In the agency world, we talk about being in the business of public relations, or advertising, or design, and we hire and train for those disciplines.
But what we’re really in is the business of client service, for without those clients, our agencies wouldn’t exist.
The agencies that realize this difference keep their clients and get new ones at greater rates because their current clients refer them like crazy.
How do you become one of those agencies? Train your account managers – and those that may become account managers – to build client relationships that last.
1) Knowledge Is Power.
Many agencies pride themselves on understanding their clients’ businesses, products or services, competition, and industry. And that knowledge is absolutely required to provide stellar client service. After all, if you don’t understand those things, you cannot provide the strategic counsel the client hired you for in the first place.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You also need to understand where the client coming from. Find out the internal pressures he is under, who his boss is, and what his hot buttons are. What is the board expecting from your client’s department this quarter? How much scrutiny is on your line item in the company budget?
This knowledge will help you walk a mile in the client's shoes and deliver not only what the business needs but what will make your client look like the hero to his boss.
But wait, there’s more knowledge – and power – to be gained.
Have you ever had someone outside of your circle of friends remember that crème brulee is your favorite dessert or that your daughter scored a goal the first time she played soccer and it cemented her passion for the game? I have, and it makes a difference. After all, you’re not just doing great work, you’re building a relationship.
If you want it to last, you have to pay attention to the person, not just the company.
Know their business, their position, and their personality.
2) Be There Before.
Take this tip in two ways: First, be the eyes and ears for your client in terms of what’s coming next, what trends do they need to be aware of, and what’s the competition up to.
Tell him what he needs to be doing today that will put his company in the best position to win tomorrow. If he wanted someone else that drank the Kool-Aid, he would have hired someone internally. Having a third-party view of the world is of huge value to the client.
And second, don’t wait to be told what to do. Again, your client hired you. You are the expert in your field. Sit down with the client, agree to a plan, and then, go do it. I cannot tell you how many times we talk to prospective clients who tell us that this very thing is what put a bad taste in their mouth about their former agency. They had to tell them what to do — all the time — and then sometimes they even had to ask if they were doing it! That’s not client service. That’s the client babysitting the agency — and on the client’s dime. Who wants to do that?
3) Solve the Problem.
If you do nothing else, please do this: Stop asking questions without providing solutions. (The best agency people take this principle as a matter of course in both client service and internal account management.) Use all of the tools at your disposal to take solutions to your client, not just a bunch of questions that then puts the problem (and the figuring out the solution) on his list of things to do. Clients have enough to do without doing your job, too.
Here’s an example: Your client gets accepted to speak at SXSW. After you celebrate, you need to alert your client to the good news.
You could 1) shoot over a quick note that says “Hey, book your flight, you’re going to Austin!” and leave it to the client to figure out all of the details with the show coordinator, or 2) include with that note all of the information you already know from past experience that the show coordinator will want (like a session hashtag, session description, mobile number for the speaker, etc.). With option 1, the client gets to write you back with questions, or write the show coordinator with questions, and in general spend some time hunting down additional information. With option 2, the client gets to read your email and reply “Fantastic! Info looks good. Approved.”
Which one of these options do you think the client would prefer?
That’s called client service.
There are lots of other things agencies can do to improve client service and increase retention rates, including focusing on the job satisfaction and professional development of their own employees.
What kinds of things is your agency doing to make client service their business? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Originally published Sep 22, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017