PR Service or Customer Service? Why Always Saying “Yes” Damages Client Relationships

You’re a PR pro with a #positive attitude, and you’re proud of it. You should be – a can-do outlook is a boon in this fast-paced industry. But alas, it is possible to take it too far. PR service isn’t customer service. Clients hire agencies for their ability to do heavy-lifting as well as their expertise. Behind a counter, it’s good for business to go along with all of your customer’s wishes. But with client relationships, saying “yes” indiscriminately comes with a steep cost.

“Yes” has the potential to make or break long-term client relationships. The temptation to agree to every client request can be powerful. Every “yes” you give will please them in the moment. However, taking on tasks outside of your scope is asking for trouble. Your team can quickly burn out under the increased pressure. In turn, your client will be met with more and more unmet expectations…ultimately teaching them that they can’t trust your team! Although your team’s efforts are well intentioned, going along with whatever your clients ask for can back fire.

If you want to go above and beyond for your clients, give them the best gift of all: a sustainable relationship. Client relations are often compared to dating for a reason. You spend your days working side-by-side with your clients. Healthy expectations are a must for meeting everyone’s needs. That’s why any proper client whisperer has a masterful grasp on the word “yes.”

Before you agree to a new task on behalf of your team, ask yourself these 4 questions:

1. Are general expectations clear?

This is the first question you need to answer before you send back a “yes” or a “no.” There should always be clear alignment on the PR and client sides before any major decision. This is particularly important when it comes to project-based work. You need to ensure alignment by providing measurable deliverables for all projects, and especially for ongoing ones. Only accept work that is feasible for your team to complete.

Mismatched, general expectations can manifest in many ways. For example, clients sometimes develop an expectation that you will work outside of regular business hours. They may have received an unspoken “yes” to this in the past – in the form of messages  answered after hours. But, it is important to stay loyal to your own boundaries. You can learn more about setting general client expectations in our post, Managing Client Expectations.

2. Is this new task within scope?

Like any team leader, you only want to take on projects that are within the scope. You know that you can only say “yes” to a project that’s on-course with your carefully laid plans. For good reason: WRIKE’s 2015 project management stats show that 35 percent of failed projects suffered from a change in project objectives.

You can keep your team on course by maintaining awareness of your work’s scope for everyone involved. That’s why the SOW needs to stay top of mind as you consider expanding your workload. Accomplish this by keeping the SOW highly visible to all involved. Ideally, the document should be just a few clicks away for your client and your team.

Additionally, be sure to include analysis of actual work vs the outlined plan in monthly reports to your client. This is another easy way to keep your scope on everyone’s minds.

With everyone fully in the loop, it will be easier for your team to decide which new items fall in or out of scope. Off-track requests will also diminish as your client becomes more aware of what you are able to do for them.

3. Are there alternatives to your client’s request?

This is where that “clients hire you for your expertise” bit really comes into play. You and your client share goals, but they need your guidance on how to reach them. As a result, some client asks may be aimed in the right direction but lack focus. Tasks requested can sometimes be redundant or unnecessary, if not outright outside of your scope.

However, you can recognize the need the client is trying to fill and find other ways to satisfy it. Get creative on accommodating them without veering off-course. Find ways to fit in automation where your client may not know to use it. Your client will be delighted with your ingenuity and efficiency, and you’ll have minimal extra work.

If that doesn’t fly, you can still lead by pointing out how the client’s needs can be met in other ways. For example, if they ask you to start a new recurring report, you have options besides “no.” In this case, try to condense the reporting task and roll it up into an already existing report.

4. Are your clients getting underserved due to inefficiency?

What looks like over servicing can sometimes be inefficiency. Your client might be getting billed enough hours, but not getting the work they need. If inefficiency is leaving your client wanting more, you will want to say “yes” to an ask that could fill unmet needs.

Performance issues are easy to avoid when there is high internal visibility on employee output vs. hours worked. Keep internal communication robust, and you will be able to offer deliverables of consistent quality and cost.

Through any negotiation of a new task, always speak sensitively to your client.  After all, PR is all about happy relationships. Validate your client’s concerns. Make sure they know their wishes are heard and being taken seriously, even if you cannot grant them. This builds trust by showing them that you are on their side, even when you can’t do exactly what they originally requested.

By all means, keep that can-do attitude. Just make sure to add healthy boundaries to that mix. Client relations are not customer service. A customer is always right, but a client is an equal who sometimes needs your guidance. With the skillful use of “yes,” you’ll be able to keep your team and your clients happy.

Savannah Whitman


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk