After 10 years developing the Rattleback client service function, I define the 10 behaviors any account service individual must exhibit to be successful at leading a client relationship.
I’ve been working in client services at three marketing agencies spanning fifteen years. Ten of those years were for Jason Mlicki, Principal at Rattleback. I owe a lot of the success I’ve had in my career to Jason. First, he gave me a job at one of the worst times of my life—a nine-month layoff during the infamous Great Recession. Second, year after year he pushed and challenged me to develop muscle I did not know I had. Simply put, Jason helped launch my career, groomed me into a leader, and enabled me to live a happy personal life.
So, when Jason asked me to write my philosophy on client service as my lasting contribution to his agency, it meant a lot. But it also meant it was time to reflect and think. For a week and a half, I made notes about the client service behaviors I have tried to live by during my professional career and the behaviors which I have tried to instill within others on my team. Behaviors that when exhibited, will ensure a healthy agency/client relationship as well as setup success during a professional career in account services.
It Starts with Understanding the Perfect Day
The perfect day in an account service person’s world is simple. Your clients are happy, projects came in on time or ahead of schedule, and the work came in at or under budget. Yet, it’s easy to lose sight of these three simple account service objectives when you’re in the daily grind of juggling projects, managing client expectations, and working to put out the current fire of the day. No account service person will ever achieve the perfect day every day. But they need to make it their mission to behave in a manner that enables them to experience as many perfect days as possible.
Ten Behaviors to Maximize Perfect Days
1. Communicate Verbally, Daily
The number one requirement at the top of any account service-oriented job description is to manage and develop client relationships. All good relationships are grounded in trust, loyalty, patience, understanding, and honesty. And each of these will never exist without effective communication. I’ve never seen myself, or anyone I’ve worked with, be successful at accomplishing this through a screen. Digital communication via email or text will be your own worst enemy. Yes, it’s easy to brain dump in an email so you can move on to the next item on your endless task list. But, you need to make it a habit to stop typing and go meet with your team in person, visit a colleague at their desk, visit a client, and pick up the phone and have a conversation. Having face time is meaningful and talking in-person captures emotion and inflection. Only use digital communication to verify what was discussed and to keep a record.
2. Find a Common Interest
If you’re going to have a successful client relationship, it can’t be all work all the time. You need to work hard to find opportunities for small talk to identify the common personal interests you both share. Otherwise, your client meeting will simply be another meeting on the calendar that neither of you are looking forward to and another small step toward the slow demise of a failed relationship.
3. Always Be Prepared with a Set of Questions and One Idea
Nothing is more maddening than walking into a meeting to find people are not prepared to have the meeting. You’ll never be able to ensure your client is prepared, but you can ensure you and your team are ready to make the most of the meeting. Make it a habit to understand your calendar for the upcoming week. Then find the pockets of time needed to do some basic preparation before each meeting by scanning review material and developing a set of questions to guide the conversation. Then have one idea in your back pocket, even if it’s not a great one, to jumpstart initial brainstorming. You’ll not only feel more at ease by being ready to contribute, but also will be ready to make a lasting impression.
4. Listen to Wants First, Respond to Needs Second
Never go into a meeting ready to present your solution until you have fully vetted your client’s wants. A client hired your agency for a reason, and that reason is often tied to a specific want. This want is very important to them, in fact, they, or someone on their team has probably already spent many hours trying to better understand it. Because of this, it’s important you listen to and probe every angle of their intended want. This will show your client you are listening to and understanding them. Only when they feel they’ve gotten this from you will they open the door and allow you to present an alternative solution. Do the opposite, and you’ll find yourself on the fast track to losing the client.
5. Be Ready to Work Hard at Compromise
Client service is no easy task. Very rarely will you succeed at selling in the first solution. This rejection often leads to feeling puzzled and frustrated because you think your client doesn’t know what they want or simply doesn’t understand what they need. Both of these might be true but likely are not. You have to understand your client is a person trying to make a living just like you. They have direct reports they’re trying to impress, culture they’re trying to protect or possibly change, and business objectives they’re trying to achieve. Because of this, you have to be ready to make compromises so both you, and the client, are happy with the final deliverable.
6. Find the Answer to Your “I Don’t Know”
You’ll be asked a lot of questions in your time working in account service. Saying “I don’t know” to a question in the moment is an acceptable response. It shows your integrity and makes you human and transparent. However, the most successful account people turn these moments of vulnerability into opportunity to learn and develop knowledge they didn’t know they lacked. If you find yourself needing to say, “I don’t know,” get into a habit of following it up with “but I’ll look into it and get back to you.” Then read, consult your network, layer your own point-of-view on what you discover and follow-up with your newfound insight within a few days.
7. Never Commit Without Consulting Your Team
Clients will make a lot of requests. And if you’re a good account service person who seeks to make your clients happy, it’s easy to want to always say, “Yes, no problem. We can handle this for you.” However, it’s only a matter of time before these words will burn your reputation and the credibility you have established with your team. When you make a commitment to your client, you’re making that same commitment for your entire team. Always remember your team has a personal life and/or there is a possibility another client’s deadline may not be as loose as you thought. Responding to a request with, “I think we might be able accomplish this for you, but before I commit, let me consult the team,” will protect yourself, your team, and even the agency’s reputation.
8. Push for Decision Over Indecision
In client service, you’ll be at the front line of many decisions being made. And you’ll come across many people who struggle with or are not comfortable with making these decisions. This can lead to lost time or worse, no progress at all. The worst mistake you can make is sitting idle for too long while waiting on your client, or someone internally to make the decision. It needs to be your job to ensure effective decisions are being made and they’re being made on time. Work to keep the pressure on your client, lobby for a decision by reminding them why you and your team feel the decision is the right one, and offer them comfort with the decision by reminding them no decision is permanent—pivots can always be made in the future.
9. Value and Respect Your Creative Team
If you don’t appreciate and value the creative process, then you might as well not hire or work for an agency. Strategy only goes so far without an effective creative solution. And creative only goes so far without effective strategy. Do not believe in the account team vs. creative team debate. It’s ridiculous. Both teams need each other equally to be successful. It is important you work to understand what motivates your creative team to do their best work. Then give them the resources and space needed to deliver. Bring them in early to discussions, keep them informed, and allow them to both sell and defend their own work. If you fail to do so, expect half-baked thinking from an uninspired team who is simply doing the bare minimum to shorten the amount of time they need to work with you.
10. Breath. You Will Not Lose a Client in One Day
Like any job, you’re going to have good days and bad days. Mistakes happen and people understand this. But if you let the pressure and stress affect your job performance, you’re going to have bigger problems down the road. When the going gets tough, stop. Take a step back, look up and breathe. The worst thing you can do is let panic set in when your day is going down the wrong road. It’s rare anyone will lose a client in one day. It’s how you pick yourself up and respond that will determine the health of the client relationship going forward as well as how your colleagues and the client view you as a professional.
Whoever finds themselves reading this, it’s my hope you come to expect these behaviors from yourself as well as the entire Rattleback team. I know you will find everyone at the agency to be an effective and enjoyable group of people to work with. I know I sure have.