Client may not always be right, but clients always have to come first
They say humans are social animals. Relationships have always been an indispensable part of our lives. As we grow up, our relationships become more complicated. It’s not only about family and friends anymore. We started to know about boyfriend-girlfriend relationships; we started to learn how to be a part of an organization, how to build relationships with business partners and maintain relationships that we can’t even put a name.
When it comes to Client-Agency relationships, some said “Agencies were born to serve clients”. So should agencies be clients’ docile little puppies or should they be clients’ equal partners? What should we add into the service excellence manifesto of dealing with clients, especially when they are wrong? As a soon-to-be graduate who is curious about what she is getting into in the near future, I talked to Kit Ong – Young and Rubicam’s Executive Creative Director, whose intensive experiences promising to have all the right answers.
I met Kit at Y&R office in an evening of May. He was kind enough to show me around and introduce about the company’s background and history. According to Kit (2013), Y&R belong to WPP group –a multinational advertising company who owns a number of agencies including Y&R, Ogilvy Group and JWT. Y&R was established in 1923 and now has become the world’s leading communication company with 6500 people and 186 offices across 90 countries (Y&R 2013). After 20 years experiencing different creative industries in Malaysia and Shanghai, Kit Ong came to Vietnam in 2011 and started to contribute his talent to Y&R Vietnam. Given Kit’s very busy schedule, it’s not always easy and convenient for him but yet he gave me so generously of his time and knowledge.
The strength of client relationships is the most important factor that ensure the well-being of agencies (Lace 1998). For that reason, agencies may have different ways but we all try to minimize conflicts with clients as much as possible. Kit believes that there are two kinds of agencies. One that very afraid of clients and just want to make their lives easy by saying “Yes” all the times. This kind adopts a “slave mentality” and thinks that they are hired to “serve” clients. The other kind thinks of ifself as a partner to the client, an equal, the creative arm and mind which able to help clients to achieve their goals. The more to the story, the more I realize that Y&R falls into the second type, who truly lives up itself to be an equal partner in every relationship.
Send the message of trust
To Kit, in order to become an equal partner with client, one thing we have to gain is TRUST. Trust has always been a golden key to every successful relationship and it is again the glue that keep agencies and clients together. If we always say yes to clients, we take the risk of losing their trust if something bad happens. It’s just like a doctor who knows his patient is taking the wrong medicine but do nothing about it. Or we can be honest about the situation and show clients their mistakes. They may not listen to us at the time but later on, if something bad happens, they will trust us more in our judgement. But how to be honest with clients? With a complicated history of human relationships, we all know that honesty is not an easy thing to do. So in which way should we tell clients that they are wrong without hurting the relationship?
Look at the problem from clients’ eyes
Kit friendly shared with me about his inexperience working with clients at the very first days of his career. He was young, ambitious and too eager to show off his ideas. All he wanted to prove in his works is how different, creative and talented he is. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Most of the time clients rejected his ideas because they were too personal, they were something that represent himself and his personality, not something that can solve clients’ problems. Learning from that experience, Kit has changed his way in creating values for clients. And yes the roots of service excellence always find itself in meeting clients’ needs (Madsen 1993). Kit believes that agencies should present ideas based on logical approach, research and insights of customers, as Solomon (2008) said: “Before tell clients what you think, tell them what you know”. Different clients value different things (Casul 2013) so the problem has to be seen from the eyes of clients, who care about growth and share, profits and lost. When we try to make clients understand out ideas, we should talk about logic, strategy, marketing, target customers, almost about everything but creativity. I was surprised hearing that. And yet he explained that the local clients do not get creativity – it’s a sad and ugly truth.
Talk about everything but creativity
Asian societies have built up a wrong way to judge creativity. Creativity in Asian societies is about whether you can draw or write a story. In our minds, creativity means something very big, something abnormal and far away. But to Kit, creativity is very simple. It’s about how you choose a dress with the color that compliments your skin tone or choose a car that reflects your personality. Almost Asians fail to acknowledge that, which creates a thick wall between a so-called “creative person” and a normal person. For that reason, Vietnamese clients don’t trust agencies because they think these people are not normal, they think these people know nothing about strategy, profits and business-related things. Knowing about this is important for us to build a local model of service excellence because “great service doesn’t always equal great service when the same model is applied in different cultural contexts” (Noble 2009).Therefore, in order to persuade local clients to go our way, we should put creativity last on the list. Don’t try to show that you’re smarter or more creative than them. It won’t work.
Let clients make their own decisions
After all of the attempt to be nicely honest with clients, there’s the chance that clients still not change their mind. In this case, you will have to let them do what they want. As Kit said:
“Clients sometimes are like kids, no matter how you tell them not to do something, they still do it and then learn the lesson themselves”.
And yes clients may not always be right, but their expectations, benefits and decisions always have to come first.
Truong Lan Phuong – S3324413
Casul, M 2013, ‘Service Excellence’, lectured noths distributed in COMM2384 Client Management, March 2013, RMIT University, Vietnam
FtAdviser 2013, ‘Seven steps to an ethical culture: Question of Trust’, The Financial Times Ltd, viewed 10 May 2013, < http://www.ftadviser.com/2012/09/19/ifa-industry/advisory-companies/seven-steps-to-an-ethical-culture-question-of-trust-sC83C43e1MYIO2FTkodJNP/article.html>
Kit Ong 2013, Interview, 25 April 2013
Lace, J.M 1998, ‘Evaluating advertising agency performance: Actions to enhance the client/agency relationship’, Management Research News, vol.21, no.7/8, p.47.
Madsen, G.E 1993, ‘Service Excellence: A step beyond quality’, Bank Marketing, vol.25, no.10, p.39
Noble, C 2009, ‘Service Excellence’, Leadership Excellence, vol.26, no.12, p.16
Solomon, R 2008, The Art of Client Service, Revised and Updated Edition: 58 Things Every Advertising & Marketing Professional Should Know, Kaplan Publishing, New York, US.
Y&R 2013, homepage, WPP – Young and Rubicam Group, US, viewed 10 May 2013, <https://www.yr.com/about>