The Balancing Act: Walking the Service Excellence line
A shrill ringing rouses you from your sleep. It’s 2am, and your client is on the phone making demands.
It’s not an emergency, it’s not the most important thing you need to do, and you still have three or four days to do it. It’s not something you need to worry about at 2am in the morning. Surely an email would have sufficed!
There is a tightrope thin line here, between a good client manager and providing your client with service excellence, and when a client is asking too much. It’s a difficult balancing act, one that all client and account managers will juggle, between whether the client is always right, and when the client needs to be told no.
Service is defined as taking action to create value for someone else, and service excellence is seen as the next step up to create greater value (Casul, 2013). From this, I believe that service excellence means this must be carried out efficiently, creatively to deliver something unique or unexpected, and created for the clients’ specific needs.
Deloitte Canada (2013) also provides five client service principles that give us good framework when approaching service excellence. Deloitte Canada pledge to
– Make and meet their commitments to their clients
– Understand their clients’ business and what is important to them
– Demonstrate professionalism through effective interaction and communications
– Provide value and build trust through technical competence and consistent results
– Provide a no surprises experience
These are some important points also highlighted throughout the stories in The Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon, which provides a similar framework in which client’s specific needs can be worked out, and how to deliver them.
Hanh Duong has been called by a client at 2am in the morning. She was not impressed. From her studies at Webster University in both Thailand and Missouri, USA, and after four years as an account manager for BBDO and now TBWA, she believes the balancing act comes down to standing in between what is right and wrong, and what will work for the client. For her, providing service excellence involves being the client’s point of view at the agency, working out the best direction for the clients, and to work with the creative team to work on the best direction for the brand.
The client balancing act is a lot like the Cat in the Hat juggling here: You have to balance your client, their brief and their brand on the right, and the creative team and their ideas on the left, all while still acting as the filter and contact point between the two. It’s a constantly moving, brightly colored ball you’re running on top of, trying not to be a slave to the brand and the client, while keeping on top of the brief and the creative team: try not to fall off!
“You can get hurt between the creative team and the clients, it can be hard and you will get challenged. You need to use critical thinking”. Hanh says it is hard in the beginning to balance this, but it takes time to understand.
“If you eat food, and you eat only a few types of food, you don’t know what is good. But if you eat a lot of foods, you know what tastes good, and what doesn’t. Working with clients is like this, you learn what is good and bad”. It’s all about learning from experience, and like I’ve learnt that I immensely dislike Vietnamese purple shrimp sauce, I’ve learnt that there will be many ways to handle clients in the future.
In order to provide service excellence, Hanh also believes this involves telling clients no. “There is also logic they need to hear”, she laughs.
“Some clients say we pay you, so just do what we ask. But sometimes you have to tell your client no. I don’t just tell them no, but I give them advice on what would be better for their brand and take the feedback from the client and the creatives”.
Similar advice comes from Jeff Finley of GoMediaZine; when you need to tell a client no, ’Sometime the best way to get a client to understand your reasons for saying no is to show them”. This involves presenting all options and rationale behind the decisions you made for them, and providing feedback as to why the ideas will or won’t work, like Hanh does.
Timing and relationship also affect the ability to provide service excellence: from TBWA’s point of view, rushed jobs mean being at the clients’ beck and call, working as fast as possible; however, they prefer to work with longer term projects or long term clients as it gives them more time to be creative, and work out exactly what the client needs.
The lengths of a client relationship also can effect this: It is easier to tell a client no or that they are wrong when you have worked with them before, as the longer term relationship presumably has led to more trust and respect. You also know how the client works and have some experience to draw on, which Hanh says is true from her experiences. Andrew Sobel’s ideas of trust on the client relationship ladder (2010) come in here as well; trust is an important factor in client relationships, but it comes later, in longer term partnerships. This is something that makes the balancing act easier, and is worth the work to get to this stage!
There are a lot of factors at work here in providing service excellence and being a good client manager: if you manage to juggle all of them, you won’t have to worry about 2am phone calls and telling clients when they are wrong.
With time and experience, and a few mistakes along the way, and using some critical thinking and honest open communication with clients, you’ll be walking the client tightrope in no time, and not toe-ing the line!
Ellen Burgin is a final year Professional Communication student and the author of the Awkward Corner. She is heading to Singapore to work in events management, and can’t wait to get into working with clients.
Casul, M 2013, ‘Service Excellence’, course notes for COMM2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Ho Chi Minh City, reviewed 2 September 2013, Blackboard@RMIT. Main lecture resource from Ron Kaufman LIVE! Uplifting Service Friday 29th June, 2012 Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers
Casul, M 2013, ‘The Relationship Marketing Ladder’, course notes for COMM2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Ho Chi Minh City, reviewed 3 September 2013, Blackboard@RMIT. Based on the original Melbourne materials by David Fouvy and Caroline Van De Pol (2010)
Deloitte Canada, 2013. “Deloitte’s client service principles: our approach to client service excellence”. Deloitte Corporate Website, Viewed 1 September 2013, <http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_CA/ca/about-Deloitte/vision-values/ee617c220be47210VgnVCM200000bb42f00aRCRD.htm>
Finley, Jeff, 2010. Telling a client no, From GoMediaZine online. Viewed 4th September 2013. < http://www.gomediazine.com/insights/graphic-design/telling-a-client-no/>
Sobel, Andrew, 2010. Andrew Sobel Advisors: How strong is your client relationship? From www.andrewsobel.com, viewed 2 September 2013, Blackboard@RMIT.
Solomon, Robert, 2008. The Art of Client Service. Kaplan Publishing, New York.
Verklin, David, 2008. Foreward from The Art of Client Service. Kaplan Publishing, New York.