HOW WOULD YOU DEAL WITH ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ CLIENTS?
I meet him in a morning of a hot summer day, when the weather only helps the business of those coffee shops with air-conditions around metropolitan tower. In his black ponytail and white trouser, it is hard to believe that the guy in front of me is the account director of Y&R Vietnam who has worked for several international agencies included Ogilvy and Dentsu: Mr. Dung La. His rocker style and his warm voice surely catch my attention; but, what makes me amaze is that the guy who sits across from me, the one who has helped Y&R win many contracts with LG and Ovaltine, was used to be a security guy. What is the secret for his success? What makes him from being the journalist, the security guy to the account director? Looking at my astonishing expression, Mr. Dung La could not stop smiling; and his answer simply is: ‘Because I know how to deal with ‘impossible’ clients.’
With 6500 employees, 186 offices in 90 countries (Y&R 2012), Y&R is not the biggest advertising agency on the world, and the head office of the company in the region is quite humble compared to other agencies. Yet, what makes the company stand out from the rest is its talented staff, which helps shine the name, Y&R with many awards from Vietnam Young Lions. As ‘Fame, Fun and Fortune’ are three key factors decided whether or not the company would like to work with a client, Mr. La points out: dealing with ‘impossible’ clients, the one who proceeds to be a gigantic pain, is a part of his life.
Mr. Dung La, an account director of Y&R
What are ‘impossible’ clients?
In a simple definition, ‘impossible’ clients are the clients who are hard to deal and work with. They could be ranged from the ones who constantly push back and deny your solutions, to the ones who change their minds a dizzying time about a detail of a small design. Metaphorically, they are the ‘devil’ and the ‘nightmare’ of agencies. Dealing with them is hard; making them become your friend is even harder. How would an agency, especially an account, deal with such the clients without making him/her become the devil himself/herself?
What should you do to not become the devil yourself?
‘It all starts with the heart:’
‘Sounding a little cheesy, isn’t it?’ Mr. Dung La laughs at my expression again. Honestly, I had expected his answer to be a little more like those stories in imperial palaces, not ‘the heart.’ Yet, as he explains, I start to realize that there are more hidden meanings behind his simple answer.
According to Mr. La, agencies should start to view clients as human beings, with feelings and emotions. And as human beings, clients would have to have some good and some bad days. Hence, a good account person needs to be patient and sympathize for his/her clients. There would be a time when clients were so harsh on you, but there would be a time when those same clients are your sweetest best friends.
He strongly believes that agencies are like advisors, whose jobs are to give clients the best strategic solutions, helping them to achieve their goals and preventing them from falling into any wrong traps. A little like parenthood, but not really. At the end of the day, clients are still the ones who paid for you; and the least thing you want to do is to lecture them (Market 2007). Mr. Dung La suggests that when encountering impossible clients, an account person needs to be flexible; instead of rejecting their ideas, he/she should provide them with best possibilities of their desires (Solomon 2008) and other alternatives replaced their ridiculous demands (Market 2007).
Provide your clients the best alternatives
‘Do meditation regularly’:
I love yoga and I do yoga regularly; but meditation when our subject is about ‘impossible clients’? How many more times will this man keep surprising me?
‘What would be your normal reactions when a client responds to your work with harsh criticism?’ he asks me, not forget to read my face expression. Now, I understand why it is meditation. Mr. La points out that a natural impulse would be a feeling of annoyance, and later to deny that you had done anything wrong, dismissing the client’s concern. It is important to resist this impulse and use it to your advantage for self reflection. Are there any breakdown in communication between you and your clients? Are there any more uneasy and sensitive issues behind the concern? At the time, he suggests that the best response would be: ‘I understand and appreciate your concern. Let’s meet for further discussion or let me get back to you in a couple of hours regarding your request’. Then, take that time to absorb the situation, take the edge of your feelings, think and discuss with your team about the situation before making any promise or argue with the client (Sobel 2009).
‘Don’t put a ring on your own finger’
Agreeing with Solomon (2008), Mr. Dung La said the best client manager makes no commitment without consultation. He/she knows how to set client’s expectation, or managing client expectation at the beginning of their relationship. Like any healthy couples, he suggests some points which agencies should keep in a relationship with their clients:
- Close communication: Why do clients become impossible? One thing might be because you have not talked enough to them. Keeping a close communication with your clients by constantly updating the process of the project and work plan not only helps you understand them better, but also to show them that each dollar they paid is worthy.
- Ask them to sign off at every milestone
- Write everything down and ask clients to confirm: verbal confirmation is not enough.
‘And remember, you are not their slave’
Once a client, Mr. Dung La will try to make that party always his client. And his secret for that lies in three key points: understanding clients or learning to understand clients either through communication or research, keeping calm, and being clear. However, dealing with impossible clients can be emotionally draining, not to mention time consuming. At some point, considering taking the loss and ending a relationship is the smartest solution. ‘Remember, you are not their slave’, he insists.
Proof of life
La, D 2012, conversation, 19 August.
Market, T. 2007, You can’t win a fight with your client and 49 other rules for providing great service, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY.
Sobel, A. 2009, All For One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships, 1st edn, Wiley, United State of America.
Solomon, R. 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, NY.
Y&R 2012, homepage, Y&R, < http://www.yr.com/>