Insights

Guide to Client Service: Volume II, Relationships

Great relationships are the foundation for any successful business partnership. And in order to truly be great partners in a service-oriented industry (we get paid to provide a service), it’s crucial to establish strong relationships with clients, and other key stakeholders such as other agency partners. Yep, it’s just as important to have relationships with other agencies in the mix as with your clients in order to truly achieve client relationship management success.

In this volume we’ll cover a series of client relationship management tips spanning building trust and rapport, making connections during meeting breaks, navigating difficult situations and more to help you start building (or deepen) meaningful business and client relationships.

The most important thing to remember is that clients are people too. It’s easy for some to get caught up in the day-to-day transactions, but when you take a step back to remember that the voice on the other side of the phone, or author of that email, is just another person – the more successful you will become with creating, strengthening, and managing client relationships.

Managing Client Requests

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it seems you’ve received a flood of ad-hoc requests at one time? Yeah, that can be tough! When there are a lot of requests or questions that come in simultaneously, it’s easy for both us and the client to lose track of them. Plus, oftentimes the requests are specific to different people working on a project.

In order to help manage these requests, it’s beneficial to consolidate all requests into one  message for the client to ensure that we’ve captured everything they’re looking for. Plus, you can use this to help reinforce when you’ll be able to address requests. Here’s an example:

Hi Client,
We received a few requests from you this week and wanted to confirm we’ve captured everything accurately, please see below:
  • X
  • Y
  • Z
Is there anything that we’re missing? Based on the above, we’ll be able to get everything back to you by the end of the week. However, we understand that X is the most time-sensitive, so we’ll aim to address that by tomorrow.
Thanks!
Team

 

On the same note, when a client sends a request and you know you won’t be able to get to it right away, it’s still helpful to follow up with a note confirming receipt so they know it was received. You can also use this opportunity to set the expectation upfront about when you can address the request. For example:

Hi Client,
Thanks for bringing this up – confirming receipt. We’ll be able to get you this analysis by Thursday end of day. Will that work for you?
Thanks!
Team

 

Moral of the story, if you set expectations for the deadline when a request comes through, you’re able to prioritize it accordingly instead of getting off-track with ad hoc requests.


Building Trust and Rapport with Clients

In any professional partnership, internal or external, it’s important that a foundation of trust and respect is built. With a solid foundation, deliverables will move through with ease, recommendations will receive less pointed questions and the potential for renewals and extra scope increases.

Here’s three key ways to up that trust meter with your clients:

 

1. Be Mindful of Partners’ Time, Processes & Work Style

This isn’t just a matter of minding your P’s and Q’s. It’s important to be mindful of a partner’s time, processes, and work style.

Calls and Meetings

  • Start the meeting on time – don’t be late – bonus points for even being 3-5 minutes early so that you can be prepared to hit the ground running.
    • If you know you’re going to be late, shoot the meeting leaders a quick note letting them know you’re going to be late, your anticipated arrival time, and directives whether or not to proceed without you.
  • During that meeting, keep an eye on the time.
    • If you think the meeting is going to run long, stop and ask if anyone has any time restrictions. If there are some, suggest to pick up the call at another date/time, or condense what was to be said and provide an outline of the final call details in an email for comment.  
  • Try not to schedule or cancel meetings at the last minute without the client knowing.
    • They may miss either the invite or the cancellation, and either not make the meeting, wasting your time, or could be sitting on the line, wasting theirs.
    • If you REALLY need to talk to the client, pick up the phone and give them a call. They don’t answer? Leave a message. Call us old fashioned, but sometimes quick, direct action is needed, and is more often than not, is appreciated by the client.

Partnership Work Style: Pay Attention to Who They Are and What They Say

  • Speak their language.
    • Do they use “Plum” instead of “Purple” for their brand color? Do they call their “Service Lines” within their organization their ”clients”. When everyone is speaking the same language, it shows that you listen and avoids any misinterpretations. Both inspire trust and confidence.
  • Write to illicit a response.
    • Do you notice that when you write crazy-long explanations, you get no answer, but short, quick notes are responded to right away? Coordinate your writing style to what gets answered, and  follow up with an explanation where needed to ensure all of the details have been covered.
    • One particular partner is to the contrary, and needs all of the deets up front, lest you get a million questions afterwards? Get into the nitty gritty and educate them—this can only add value to the partnership and allows them to speak-up-the-chain the details that may have been initially fuzzy to them.
  • Listen “between the lines” for their pain points, and ensure that the work you do helps with alleviating them.
    • Does a client have a hard time with development? Can you batch our requests to move them along? Are they asking a particularly annoying question because they have to talk something up the chain? Can you provide them with more information on something in particular? Alleviating pain points makes them look like a rock-star internally, which can only help you.

 

2. Do What You Said You’d Do, and Then Some.

  • If you said you were going to deliver something on a certain date, deliver it on that date.
    • If you know you’re not going to make a deadline, communicate it as soon as possible along with when the partner can expect to see the deliverable.
  • Always offer quality. Put your best into every deliverable, every email, every phone call. Quality shines, and will show in your client relationships. Exceed expectations and go the extra mile, clients often recognize and recommend partners that are looking out for their business.

 

3. Be Yourself. Be Authentic.

  • When you are your authentic self on a call or a meeting, your genuine tone comes through. This puts the partners at ease, and helps your words become facts, not guesses.
  • Be honest and transparent. If a deadline will be missed, notify the client as soon as possible; if a mistake was made, let the client know as soon as possible. In both cases, also let them know how you’ve taken steps so that it won’t happen again. Showing that you’re honest and proactive furthers relationship trust.

At the end of the day it’s all about treating people like people, and remembering that clients are people too.


Managing an Unhappy Client

One of the most difficult situations you can be in with a client is one where they are unhappy or expressing  concern. It might go against conventional wisdom, but these situations can often be viewed as an opportunity: an opportunity to shine in the eyes of the client by helping to solve a problem for them, regardless of the reason for the issue.     

Let’s set the stage: you get an email or a call from a client and all of a sudden you are thrown into a panic because the client seems unhappy, they are upset, or something has gone amiss.  “Oh no! We are going to lose them as a client!” Enter Crisis Mode!

While those moments can certainly put your stomach in knots, there are effective methods to navigating these situations in a way that minimizes stress and can even benefit all parties involved.

In a perfect world, the best way to deal with a client concern is to be proactive and resolve potential issues before they ever occur.

 

6 Steps to Managing an Unhappy Client:

1. Pause & Listen

Relax and pause. Always let the client speak and listen until they are done expressing the concern. Take a moment to realize that you don’t have to have an answer right away and present a solution immediately. Take the extra time to listen and really learn what is causing their concern.

2. Empathize and Understand

Put on your client hat and look at how the issue impacts them. Really understand their perspective by getting as much information as possible by asking questions.

3. Own It

Acknowledge that the client is experiencing frustration and immediately assure them that your team will offer a solution, but resist the initial urge to seek out who’s to blame. Sincerity is key here—it can usually help to diffuse a situation.

This also works well when you have to deliver bad news to a client. The best way to get a  resolution in motion is to tackle it head on and move to the next step.

Keep in mind the difference between admitting fault and apologizing for the circumstances of the situation. Do not admit fault unless you know the reason for the problem. You can aim to extend an apology for how the situation is impacting the client, without apologizing for the issue and admitting to a fault.

4. Present a Solution

Identify what happened and the cause. Be sure to gather the client’s perspective on the cause of the problem and align with them to create a solution. Present the steps that will be taken to ensure that the issue is resolved and does not happen again. Use the opportunity to learn from any mistakes or errors in a process and fine tune it for the future.

5. Set the Solution in Motion

After the issue has been addressed and a solution is in place, it is vital to make sure that it is implemented. Confidence can be regained with swift execution of the proposed solution.

6. Follow-Up

Err on the side of over-communicating when it comes to following up with the client.  Make sure the solution has corrected the problem and communicate with the client regularly to ensure the same issues aren’t creeping back up.. Make the concern a high priority and address it until it no longer needs any more attention.  

A few examples of over communication are:

  • Sending out a daily/weekly priority plan that outlines the steps being taken
  • Add it to any recurring meeting agenda as a high priority item for discussion
  • Set up a call with the main point of contact after the issue is resolved

With this type of game plan, you have a great chance at creating a win/win for everyone.


Using Meeting Breaks Efficiently

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget that clients are people too; people with opinions, motivations, feelings, and lives outside the boardroom.

A great way to strengthen client relationships in meetings is to use the downtime or a break as an opportunity to connect with them on a deeper level. You’ll be surprised what might be revealed away from the structured agendas, large-team conversations, and go-go-go mentality.

Whether it’s during a five or ten minute break or side conversations over lunch or coffee, asking clients simple questions can help them feel important as people (not just clients), while often providing you more insight into their business and motivations.

 

How to Make the Most of Lulls During Meetings:

Ask questions! Here are some same questions to ask when making the most of breaks in meetings:

1. How do you feel the meeting is going? Is the content meeting your expectations? Anything you should dial up/down for the next part?

Most times a client will be honest about this when asked outside of a large group. The goal here is to either get confirmation that your team is on the right track, or get quick input if you need to shift the conversation approach for any reason.

Example: Someone unexpected joined the meeting from the client’s team so it would be great for the team to dial up any information you have relative to that person.

Example: The client could have had a meeting earlier that day where they learned a business update that is relevant to what you’ll be discussing later that afternoon. This allows you to shift conversation to support the update in a timely manner.

2. You mentioned you did [vacation, concert, sports game, etc.] last week. How was it? What was the best part?

The goal here is to connect on something personal that was already mentioned and invite the client to talk about themselves a bit more over something non-business. Remember, clients are people, too!

3. We just talked about [X] and based on your comment about [Y], I think we should dig deeper into [Z]. What do you think?

Sometimes, asking an opinion outside of the larger group can make the client feel less on the spot, and could help them open up about things that will make your meeting more successful.

Meeting breaks are a great opportunity to connect with clients (and other stakeholders) as people. Hopefully you found these prompts helpful, and are able to try them out for yourself!


Collaborating with Other Agencies

Agency Integration Best Practices

*IAT = Integrated Agency Team

In most cases, it’s rare that you’re the only agency (or vendor) that client has hired to help them achieve their business goals. And in some partnerships, clients will bring all their partners to the same table to help them collaborate on objectives & goals attainment.

For any great client relationship it’s important to know who else is involved, what is their role or objective, what do they care about, and how can better connect with them on the side. Below are some recommendations for how to build relationships with other non-client stakeholders to build strong relationships across the client’s partnerships.

 

Understand the Players

  • Who are the different agencies (aka “partners”) in the room (and not in the room)?
  • What are the other partners engaged/scoped for?
  • What is the role of each person on the partner’s team. Is there someone who is the clear relationship owner / decision maker? Is there someone who clearly drives the partnership? If so, understand how they work. Determine your counterparts and the account structure within the IAT so you know your “go-to” people.
  • Be mindful of the partners’ lines of business and capabilities to understand if there’s a risk of competition to keep a pulse on.

 

Relationship Building

Take the time to get to know your main agency Points of Contact and what they do for your mutual client.

  • If they’re local, recommend a face to face introduction over coffee. If they’re not local but near your client then make a point to meet up with them on your next visit.
  • Having a casual meet-up before you’re in an important client meeting together helps to break the ice and have common ground.
  • Learn from each other by sharing your perspective on your relationship, ways of working, and opportunities/roadblocks with the client.

**IMPORTANT** Do not to divulge confidential or sensitive information that the client wouldn’t be happy with if it got back to them! Make sure they know that you’re working together, and that the success of your relationship is vital to the health of the client.

 

Communication + Sharing Deliverables

A regular meeting with the IAT (just the agency partners, and not the client) has proven to be beneficial.

  • Depending on how closely you work together, a monthly or biweekly cadence is recommended.
    • Regular communication ensures alignment on your strategies and can determine efficiencies if there’s any overlap in your deliverables.
    • This shows your client that you’re proactively collaborating without them needing to hold your hand.
  • Ask for feedback: don’t be shy to ask for or recommend better ways to work together or with the client. Other agencies are an extension of our team and we can learn a lot from each other.

 

What Should We Be Sharing?

Do Share

  • Reporting
  • Findings that would impact their work
  • New strategies/major updates to current strategies
  • Project plans/timelines (if applicable)
  • Important client updates we receive that should be shared amongst all agencies
  • Industry updates

 

What to Ask Them to Share

  • Marketing plans
    •  Why? We can see holistically what’s slated for the year and not just what we have planned.
  • Media/PR calendars
    • Why? We know when things are going to market which could provide good insight into marketing strategies and reporting nuances.
  • Creative concepts/deliverables (if it’s an advertising/creative agency).
    • Why? If you’re working with an agency that generates content, see if you could offer support for new initiatives.
    • Why #2? There may be opportunities to connect better to advertising campaigns and allows us to be aware of changes in brand messaging/priorities.
  • Reporting (if you’re working with a media team or social media team)
    • Why? See if there’s any inconsistencies between our reporting or uncover insights we wouldn’t normally know about.
    • If you don’t already regularly send reporting to agency partners, it’s best to first get your client’s permission to share this information. Sometimes there may be information in our reports that a client may not want shared outside of the immediate partnership.

 

Presenting Together

  • If you’re working on a larger strategic presentation together, open lines of communication are essential so it doesn’t feel siloed to the client.
  • Align on content and responsibilities from the onset. Determine who the “lead” agency is if the client didn’t decide that for you (lead = main client contact for questions, scheduling, presenting logistics, etc.).
  • If possible, use a shared G-slides document (avoids formatting inconsistencies, can collaborate in real-time). IF sharing documents, refrain from having any confidential information in slides’ notes sections.
  • Just like you would have a presentation run-through with the internal team, have one with the IAT.
  • If agencies are local, try to meet face to face at least once during the creation of the presentation. It will better prepare you for the client meeting.
  • Align on roles and responsibilities of how you’re presenting: who’s introducing, who’s taking which slides, who’s wrapping up, etc.

As you can see, building relationships with agency partners is very similar to building relationships with clients or even other internal stakeholders at your company. It’s important to clearly understand who is doing what to help manage expectations across agencies, and for clients.

 

Marissa Foster
Marissa Foster
Director, Client Engagement

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