working towards great client service

Make your clients better clients

We often heard of EQ as a tool that helps us do well at our jobs. But little did we know that by having high EQ ourselves, we can help people excel at their jobs as well.

– feature article by Dinh Vu Bao Hoa

Emotional Intelligence indicates our ability to understand and regulate our emotions and that of others (Stein & Book 2006). My interview with Ms Thien Tam, a PR executive at AVC Edelman, has shown how client managers can use EQ to help clients become better clients. AVC Edelman has had great experience working with international clients in Vietnam over the last decade.

EQ has five main components, but I’m focusing on the two most important ones when dealing with clients: empathy and social skills.

Figure 1. My interview with Ms Thien Tam. Photo by author (2013)

Figure 1. My interview with Ms Thien Tam. Photo by author (2013)

Here’s the situation: ‘Some clients are dumb…’

An agency will be lucky if a client comes to them and says: ‘I want you to do these things for me!’ and then enumerates the things they want to be done. Those clients know what they want. Some don’t, and they will give you a miserable time trying to figure them out.

‘If they don’t like our work they will just say, ‘This is not good enough’, or ‘I don’t like it.’ They never tell us the reasons why. We have to revise our proposal based on that general feedback,’ Ms Tam shares.

‘And they will complain if we still don’t ‘get it’ after a few times editing the draft. We have to be very sensible on that.’

‘Empathy is to intuitively understand what your client wants’

Figure 2. Reproduced from: Lover 2013

Figure 2. Reproduced from: Lover 2013

To be ‘sensible’ is to have empathy for your client’s feelings – to ‘read’ their feelings (Goleman 1998). As you listen closely to their comments, with empathy you will get a sense of the underlying motive of those empty words.

Once you have understood what they want, seize the opportunity to educate your client about the industry.

Let’s take an example: In the communication industry, for one campaign we often have different groups of target public. But for clients, ‘students’ and ‘staff’ are just ‘everyone’. And when they say they want to target ‘everyone’, they can’t imagine how hard and ineffective it would be to create the ‘one size fits all’ tactics.

Our job is to make them aware of such risk. Listen to them, feel their words, translate them into our language and teach them that language. They will thank you later for that.

‘But how are we going to persuade them if they are stubborn?’ you asked. Well…

Use your social skills

Despite not having clear directions, clients often keep their expectations up high. When endless requirements keep falling on your head, the best thing you can do is to use your expertise, knowledge, and social skills to lower client’s expectations.

Show them that you have done thorough research on their brand and their strategy, and that your proposed plan compliments those elements. Find a gentle way to tell your client: ‘Your brand’s nature is this way so we plan it for you this way’. Or better yet, prevent them from complaining too much by allowing them to give feedback only three times.

And that’s how you make your clients do what you want instead of following their words to every little detail. ‘Sounds easy huh? But it takes real skills to persuade clients, skills that only experienced client managers possess,’ Ms Tam expresses.

In short, what clients want is not as important as what they need (Hughes, Patterson & Terrell 2012). We are experts in the field, we know which direction they should go. Future client managers, express your expertise in a way that clients have to obey you and let you do what you want. Because having high EQ is not only to help us reach our destinations but also to help others reach theirs.

Figure 3. Reproduced from: Broider 2013

Figure 3. Reproduced from: Broider 2013

(Word count: 595)


Goleman, D 1998, ‘What makes a leader?’, Harvard Business Review, vol. 76, no. 6, pp. 82-91.

Hughes, M, Patterson, LB & Terrell, JB 2012, Emotional Intelligence in Action: Training and Coaching activities for leaders, managers and teams, 2nd edn, Pfeiffer, San Francisco.

Stein, SJ & Book HE 2006, Emotional Intelligence and your success, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Tam, T 2013, interview, 20 December 2013.

Image references:

Lover, BCC 2013, ‘Empathy’, Pinterest, viewed 9 January 2014, <>

Broider, T 2013, ‘Dear client’, Pinterest, viewed 9 January 2014, <>


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