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“Yes, I trusted my client. That’s why I married him”

The client-agency relationship is said to be like a marriage in which the couple fight, argue and bicker yet at the end, they stay because they trust each other. Now you can be skeptical: ”Psshhh, life isn’t a fairy tale”. Well, read on and discover how this true story can change your mind about the analogy above!

Figure 1: The client-agency relationship is often referred to as a ‘marriage’ (Reproduced from Parekh 2013)

Figure 1: The client-agency relationship is often referred to as a ‘marriage’ (Reproduced from Parekh 2013)

Sipping a cup of tea, Ms Thanh Tran – Senior Account Manager of Cheil Vietnam – looked as comfortable as ever while discussing the ‘trust’ topic with me. She’s happily married to Mr. Binh Le (the then-marketing executive of Dutch Lady) who was her client for 3 years. ‘It was all because of trust’ – Thanh starts the conversation.

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Figure 2: Ms Thanh Tran – Senior Account Manager of Cheil Vietnam. Her previous positions were Senior Account Executives at Y&R, Wunderman and JWT. (Photo given to the author by Thanh)

I ask whether she agrees with the textbook definition of trust, which is “the willingness to depend on and believe in each other” (Sam & Waller 2008). Thanh nods, adding that although this is indeed true, the matter lies on how trust is built between the client and the agency: via similar values.

Thanh says Dutch Lady is the client she enjoys working the most with. ‘Binh’s team at Dutch Lady was really supportive of my agency’s work. Both sides believed in each other as we shared the same work ethics and personal morals.’ The chemistry built upon similar values blossomed into respect and trust. ‘It’s like what the theories say (Davies & Prince 2005). But how can we know that both sides have the same values?’ – I interrupt. Thanh smiles and answers that just like in a new marriage; it takes time and effort from both sides to understand each other.

Thanh usually takes clients to lunches and got to know them personally to assure them that she’s sincere about building mutual trust. ‘Treat them like your beloved, show your sincerity’ – Thanh remarks – ‘My client from Nokia once melted my agency because he asked every agency member whether he/she got home safely after the heavy rain’. If the agency also takes the effort to understand the client, it’ll be easier to find similar values and build trust.

I ask her what she’ll do if her agency’s values and clients’ are poles apart. ‘In this case’ – Thanh said – ‘switching is unavoidable. The client deserves to work with an agency which matches their style and vice versa. But usually both sides will try their hardest to adapt and switching is the last resort. It’s like avoiding a divorce’.

Figure 3: Like a fairy tale - Ms Thanh Tran and Mr. Binh Le on their wedding day in 2011. They tied the knot after working together for 3 years as an account executive and a client respectively. ‘We still fight whenever Binh complains about agencies and I talk bad about clients (laugh). But then we trust each other enough to let go of these differences.’ - Thanh said.  (Photo given to the author by Thanh)

Figure 3: Like a fairy tale – Ms Thanh Tran and Mr. Binh Le on their wedding day in 2011. They tied the knot after working together for 3 years as an account executive and a client respectively. ‘We still fight whenever Binh complains about agencies and I talk bad about clients (laugh). But then we trust each other enough to let go of these differences.’ – Thanh said. (Photo given to the author by Thanh)

In times of conflicts, married couples fight and so do clients and agencies. Thanh recalls yelling at her husband on their dinner date because he forgot to answer her work emails. Thanh says agencies and clients argue all the time, which is not a bad thing because through this they understand each other more, get constructive criticism and build greater trust. ‘Don’t take arguments personally’.

But it’s hard to remain level-headed during arguments!’ – I exclaim, to which she replies: ‘Remember that clients also have tough times with budget cuts and sudden changes in marketing plans. Understanding this will help agencies sympathize with clients and get their trust too. That’s what my husband tells me every time I complain about difficult clients (laugh)’.

To wrap up, I ask Thanh for 3 tips for future client managers. She summarizes her points succinctly:

–          Collaborate with clients, don’t confront them.

–          Be proactive. Initiate the trust-building process.

–          Keep calm and solve problems. Have a ‘cool’ brain and a ‘hot’ heart – like Solomon (2008) said.

Thanh finished her tea then told me before saying goodbye: ‘They say married couples must trust each other, so do clients and agencies. Without trust I wouldn’t have married my husband or worked with any other client. That’s why building trust is vital, and I hope my tips are useful for you.’

Yes they definitely are. This interview has allowed me to reflect on what I’ve learned about trust during this course and inspired me to become a great account manager. Oh, not to forget Thanh’s adorable love story as well! 😉

Word count: 660 words

Author: Nguyen Thi Nam Phuong – s3360654

Figure 4: Proof-of-life photo. This was taken during a party I attended with Thanh. (Author’s photo)

Figure 4: Proof-of-life photo. This was taken during a party I attended with Thanh. (Author’s photo)

References

Davies, M & Prince, M 2005, ‘Dynamics of trust between clients and their advertising agencies: Advances in Performance theory’, Academy of Marketing Science Review, vol.7, no. 11, pp. 1-35.

Fam, K & Waller, D 2008, ‘Agency-Client Relationship Factors Across Life-Cycle Stages’, Journal of Relationship Marketing, vol. 7(2), pp. 217-236

Parekh, R 2013, ‘Chase the Crown: Ad Age Searches for Longest, Strongest Agency-Client Marriage’, image, Ad Age, 26 March, viewed 5 January 2014, <http://adage.com/article/agency-news/ad-age-searches-strongest-agency-client-marriage/240503/>

Solomon, R 2008,The Arts of Client Service, Kaplan, New York

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