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The three pillars of a great client relationship

The myth
Head-turning threads, easy charm and champagne by the jeroboam. Pop culture paints a glamorous portrait of how agencies look after clients. From Mad Men to Ab Fab, it’s all about wining, dining… a little more wining… and agreeing quickly with whatever the client says – or appears to want. Or so the so the story goes.

Real life
But real life isn’t quite like that. Champagne corks may pop when there’s something to celebrate: a successful campaign outcome or a renewed contract. But the day-to-day of good client care looks very different.

Angels & Demons: The Two Roles of Client Services

Client advocates
Client services play two roles. ‘Inside’ the agency, we’re the client’s advocate.

We push for the team’s best work; challenge them to reach higher than before, and deliver work that exceeds expectations on time and within budget. We ask hard questions and, yes, sometimes we get looks from colleagues that ask “whose side are you actually on?”

Agency evangelist
‘Outside’ the agency, we take on a different role.

We’re the evangelist for our business, the superb delivery teams we work with and the work we’ve done. We take responsibility for what’s been delivered. If there’s a problem, question or concern, we field it. We work hard to resolve it.

There’s no contradiction in playing these two roles.

Client services strive to create conditions where the agency can act as an extension of the client’s in-house team to deliver what’s required for the campaign or project to succeed.

The Three Pillars of Successful Client Relationships

  1. Honest communication

There are good comms and bad comms.

Bad communication plays into that TV caricature of the agency-client relationship – always saying yes even when it’s right to say no. Good communication is transparent. Be positive. Give sound professional counsel and explain the implications of deciding one way or another to the client.

Good communication is also about more than an occasional email update. Listen and engage in discussion across any channel – email, phone or face-to-face. And face-to-face is where the trust between agency and client is forged.

The same holds true of internal comms. The best way to build a team atmosphere and consequently to deliver to a consistent high standard is to get buy-in to what needs to be done. That seldom happens via email.

  1. Clear Expectations

Saying yes to everything is only short-term win. The client might leave that conversation feeling they’re going to get x, but when y is delivered a few days or weeks later, any short-term goodwill can quickly evaporate.

It is far better to create an honest expectation of what can be done within a timescale and a budget – even if it’s a little ambitious.

An old colleague once said, “you can have quick, cheap or good – pick the two you want, but you’ll can’t have all three.” There’s some truth in that. This isn’t an argument for accepting low standards. Far from it. It’s about making sure that the client knows what to expect – and that the experts who will deliver the work understanding how those expectations can be met or exceeded without blowing the budget or missing a deadline.

  1. Sound Planning

The planner is only as good as the information they’re given at the start of a project or campaign. So, the initial brief needs to a) be clear, b) reflect client objectives, and c) match the resources available. If those three points aren’t met, then something has gone wrong with both communication and expectations. Best arrange a meeting asap …

Fall short on these and the client/agency relationship is likely to be short-lived.

Beautiful friendships

It’s true that sometimes clients decide to switch agencies because management has changed or there’s a sense that ‘fresh thinking’ is needed. Sometimes the contract ends despite high-quality work being delivered. Such is agency life. But make these three characteristics a virtue of the relationship from first face-to-face meeting, and there’s every chance you’re embarking on the start of a beautiful friendship.

Shelli Wright, Head Of Account Strategy

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