How to avoid the souring of a client/agency relationship
If you have ever been a client, you know what great service and lousy service look and feel like. If you later made the switch to the other side of the table, to a public relations or other type of agency, you then had the opportunity to serve clients with the same level of service excellence you expected (and perhaps actually received) from your agency when you were the customer.
Also, it pays to be familiar with the pressures and challenges of working on the inside, and you can get that only by working on the inside. Too many agency employees have an inaccurate picture of what their clients are up against because they have never walked in their shoes.
Half of my experience has been as a client; during the other, more recent half I’ve served clients from big, medium, and small agencies. During the client years, I saw agency/client relationships disintegrate. Typically, it was death by a thousand cuts versus the result of a single infraction. Sad to say, I witnessed the same phenomenon while on the agency side.
If you are working at an agency and have never worked on the client side, here are a few tips that will help you keep the relationship on the right path:
• Acknowledge receiving your client’s email or text with a simple “got it” or “will touch base with you on this” or anything that sends the message you are available. A client’s imagination can run wild when his or her attempts to communicate with you aren’t reciprocated in a timely manner.
• On the other hand, don’t get upset if your client doesn’t respond to your emails or calls in a timely fashion. The agency/client relationship isn’t always a two-way street; that has to be OK with you, or you will make yourself crazy. Clients spend lots of time away from their desks, confined in conference rooms for meetings that go on and on and on. They also have their own internal clients to serve and politics to play. Cut them some slack.
• Call your client. Email and team conference calls are great and have their purpose, but some of the best engagements and ideas come about when the account team lead and client chat live. Clients enjoy hearing from their agency, even if it’s just a call to check in. So pick up the phone.
• Remember that the client hired the agency, not you. Show leadership by encouraging all members of your account team to be heard on the weekly group client call. Clients want to hear how every member of the team is contributing. For a client, there’s nothing more uplifting than when on one of these calls a junior person begins to “get it” and shares a brilliant idea.
• Get the agency’s most experienced people involved with your client’s account. Invite them to an occasional brainstorm, especially around the bigger initiatives, and then tell your client about it. Most clients recognize that agency management isn’t involved with their account on a daily basis, but many have the fair expectation that senior agency leaders are making a contribution beyond invoicing.
• Share bad news with your client sooner rather than later. Whether it’s a missed media opportunity, the resignation of a key team member, etc., clients have the right to hear about it as soon as possible because it affects their business. Too many agencies procrastinate in sharing negative developments with a client. Most clients, however, realize that despite best efforts, not everything is always going to go as planned. Work together on finding solutions.
• Encourage your client to occasionally recognize the account team’s good work. They need and most often will appreciate the heads-up, and your team will do their best work for the clients who appreciate them.
A version of this story first appeared on the author’s blog, What It Takes.