working towards great client service

“It’s nothing personal. Just business”

Yet what seems to be a proper business phrase is often deemed as one of the most frightening words in the corporate world. Since most of the time the phrase is uttered, it precedes a state of unpleasantness on the side of the audience, be it because of a following criticism or a discharge from work. We can tell, by common sense, that this is actually very personal.

 Nevertheless, a recurring theme in Western thoughts on client management is that there is a clear distinction between the client-agency professional and personal relationship. The consensus is that agency relationship with clients should be justified on the basis of business exchanges and benefits gained at the corporate level; relationship at the personal level or friendship with clients is neither necessary nor important (Solomon, 2008,Acuff and Wood, 2007Donaldson and O’Toole, 2007).

To evaluate the validity of the above claim in the context of Vietnam, I conducted an interview to seek opinions from Mr. Ngo Quoc Huy, founder and currently vice-director of Focus Media – an agency specialized in brand development and integrated marketing communication. With his accumulated 11-year of experience working with clients like Samsung, Canon, Sab Miller, Sapporo, Vinamilk, Dutch Lady, etc., Mr. Huy gave valuable, and mostly astounding insights into the reality of client relationship in Vietnam.

The conversation started off with my question seeking for his view about the importance of client relationship management to an agency. “What kind of relationships?” asked Huy. An embarrassing silence reigned the moment as I got bewildered by his questions – “What kinds?”. As if saw through my confusion, the man grabbed his iPad an in a few stroke of the stylus, handed over a sketch, on which he pointed at the center, asserting: “This middle ground is the one and only kind of relationship worth pursuing”.  


“This middle ground is the one and only kind of relationship worth pursuing”.

The Eastern approach

 Being a man of Chinese descendants, it is no surprise that Huy used a Chinese concept to illustrate his idea about relationship.“But this is prominent in Vietnam too, because of the heritage of cultural proximity left by thousands years of exchanges between the countries” Huy added.


‘Guanxi’ is often described as the practice of “cultivating personal relationships for doing business” (Donaldson and O’Toole, 2007). It more or less parallels the recent concern for long-term relational business transactions in the West.

Huy pointed out, upon listening to my interpretation about relationship as chiefly a process of building and retaining mutually beneficial transactions, where personal relationships may develop during the course but not always a necessity, that: “It’s an acceptable approach. But you’ll never reach the fullest of it. We care for business benefits too, that’s the professional aspect of ‘guanxi’. But never do we neglect the personal side and consider it only as a ‘by-product’ of the former”.


“Why is personal concern a necessity?”


Those were roughly the first words that came out of my mouth out of astonishment, to which Huy replied in a humble yet knowledgeable manner: Firstly, you need it to increase the level of trust with clients; trust can be built by consistent delivery of quality work or service, but trust built on affective exchanges takes on a vey different level. To me, it’s the form of trust with strongest impact, Clients trust you more if they think you are considerate about them and not just trying to make them part with more of their money.Secondly, it eases the tension of conflicting ideas between you and clients. More than often you will find yourself in a heated discussion with clients over a strategy. People love to show that they are logical in protecting their opinions no matter how emotional they might be when making decisions. A personal-level relationship allows you to lend a cozy atmosphere to the discussion, eliminating the negative impacts associated with conflicts.Thirdly, it’s the fastest route for you to be in the client’s ‘inner-circle’, to have the privilege to access information that might have great impact on the quality of your work, which otherwise might not be available to you.”


“On top of all that, remember that your clients are human beings with emotions, attitudes, desires and a life to live. If they are working, they are working for the sake of this particular life. You cannot make a well-informed decision if you don’t know what influence your clients. It’s called a business-to-business industry, but it’s the people who do the jobs” Huy gave his remark.


“…remember that your clients are human beings..”

In an attempt to triangulate his opinion, I came across a series of featured articles on the topic of relationship by Marketing Viet Nam – the magazine of the Vietnamese Association of Marketing. The articles voiced opinions from senior executives of three of the largest corporations in Vietnam, namely Kinh Do Group, Phu Nhuan Jewery Co. and Dong Tam Group. Interestingly, all seem to agree on the ground that relationships – seen as the biggest intangible asset contributing to 70% of their success – are preferably treated from its personal aspect rather than business (Nghi, 2009Vu, 2009aVu, 2009b). Mr. Vo Quoc Thang – Chairman of Dong Tam Group and Young Vietnamese Entrepreneurs Association, one of the top Forbes millionaires of 2008 – went as far as to suggest that he got to the current position all because of the relationships that he had cultivated.

Client management with an eye for personal relationship

As my conversation with Huy was drawing to its end, I questioned him if there would be any perceivable problems with treating clients from a personal angle and asked him to give some practical tips.

To the first question Huy admitted that sometimes people would take advantage of the personal relationship to their own favors. But he strongly emphasized that what we are focusing on is an integration of the two types of relationship, on the synergy that they produce. Huy insisted that the two types need not to be seen as polar opposition but should complement each other. An ideal partner understand that your work is your life and vice versa, if the pursuit of one is at heavy expense of the other, that relationship needs to be put under scrutiny.

To seal off the conversation, Huy suggests that a good client managers need to take on a wholly holistic perspective about any relationship with clients. Huy grinded as he offered the only theoretical model that he still remember – or worth remembering – from college i.e. the Maslow’s hierarchy which he saw as an excellent tool for understanding and tracking clients’ needs. “Treat them as a friend, sincerely, and truly keep them for life”.



Acuff, J. & Wood, W., 2007, The realtionship edge: the key to strategic influence and selling success, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, pp.

Donaldson, B. & O’Toole, T., 2007, Strategic market relationships: from strategy to implementation, 2nd edn, John Wiley & Sons, West Sussex, pp.

Nghi, D., 2009, ‘Bí quyết từ sự chân thành’, Marketing Việt Nam, Feb 2009, p. 47.

Solomon, R., 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, pp.

Vu, M., 2009a, ‘Mối quan hệ là tài sản vô hình’, Marketing Việt Nam, Feb 2009, p. 44.

Vu, Q., 2009b, ‘Tin tưởng, thiện chí sẽ có mối quan hệ bền vững ‘, Marketing Việt Nam, Feb 2009, p. 46.

Posted by Huynh Phuong Phi

May 11 2012

Word count: 1094

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One thought on ““It’s nothing personal. Just business”

  1. Seems like you fully understand quite a lot with regards to this
    subject and it shows throughout this specific post, given the name ““It’s nothing personal.
    Just business clientmanagementvn”. I am
    grateful -Rafaela

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