The best advice I’ve received in my client-servicing career to date, is: “If you don’t look after your clients, someone else will”. This advice has never been more poignant than in today’s digital landscape. With such a wide range of agency approaches and offerings and the rapid increasing growth in technical knowledge within the industry, one has to ask: is the production of great work and fantastic results enough to stop clients looking elsewhere?
The key to client retention is simple: great service. And since we’re currently looking for more account handlers to join our digital client service team, I’ve put together five tips to help anyone wanting to work with a really great agency, get the most out of the role:
1. Get on the road
Yep, sometimes it’s just easier to send an email. You can type, retype and amend until it reads like an A-grade dissertation, but let’s face it, who ever read their dissertation back?! Nobody wants a lengthy essay in their inbox, it’s far more beneficial (and can often be less formal) to visit the client and chat in person. Don’t just save client visits for when things go wrong – make it a regular occurrence and get to know them when everything is going right. That way, they won’t associate face-to-face meetings with negativity.
Spending time with clients is invaluable for building that relationship. It’s very much like any personal friendship in that if it lies dormant for a while, sooner or later the person feeling neglected will start to look for new friends…
2. Computer says no
The word ‘no’ has been erased from our vocabulary as account handlers. Yes, some client requests can often seem outrageous and unmanageable in terms of timings/deliverables, but instead of creating a barrier that can ultimately have an effect on all of the hard work we have put into growing the relationship and the account, it’s up to us to offer alternatives that still meet the client’s needs.
3. Don’t talk Dalek
As digital account handlers, our client contacts are not always from technical SEO backgrounds. It is often marketing managers, and marketing execs dealing with the online AND offline agencies, especially in smaller companies. Although clients are often really keen to know the technical detail, this information needs to be distilled to a level of understanding that everybody can digest. Speaking THEIR language is the key to growing the relationship and instilling the client’s trust and appreciation in your approach to management, the agency and the work you’re doing.
4. Exceed expectations
Effective account management is always striving to go the extra mile in terms of service and delivery. So many digital agencies out there do what the clients request and no more. As account handlers, we should be questioning the brief and offering value through alternative and enhanced solutions – generally being so much more than just a ‘go-between’ for the client and the technical team. Which leads me nicely on to the final point…
5. BE the client
Within any agency, the account handlers are the clients. We are an extension of their marketing team, we represent them internally and we must always have their best interests (and of course, business objectives) at heart.
We get to know the brand, understand the objectives and advise accordingly. The advice may be taken on board and sometimes it may not – but it’s better to have spoken up in the first place than to be the one always nodding in agreement in the boardroom. At the end of the day, clients are paying for our expertise and if we think there’s a better way to drive results, it’s our job to question decisions. It will gain you respect in the long run; and respect strengthens relationships.
Recently, I read a great book which develops on these points with tips on HOW to build and grow those relationships. The book, ‘Power Relationships’ by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas really resonated with me; not only in a professional sense but also in life in general and the relationships we develop every day with friends, family and the people around us.
6. Great conversations
“Power relationships are built on great conversations, not one person showing the other how much they know.” The facts and figures may be an important part of our day-to-day work, but over-sharing such information won’t take you to the highest level of relationship building.
Learn about what your clients value through the art of conversation – listen to their challenges. A CEO at another agency I previously worked at used to say, “You have two ears and only one mouth for a reason.” Listening and learning doesn’t compromise your position as the ‘expert’, it allows you to empathise and ask thoughtful questions about what they just said.
So the next time you turn up to a two-hour meeting with three-quarters of it taken up by a mammoth PowerPoint presentation full of charts and numbers – know your client. They might just respond better to a coffee and a downright honest two-way conversation.
7. What’s the agenda?
When developing a power relationship, the first building block should always be to know your client’s agenda. Do you know what their main challenges are, what pressures they’re under, and what’s really important to them right now?
Once you know this, you can work towards helping them accomplish it, but you must always start with theirs, not yours. Following on from the above point about how important it is to listen and learn, continue by asking yourself, ‘How can I help?’. Make a point of understanding what’s going on in their world and walking in their shoes – we all know our own challenges can often consume us, so make a point of trying to relate.
Pushing your own agenda (likely to be far less relevant to the client at that particular time) definitely won’t be helping, nor will it earn you any fans.
8. Treat prospects like they’re already a valued client; eventually, they might become one
Relationship building is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and a lot of effort to gain trust and respect but is worth playing the long game. If we treat prospects like we treat our existing clients, by keeping regular friendly contact and offering market insight and new ideas whilst always avoiding a ‘hard sell’, a great future relationship could be taking course.
Invest to get to know a prospect’s business. They’ll appreciate your insight and persistence and maybe one day you could be talking about doing business together.
9. Integrity is everything
Be truthful. Follow through. If you make a mistake, own up – all things we’ve heard a thousand times before. But not only are these small life tips important, they’re everything when it comes to maintaining strong relationships and building upon trust in business. Sobel says, “You can’t believe the message if you don’t trust the messenger.”
Develop a reputation for integrity, and it will become the anchor for all of your successful relationships.
Branded3 win lots of new business due to our impressive portfolio and the amount of time and effort we all put into pitches, but it’s the relationship formed between the client and the account handler that helps to keep them. It’s like the circle of life – the great work we deliver as an agency keeps our clients happy. Great business is about great relationships. Great relationships are built on trust. And the trust between a client and an agency starts (and ends) with client service.