ribbonYou may not see it, but there’s an imaginary ribbon tied around my left index finger. It reminds me to keep client service top of mind.

Recently, my colleague Cathy Summers penned a blog post on when it might be appropriate to fire a client. Admittedly, those instances are few and far between, and are often uncomfortable.

Agencies, too, prefer not to be fired, or have their contract terminated. The truth is – in many cases, a contract might be terminated for the best of reasons. Perhaps your agency’s job was to position that client for acquisition – and you achieved that goal – and the acquiring company already has a great PR firm. Or your agency’s role is to help support a specific one-and-done product launch and you do so expertly.

But sometimes it’s because of poor client service. And that’s a shame. This ribbon on my finger reminds me to keep five client service best practices top of mind and to help our teams to do the same.

  1. Anticipate what the client wants before they want it. If a client asks a question – start to craft your answer. Then think about what their next question will be and answer that too. Anyone can handle execution, or ‘step and fetch’ projects. The true partners anticipate your every need. Like a good relationship, agency contacts can finish their clients’ sentences. They respond with this extra detail because they know it’s helpful – not because they were asked to.
  2. Spend a client budget as if it was your own. Time is money. Are all of today’s activities important and impactful? Are they the best use of each dollar? Be open with clients – with your planned activities and the time and budget you expect them to take, so you can collectively re-assess or re-allocate as needed. You would want the same transparency if it was you.
  3. Sit on the same side of the table. I’m not proud to admit this, but it took years into my agency journey to learn this lesson. Lose the “us” vs “them” mentality. It’s all us – no matter which “side” of the table you’re on. I know it can be hard to keep that in mind when there’s a Friday at 5pm urgent request. But there’s a reason for the request. “They” are not being difficult. “They” need our help. *We* are partners.
  4. Share bad news privately (and quickly) and great news publicly (and just as quickly). While we strive for excellence every day, we all make mistakes. Admit them quickly and share what you’ll do to right the wrong or lessen the impact. This will build trust and understanding. It’s also a great demonstration of character. Along the same lines, when there are wins, congratulate the client on the wins – and celebrate that victory together. Also, look for opportunities to help your client contact shine in front of their peers and managers. Spread the word.
  5. Make true connections at multiple levels. To follow on the last point, it is important to build contacts throughout a client organization. First, you can be a better resource as needs shift and change. Second, you can build more allies to the great work your firm is doing. This is especially important should your client contact or other senior leadership change. Get to know these contacts personally, in person if you can. Then you can better anticipate their needs and support them all long term.

These five points have helped me over the years. If every day we think about how we could be a better partner, then we don’t need to worry about someone else filling that role.

What else might you add to the list?

Catherine Allen
Executive Vice President



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