calls end up being approximately 30 minutes long, without any particular effort on our part to keep it succinct or drag it out.
To be fair, Skype Prime also apparently supports a per-call charge, but since Skype takes a whopping 30% of the transaction (ouch!) as its fee, if I charged $250 per call and a typical call lasted 30 minutes, I’d be pretty hard pressed to accept that Skype was going to hold on to $75 as a fee, a basic per-minute connectivity charge of $2.50. This is ridiculous and even more so for what I consider a rudimentary service, telephone connectivity, and a system that’s not particularly good in my opinion anyway (see: Skype still stinks).
What’s your take? If you wanted to consult with me on business blogging or corporate strategic issues, would you be offended by my utilizing a per-minute system, or would you find it a cool and interesting new use of a popular technology?

6 comments on “Skype Prime: Interesting, but not for real consultants

  1. I’ve been doing phone coaching for years and wouldn’t dream of charging per minute, it would seriously affect the spirit of the conversation. For one thing, the client needs to know what they will be paying up front, and for another, you’re right that it would take a lot of the fun out of it – the meter shouldn’t be running on the friendly ‘chit chat’ that helps to build rapport.
    Sometimes it takes a little longer than the scheduled time, but if that means getting to a workable solution, then the value to me is having a happy client who thinks the call was worthwhile.

  2. You are right. Charging by the minute stinks, unless the charges are very low.
    And you are right again that there’s a big incentive to cheat the system by setting up the normal (free) Skype call and splitting the 30% fee.
    But if you want to chat for pay, with very low rates, it could work.

  3. I agree with most of what said. This is why at http://www.BitWine.com we took a different approach.
    We do work with Skype as a Skype Extra.
    We let people decide when to start and pause the per minute charge, we let people agree on one time payment, a refund, or adding money in case of special requests to the Advisor all on the fly as you go.
    We do not take commission, and when we will you will know it is to get you more business.
    We do not hold the payment for 4 months well maybe 10 minutes. and we do not limit the amount you can charge.
    We also measure the time more accurately.
    Try BitWine and add a BitWine widget to your Blog.
    P.S You can record the call using another available Skype Extra.
    Thanks
    AC
    BitWine

  4. I agree that timed “per minute” calls provoke suspicion about the value and legitimacy of many services offered. Clients may get self- conscious
    about time and distract themselves from their focus on a service. Ask yourself about the kinds of services that charge ‘per minute’ by phone: consider horoscopes, phone sex, psychic readings and hotlines or advice networks. Ask yourself about the kinds of services that are charged ‘per call’ based on agreed rates of service: consider physicians, counsellors, lawyers, accountants, IT specialists and expert consultants. Notice your own assumptions about the legitimacy of perceived expertise of phone information providers. If people rush themselves on the phone, they bring on pressure and are unable to focus on what value you really offer.

  5. If you compare the 30% that skype is charging with the 50-60% that telephone companies take if you set up a premium rate standard telephone number then perhaps it isn’t too bad. As competition increases though, you can bet that these fees will reduce over time.

  6. I think you’re comparing apples and oranges, Pete. If I use my phone line to consult with you and charge, say, $200/hr, the phone company isn’t going to get 50% of that. It won’t even see 10% of that. And if I double my rates, they won’t charge me more for the phone line or telephone service…

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