The Quest for a Unified Client Services Theory

By | October 9, 2014
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Quest“What do you do?”

For those in the marketing agency world, it’s a loaded question. At Inbound, Robert Solomon (@RJSolomon), author of The Art of Client Service and founder of Solomon Strategic, opened his session with an answer he’d often tell his mother: “Mom, I do lunch.” 

Doing lunch means being there for clients, and getting the chance to build an actual relationship with them.

Yes, it’s sometimes hard to describe “client services” amongst the continual flow of client strategy, production work (writing, social media, PR, design, etc.), measurement and account management. Yet, Robert’s second response to the question offers a catchall glimpse: “We do the simple things necessary to help clients achieve their goals.” During his presentation, Robert shared his thoughts on what’s at the heart of client services.

Client Service Theories

What’s more important: client results or client relationships? Can you have one without the other, or do the two go hand-in-hand? In his quest for the best client services theory, Robert presents two hypotheses:

1. Strategy drives ideas, and better ideas generally mean better strategies.

It’s a circular, continuous cycle. So if ideas are the currency prized by clients, how do we continually innovate? It’s about thinking in terms of questions, and getting down to the most simple ideas and solutions. After all, embedded in every good question is a great idea waiting to happen.

2. The key to winning more assignments is deeper, more trust-based relationships.

Building trust is no small task. To put a process to it, Robert told the crowd that we as account managers have to reduce frustration and increase satisfaction.

Think about the frustrations your clients face—for example, inaccurate budgets or timelines, calls that aren’t returned promptly, or missed deadlines. Budgets, timelines and scopes of work all take skill to negotiate, yet at the heart of these items (and most client frustrations) is a solid and proactive communications process.

“ … And that’s why I say a great relationship leads to great work. Think of it as a three-legged stool: relationships build trust, which leads to great work, which builds the relationship.”

- The Art of Client Services, Robert Solomon

3 Tips to Improve Client Relationships & Results

How do you put Robert’s theories on continual idea generation and fostered client trust into practice? Robert offered the following tips:

  1. Ensure access. Access means being responsive and proactive, and consistent, clear, concise communicators. Access is a mindset of service. Find a balance between accessibility and productivity (a.k.a. getting work done). And when allocating time to client emails or calls, be present with a thoughtful response to build client trust and promote access.
  2. Do it quickly, and do it right. Our job as agency marketers is to be detail oriented. That means proofreading everything; making sure campaign launch checklists are thorough and delivered ahead of schedule; anticipating client needs or questions; going the extra mile for our clients’ success; and just plain doing the right thing.  
  3. Manage expectations. Don’t leave details open to interpretation. Ask the specifics, and take the initiative to manage the client relationship. Know your client’s objective for each project, proactively communicate timelines, budgets and scopes (those potential frustrations), and track real-time progress against specific objectives.

Do the Simple Things Well

It’s human nature to over complicate. In terms of client services, we’ve got to do the simple things well (like budget, timeline and project reporting). Mastering this art of “quick, clear and accurate” celebrates the heart of solid client services. And that type of mastery enables us to “do the simple things necessary to help clients achieve their goals.” 

For more from Robert Solomon, follow him @RJSolomon, or check out his Adventures in Client Service blog. You can also buy a copy of his book—The Art of Client Service, which is a collection of “58 things every advertising and marketing professional should know.” It’s a quick read, filled with Robert’s personal experiences and lessons learned. In a nod to #58—thank you, Robert, for the book and for your Inbound session. For me, they’re valuable reminders about the heart of what we do, and the fact that it’s a human business.

How are you growing a solid client services practice at your agency? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.