It’s odd how very few people ever teach you what it takes to be great at client servicing given it’s (arguably) the most critical role in any agency. Look for books and awards to demonstrate what it takes to be great creatively or strategically and there's a whole raft you can reference. But when it comes to client servicing, it’s almost always a self taught discipline, yet without this function in an agency award-winning campaigns would never make it to market.
Client servicing is a multi-complex discipline, meaning you need to be as exceptional at the detail as you are at selling a creative idea or upholding the strategic thinking. From dealing with challenging client feedback and reviewing creative concepts, to complex timing plans and costings that are forever changing, it can be a minefield.
So we're on a mission to rekindle the lost art of client servicing and help those new in the role to make it manageable, bearable, workable and ultimately award-winning - because the state of our industry depends on it. So here are our top three tips:
Manage expectations and time
This is the most critical part of what you do, so don’t leave anything to chance. Always get important conversations, actions, points of agreement down in writing. If you don’t get a written brief from the client, write one for them. The same goes for suppliers and third parties, an agreed framework can be a saving grace down the line.
In terms of time management, build a buffer, just in case timings do slip, and think about whether there might be any shortcuts to take. Has someone worked on a similar project before? Can you borrow some knowledge/thinking from them?
The art of saying no
Whether it’s client or agency side, someone will almost always ask for something impossible at some point during your project. The skill here is to avoid saying no (and yes!), it’s about finding a suitable compromise - and sometimes buying yourself time. Talk to those around you and share the challenge you’re facing. Most issues stem from lack of time, so what can you achieve in the time you have? Could it be creating scamps rather than mac visuals for instance? Or could you give them ballpark costs rather than a detailed cost breakdown?
Secondly, try and have a positive conversation with the client about what’s driving their request and what might be possible. Keep the conversation positive by framing conversations around, ‘this is what we can do’, rather than ‘this is what we can’t do’. Ensure you manage expectations from the outset.
Dealing with the dreaded mistake
First rule, don’t panic. Second rule, remember that we’re all human – therefore mistakes WILL happen. Third rule, think of it as an opportunity to shine!
As soon as a mistake has been made, move quickly, but don’t be hasty. Write down the issue and the two or three solutions that might fix it. Then involve your boss and colleagues – don’t be afraid to approach them because things only get worse if you try and cover it up!
Create a one pager that outlines the issue, the solution and any cost and time implications associated with fixing it.
Then ring the client. Never email. Be calm, clear and reassuring. I’ve known many a client relationship become stronger because of a mistake, as the client ends up trusting you even more if you handle it well.
Ultimately there may not be any awards, detailed guides or great teachers for what you have to undertake in client servicing, but remember that your role is vital to the success of both the agency and your clients’ business. You are the unsung heroes of marketing, so hopefully these three simple tips will go a little way to helping you make your everyday role more manageable and successful.
Phil Butterworth is client services director at LIFE