When it comes to client communications, most people would think it’s pretty easy. After all, surely when you work in the world of client services all your daily job consists of is chit-chatting on the phone, and the occasional wine and dine, right?
Well, after working in that very world for many years, we can only wish it really were that simple.
Yes, our days are frequently spent on the phone, and yes, we do occasionally get to take our clients out for a nice meal, but there’s a whole other side to the job. The fact that you manage 10+ different clients and have to know them all inside out and have to give them all the same love, care and attention, often gets completely forgotten about.
We must admit, we can’t help but wonder that maybe us account managers don’t make life easy for ourselves, because come to think about it, surely interacting and communicating with our clients should be as simple as everyone thinks.
While marketing guru Kristie Lorette believes that, 'good client service is largely a matter of placing the customer first, making business decisions that allow the company to respond to market changes, and providing customers with the best service possible', in simple terms what it ultimately all boils down to is humans interacting with other humans.
But for some reason, when you work in an agency, your basic human interaction skills seem to get lost in a daily whirlwind of targets, reports, KPIs, strategies, Google algorithms and deadlines, and we can often lose sight of how simple the job needs to be.
For this reason, we are going to strip this art back to basics and give you the client services' answer to Exodus 20, with the 10 commandments of client communications.
As you will see, the points we make aren’t by any means rocket science, but we hope that each point will serve as a useful reminder of just how easy it can be to provide your clients with a good service:
If you regularly tune into the Zazzle Media blog, something that features heavily in the posts penned by me is educating your clients - just because we deal with the likes of Penguin, Panda, rel=canonicals and hreflang tags on a daily basis, doesn’t mean that your client does.
Yes, it’s important to impress your client with your expertise and knowledge of the industry, but it’s just as important to make sure that at every stage, they understand exactly what you’re talking about too.
Not only will you be making their jobs easier by explaining everything in layman’s terms, but if those above them also clearly understand what you are doing for them, and why you are doing it, then the value of your service goes much further than just providing a service - you’ll become a support, the go-to person for questions and advice and over time, a trusted advisor. Which leads me nicely onto my next commandment…
As humans, we all naturally gravitate towards one person who always seems to have the answer - and if you want to be that person for your clients (and believe me, you do), then you need to always be one step ahead.
Aside from being the number one person they go to when they need some support and advice, you need to be sharing valuable information with your clients before they realise it themselves, or worse, hear it from someone else.
If industry news breaks or some interesting developments arise, don’t wait for the client to call you. Call them first and have an opinion, be bold and show that you are confident enough to have a point of view.
Trust me, it will put you in a position of mentor and cohort, which is the perfect place from which to communicate, build a reputation and ultimately become that go-to person for important business information.
If you already work in Client Services, then the chances are you are already personable in the sense of 'having a pleasant appearance and manner'.
So when we say 'Thou Shalt be Personable', we don’t mean in the sense of just having these attributes - I mean taking it one step further by being personable on a personal level.
Yes, we are here to be professional, do a job and deliver a service, but we must remember that at the end of the day, we are all humans and all have lives outside of work, so taking the time to get to know your client will never go amiss with them.
Doing simple things such as starting and ending conversations with talk of weekends, family and interests is a great way to take the working relationship to the next level - if you get on well with your client on a personal level as well as a professional one, then it will increase the chance of them staying in touch should they move on or when it comes to recommending you to others.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a stickler for organisation - to me, organisation is a fundamental foundation for client management; it’s one of the best ways to show that you care about the account and that you’re completely on top of everything regarding it.
When it comes to client organisation, we believe there are three main recipes for success:
4a. Defining KPIs
The best way to ensure you’re delivering exactly what your client wants is to set KPIs at the start of any partnership.
Doing so will prevent any miscommunication of objectives and deliverables further down the line and it will also ensure you’re able to easily validate every piece of work that you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
4b. Setting a Strategy
In order to ensure you clearly outline how you’re going to achieve the above, put a clear strategy in place, or at least, map activity plans out for a good chunk of time; preferably three or six months.
Now, if you’re like us and you work in a world of digital marketing, then you’re probably thinking, 'How on Earth can you plan activities in advance when the world is ever-changing and unpredictable?' But when I talk about mapping out activities for the foreseeable future, I don’t mean that they need to be completely set in stone and that you’re not allowed for any flexibility should they need changing. I refer to providing a top-level overview of how you intend to reach the KPIs you’ve set in place.
From my experience, it’s not only a great way to show your clients that there’s a clear plan in place for what you want to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it, but it’s also a great way for getting your clients to invest in you for the long-term.
It will show that you’re focused, organised, and most importantly, dedicated.
4c. Updating Activity Progress
As the middle man between your agency and the client, it’s likely that one of the most prominent things you do on a day-to-day basis is update them on the progress of work.
But one of the struggles I faced when I first started was when you have a range of clients, how to you keep a clear track of where each of their work is at, and more importantly, how do you make it easier for them to understand this too?
Well, at Zazzle Media, we’re a big fan of GoogleDocs and on the Client Services team in particular, it’s a very helpful tool for enabling us to do exactly this.
To help show you how it can be a useful tool for you too, below is a template example of how I use it for some of my own clients:
Coding everything in simple traffic light colours is a great way for a client to see at a glance how a campaign is progressing, and keeping all your monthly activity plans in one tab is also the easiest way for them to see what's been carried out since they started with you.
By then giving them access to this document, they can view progress of work at their own leisure, reducing the need to ask you lots of questions or chase you up daily on where things are at.
These GoogleDocs are also a great way to structure your status calls and catch ups with them by using each activity and progress as clear discussion points.
Whenever you get a new client, one of the first things you should do is set clear expectations on how often your status calls with them will be and how frequently you will meet with them.
As much as you would love to, it's unfortunately just not feasible for you to have face-to-face meetings with every single one of your clients every week - particularly if you look after a range of clients with a range of different spends.
So right from the offset, put a clear communication process in place to define what your client will get and when.
But as I say this, it's vital to make sure you don't get stuck in a rut of only speaking or meeting your clients at these set times; it's key to try and be proactive with your communications wherever possible.
Show that you're actively thinking about and looking out for your client around these times too - popping them an email when a great placement goes live or giving them a call to tell them their priority term has experienced a strong uplift is a great way to make sure your relationship doesn't go stale.
Asking for honest feedback is one of the biggest hush-hush topics in the client services world - after all, if a client doesn't specifically raise that they are unhappy with something then that means that everything is okay, right? Wrong.
I'm sure we can all think back to an instance where a client has handed in their notice, stating that their reason is because they have maybe been unhappy with something.
This is often quickly met with a gasp of 'but the client never once raised that!'
Hold on - did anyone actually take the time to ask how the client how they were feeling? I didn't think so.
One of the biggest things I've learnt during my time as an account manager is that do not, at any point, be afraid of asking your client how they feel things are going, or of asking them what you can do to improve things for them - honestly, they will really value you taking the time out to do so.
Because the client services team at Zazzle Media feel this is a hugely important value, we carry out regular 'Client Happiness Calls' on all of our clients. These involve members of the senior team, who are not directly involved with the day-to-day running of the account, taking time to call each client and having a little chat to find out how they're feeling about everything.
Not only is it a key way to ensure that we are regularly evolving and improving the service we offer, it's also a great way to strengthen the relationships clients have with us by having another go-to person in the business should they ever need anything at all.
Now this commandment works hand-in-hand with the previous one, because being honest should most certainly be a two-way street.
As well as asking for feedback from your clients, giving it back is also a fundamental way to garner respect from them.
For example, if a campaign hasn't worked as well as originally expected, don't bury your head in the sand and try to cover it up, or if you feel that a campaign idea they've come up with just won't hit their objectives or help them achieve their KPIs, then say. While they may let off a little steam initially, they will value you much more for it in the long run.
But before you get carried away with being brutally honest with your clients, it's just as important to ensure there's a little filter in place; because let's face it, you unfortunately can't be honest about everything.
In order to garner respect in the right way, you must ensure that at all times, your feedback is useful and constructive.
Again, working hand-in-hand with the above, if there is something you truly believe won't work for your client or that what they're asking for is unrealistic, as well as being honest, don't be afraid of pushing back.
After all, as the experts in your field, they have come to you for knowledge, guidance and skill to help them meet their goals, so if you know for sure that what they're asking for won't get them there, then be firm.
Before you get stuck in a game of tug-of-war with your client, step back and ask yourself, why are you pushing back so hard? Are you honestly right on this one? Or is the client looming on the edge of a disaster without realising it? If it's the latter, then as their account manager, it's absolutely your duty to push back.
When it comes to the communication you have with your clients, another important thing I've come to learn on the job is the value of being prepared.
Before any status call or meeting, no matter how big or small it may be or no matter how close you may be to your client, always go above and beyond with the preparation.
With calls, set your own agenda before you pick up the phone; doing so will not only make sure that you don't miss out any important points, but it will also help you to sound more organised and even if you don't realise it, more confident.
With meetings, circulate an agenda to your client beforehand and before you get there, always go prepared with a deck covering off the respective points. Even if you don't end up going through all of the slides in full detail, it will again show your client that you are fully dedicated to their account, and that you are 100% on top of everything that is going on with it.
Okay, so my final commandment is a little tongue-in-cheek point to end on.
At the end of the day, deep down, clients know that they're not the only account we're looking after, but every now and then, all they want is for us to treat them as if they are.
So, once in a while, take a step back from your daily schedule and ask yourself, 'Am I really doing the best job I can with this client?'. If the answer isn't a straight-up, quick and firm 'yes', then it's time to give them a little extra love, care and attention - after all, that's how we'd all like to be treated, right?
1. Thou Shalt Educate
2. Thou Shalt Become a Trusted Advisor
3. Thou Shalt be Personable
4. Thou Shalt be Organised
5. Thou Shalt Establish Regular Forms of Communication
6. Thou Shalt Ask For, and Take, Honest Feedback
7. Thou Shalt be Honest
8. Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid of Pushing Back
9. Thou Shalt Always be Prepared
10. Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me
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