Know your way around clients, a not-so-secret secret to successful client relationship
By Le Minh Ngoc – s3309883
The client is depicted, not always but most of the time, by the agency people as the “dark side” or even worse, the “B word” side. Through the agency’s lenses, clients seem to be ignorant and arrogant to an absurd point. But how can agencies deal with these seemingly impossible to satisfy people if they have such bad perspectives of each other? This question bugged me for days and pushed me to find out the result from someone who has been through it all before. And thus began my truth seeking quest on a Monday afternoon. It was an easy job picking out a woman beaming with confidence and energy amongst a midst of people. Dang Thu Hien, ex event coordinator veteran, welcomed me to her small restaurant with a radiant smile. But our talk did not start right away. Hien’s restaurant was frantically busy that I had to wait for a while, but that gave me time to observe this single mother of two children As we warmed up over a glass of lemon tea, Hien started to reminisce about her old days at Gamma, a member of Square communication, working as a senior project leader. ‘Dealing with clients is a hard job; you always have to pay attention to little details. I have two kids to take care of and it is still nothing in comparison’, Hien jokingly shared.
‘Clients don’t run the world, at least not without us agencies’
“Client is the king”. This motto has been around in the service industry for such a long time that people start to admit it as a fact. But ‘No, it is not always true’, said Hien. After a moment of silence, she continued: ‘Still, your client may not always be right but at the end of the day, he is still your client’. It is indeed important to give the client what they want, but only after you have given them what they need and hire you for (Solomon 2008). Without the basic services they came for and expected to receive, it is unlikely that the client will be satisfied. Many companies are willing to sacrifice their own personality and culture to retain client’s patronage (Poupart & Hobbs 1989). ‘A lot of clients hire us to carry out what they already have in mind, but execution is not all that agency do, we are there to give them consultation and lead them to a wiser choice’, Hien explained.
‘Never say never, just say “Here’s another way…”’
Everyone hates the word “NO”. In fact, most client managers agree that there is no “NO” in their vocabulary because it builds up a barrier between you and the client while your job is basically to strongly connect both sides (Solomon 2008). Still, there are cases where a “NO” is a must (Stevens 2010) but a good client manager must know when and how to give it to their clients (Salacuse 2000). Agreeing with this idea, Hien told me about one of her unforgettable experience. The first and also the last time that Hien said no to a client was when her team had an account with client XYZ (*) back in 2006. The client was making a lot of unreasonable changes to the plan and at a date close to the deadline. ‘As soon as the word “No” left my mouth, I knew I was in trouble”, Hien shook her head and put on a smile. The client caught that word almost immediately and started to throw a tantrum about how the show should be the way they wanted since they were the ones who paid. A lot of efforts had to be made and benefits had to be compromised to calm the client down. ‘It was a valuable experience, after that time I learn how to say “No” in a “Yes” way’, rejoiced Hien.
‘Please the client, but avoid pushing yourself in a mess’
‘Don’t agree too quickly on anything, just look at me and my marriage’, said Hien sarcastically. Realizing my confusion, she laughed and explained: ‘It is important to not give in to pressure, especially with the big clients, and give an unconditional “YES” to whatever they request. You should understand the ability of your team and responds correctly.’ Her opinion aligns with that of Solomon (2008) of not making any commitment without consulting your colleagues first in order to avoid putting too much workload and responsibility on them and also yourself. In fact, it is necessary to exceed client’s expectations (Kazanjian 2007), but also it is vital to meet it first (Scott 2000).
‘There is no such thing as past client’
When asked for some juicy backstage stories about her past clients, Hien changed her tone into a more serious one, much to my surprise, and insisted that it is frown upon to bad mouth about your clients, even if you’re no longer working with them. ‘The local grapevine runs deep and far, sweetheart, and once a client, always a client’, said Hien firmly. She believes that in this small industry words travel faster than one can imagine. That aside, it is against ethic and moral to defame your past clients. In fact, Hien still treat all her clients the same way she did back then now that she has exit the industry. She still occasionally calls them up, sending them birthday wishes or inviting them to a meal. Hien happily shared: ‘At this point, I think of them more as friends rather than clients. But still it is best not to get too personal. And watch what you say ’.
‘It all comes down to respect’
According to Hien, similar to any other relationships, a client-agency relationship should also be built on the basis of mutual respect, and it should never end just because the contract expires. A great client manager keeps this relationship healthy by respecting the client, the mutual ever-lasting bond and themselves. Though conflicts may occur, as long as these three points are well maintained, client and agency can happily hold hands marching to success.
(*) Client XYZ, actual name withheld.
Proof of life:
Word count: 1038
Dang, H 2012, conversation, 17 December 2012.
Dang, H 2012, ‘Portrait’, image, Facebook, 10 October, viewed 26 December, <https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/302498_10151101623204094_1791810920_n.jpg>.
Kazanjian, K 2007, Exceeding Customer Expectation, Doubleday, New York, US.
Poupart, R & Hobbs, B 1989, ‘Changing the Corporate Culture to Ensure Success: A Practical Guide’, National Productivity Review, vol. 8, pp. 223 – 238.
Salacuse, JW 2000, The wise advisor: What every professional should know about consulting and counseling, Greenwood Publishing Group, Connecticut, US.
Scott, D 2000, Customer Satisfaction Practical Tools for Building Important Relationships, Thomson, Boston, US.
Solomon, R 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, US.
Stevens, D 2010, Brilliant Customer Service, Pearson, Harlow, Great Britain.