working towards great client service

Archive for the category “Service Excellence”

Perception of client retention from client’s perspectives

Interviewed by Truong Thien Kim Long – s3324490 – Group 1 SGS

Readers know how agency does good to keep clients. It may be objective or subjective based on a writer’s perspectives. Have the readers ever thought of the opposite view? Join this post and imagine, what client thinks of the agency in one case study, presented in an interview.

(Colgate, n.d)

(Wpp, 2007)










An interviewee is Ms Nguyet Minh, Colgate’s Brand Manager. She specializes in FMCG industry and has 9-year working experiences; Ms Minh shows her professionalism and worldly-wise statement through her commitment to Colgate.

(Minh’s facebook, 2012)

“Colgate’s people concentrate on core values: Care – Global Unity – Nonstop Improvement. Minh said, three values are a basis of business strategy since they reflect Colgate’s lifework. Due to these values, its people have grown with Colgate and this is also the reason why Minh has become expert in being Colgate’s brand manager.

Minh gave the case study of Y&R and presented her perspectives about client retention. “Y&R works for Colgate-Palmolive in 4 years; however, there was a campaign, Y&R failed to satisfy us seriously”, said Minh. The campaign presented new Colgate toothpaste in Vietnam market that had the same functions but better quality than a competitor P/S. It was anti tooth decay and gave consumers pure breath, firmer and whiter teeth. Y&R helped Colgate run the campaign and attract customers (Minh 2014).

The problem is mutual communication. Y&R did not understand a brief but no asking at all. No pro-activeness in getting client updated with the campaign that made Colgate feel no more as the client who is buying a service. Y&R dissatisfied Colgate by offering few options and unreasonable rationale for the campaign.  These facts resulted in Y&R’s unprofessionalism, damage to Colgate’s trust and bad reputation (Minh 2014). Y&R also had no understanding of client’s market and insights.

Development of Trust

“Y&R is our long-term partner but the failed campaign destroyed our trust”, said Minh. Sobel (2010) stated Trust is a critical key in client relationships. Client trusts in agency’s capability by doing creative work and everything said must be supported with accurate facts and figures. Product’s image satisfies client’s needs so as to make them trust the agency (Casul 2012).  Solomon (Chapter 3, 2008) asserted the agency must live the client’s brand by being open and seeking new information and insights. You only live your client’s brand when you have research on their brand and product’s insights. You see the brand as yourself that helps you understand it clearly. The way you love yourself is the way you love the brand!

To give and keep Promises  

“Colgate pays for Y&R but we feel we depend on them for helps” (Minh 2014). Lack of pro-activeness and no understanding of the brief caused this fact. Solomon (Chapter 6, 2008) stated the agency must take the brief seriously. It was Y&R’s failure in understanding the brief. A good brief is important to obtain great creative work; if you cannot make yourself an expert on client’s product, you fail to keep promises with them (Solomon, Chapter 9 2008). Deliver what you promise and do not promise what you cannot deliver (Casul 2012). Y&R’s bad performances resulted in no keeping promises with Colgate. No understanding the brief matters since you do not ask anything so we cannot support you; “it is a bad attitude towards your promise”, Minh’s viewpoint.

Quality-Price-Time Triumvirate Model

(Blackboard, 2012)

(Blackboard, 2012)

“Colgate pays a service but Y&R does not assure the quality” said Minh. Casul (2012) asserted the agency should educate clients on quality and price; however, Colgate did this task instead. Minh added, Colgate has to pay additional fees because we want to speed the process up. It is costly to get the quality fast; without additional fees, everything seems slow. “Although we pay fees, it still seems like we do not pay anything for the service” said Minh. This point argues with Casul’s view, you can neither get the work cheap nor fast and it is either not a good quality. Moreover, “you can get good work cheap but it takes a long time” (Casul 2012); Y&R case study pointed a serious problem not to get the work cheap, good and it was a long time, too.

Hence, differences are in comparing communication theories and practices. The problem arose from the agency’s bad performances. Thanks to Minh’s advice, I present recommendations in client retention. Y&R is excellent; however, its local agency fails to satisfy clients and face bad reputation. Solomon thought the agency must get the client involved in the process early (Chapter 18, 2008); the process will be better. The client feels happy because they do not work alone. Additionally, client’s observation helps the agency check the work’s quality. “Y&R should have been proactive in contacting with Colgate during the process”; “quality does matter and we want Y&R assure it for us” (Minh 2014). “Don’t hesitate to ask, this is a way keeping us updated”, shared Minh; “We are willing to answer the questions”. Asking questions makes sure you understand us and go on right track. Without interpreting the brief, it is impossible to start. It is a must to understand the client’s insights and market. Nevertheless, Y&R had little research on Colgate and got briefing wrong. You should live your client’s brand (Solomon 2008), feel it, love it as love yourself then you know to do the best work for your client.

Proof of life: Ms Minh and the author (taken by another person)

Proof of life: Ms Minh and the author (taken by another person)


Casul, M, 2012, “Lecture 2: The relationship marketing ladder”, Blackboard materials, pp. 4-6, viewed 5th May 2014.

Minh, P, 2014, Interview for Client Management assessment, 3rd May, 2014.

Sobel, A, 2010, “How strong is your client relationship?”, Blackboard materials, pp. 2-3, viewed 5th May 2014.

Solomon, R, 2008, The art of client service, KAPLAN, NY.



How to make your Clients happy?

Written by Do Hoang Duc Anh – s3411694 – G1 (SGS)

On a windy Tuesday night, in the cozy atmosphere of Hard Rock Café where seriously ‘scary’ business men and women gather for a usual networking event, I by chance met a young man in a nice black suit who could easily impress surrounding people with his bright smile. He is Bui Dang Khoa, an account manager of Etihad Airways (a premium airline that offers 5-star luxury service) who has more than five years of client-related working experience in the travel industry.


Figure 1. Reproduced from Hyat 2013.

Seeing him again for the second time, I planned to discuss in more details about how different account management could be between the two fields of travel and marketing. However, the conversation shifted quickly because in spite of the industrial differences, an account manager basically still has to take care of clients and be responsible for the company’s relationship with particular customers. We then ended up discussing the ways to keep clients happy and how to make them stay connected with the company. What I have learned after is so much more than what I expected.

“Dress nicely and remember to keep your Smile. Always.”

“Truth to be told, no one works in this field that does not have a nice-looking face”, Mr. Khoa stated. It is definitely an initial advantage for an account manager to obtain good first impression with the client. To him, we need to care about our appearance and make sure our everyday outfit is neat, comfortable and professional. Moreover, always remember to equip ourselves with a smile: “A smile is a salesman’s best friend”. It will make the atmosphere more relaxing and it is even easier for us to gain the client’s favorite status.

“Clients, believe me, they love to gossip.”

Clients are people after all. They like to talk to people with a wide-range of knowledge, especially in the topics of their interests. Therefore, in order to impress the clients and make them remember us, we need to know what they like and try to learn as much as we can about that subject. Mr. Khoa stated that we don’t need to become an expert on that field, just study enough to have a nice chit chat with them on the issue, like how great is the football match last night or the new cool way to score a nice goal in a Saturday golf game. This reminds me of the idea of ‘feeding our clients well’ proposed by Mr. Quoc Hung, the Media Director from Dentsu Vietnam. He also values the importance of relationship building between account manager and clients as we learn about their daily needs and what they actually like.

“People work with people, people don’t work with organization.”

Keeping close relationship with clients will be a great benefit for us. However, we have all learned that despite how close we are to the client, it will be unethical if we move to a new company, the account also moves with us (Solomon 2008, p. 95). Interestingly, neither agree nor disagree with the idea, Mr. Khoa just simply told me: “To me, it is a fair fight.” In his opinion, it is true we should make the client stay until they finish the contract. But when the contract between the company and the client is expired, that client then has the total freedom to choose who they want to work with next. “People work with people, and of course they prefer to work with whom they like”. In the end, it is a fair fight among sales-men, let the one with the better skills win, regardless it’s the fight against our former company.

Overall, from what I learned after the meeting, being an account manager is a true form of art. Different industry may have slightly different structures and requirements, but excellent account managers always need to be able to manage their clients effectively as well as make sure those clients receive the best service.


Figure 2. Proof of life, photo taken by the interviewee’s co-worker.

Word Count: 660


Casul, M 2012, ‘ClientAcVRet Part3:3’, video recording, viewed 31 March 2014,


Hyat, F 2013, ‘Etihad Airways in all Geared to Increase its Munich Route to Twice a Day’, image,, viewed 3rd May 2014, 


Solomon, R 2008, The Art of Client Service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, NY.


A game of smarts: Client versus or not versus agencies

Written by Nguyen Tran Huong Thao – s3411918 – G1 (SGS) 

Talking about the client – agency relationship, for the past three months, I have been exposed to lessons, information and stories from the agencies’ account side. ‘Every story should to be heard from both sides’, they say. Therefore, I decided to have a chat with Ms. Sohpie Lam, Marketing Coordinator and Commercial Academy at Mead Johnson Nutrition to see how it is like from the client site. With her background of 5-year experiences working in the Marketing and Commercial industry, what I have gained from the chat is totally worth it for my new try from the other site. For me, this is real a game of smarts when doing business between clients and agencies. 

Ms. Sophie Lam Commercial Academy at Mead Johnson Nutrition

Figure 1. Ms. Sophie Lam
Commercial Academy at Mead Johnson Nutrition Reproduced from Linkedin, 2014

1. They are on the same boat, but each has their own expertise

Client planning, according to Ms. Sophie Lam, is about having insights into launching products, making marketing strategies and product supporting programs. In other words, client planning people are navigators to lead the boat towards the land of brand equity and business objectives from beginning to the end of every product launching voyage, a.k.a campaign.

Agencies are sailors in this game with strategic promotion and execution plans. Each agency have their own expertise to lead the boat towards the destined harbor. For example, with Mead Johnson, Saatchi – Saatchi is chosen for a creative advertising and Awareness for their professional practice. Each agency has their own strength and contribution to the final brand and business objectives. What challenges Mead Johnson here is that how to get these puzzles smoothly combine together. Vice versa, what also challenges the agencies is how to make good collaboration with Mead Johnson as their client since differences in expertise may lead to different expectations and obstacles in a B2B relationship.

Therefore, the game is all about how to make ends meet from both sides: Mead Johnson and agencies, the client and the services, the navigators and the sailors. What makes this game special is that, if the crew cannot work well together, they already create storms and rains for themselves to suffer.

Figure 2. Produced by the author.

Figure 2. Produced by the author

2. Unwanted storms avoidance

So, back to the point where the conflicts can happen among the crew, normally, it starts with different expectations (Edmondson 2012). When being asked about this, Ms. Lam agreed: ‘Yes, it is important to have common expectations, or at least, mutual understanding between the client and the service providers (agencies) in order to achieve the goals that we are aiming to. Both have to respect and follow them as basic guidelines’ and the effective work is one of the most basic yet important expectation to be mutually defined and understood. From the client site, ‘effective work’ here includes timing, confidential information sensitivity and agencies’ ability to bring out the uniqueness of their client in comparison to other competitors.

Figure 3. Produced by the author.

Figure 3. Produced by the author.

‘Some agencies nowadays are too confident about their product that forget to look out for what their competitors are doing for our competitors. We know that sometimes we are such demanding client but your agencies are hired to bring out the best of our brand equity, being overconfident is dangerous that they will blind you from competitors. If we have inputs, or complaints, they are inputs to make us different. We might not be experts in your fields, but we understand our product’ – Ms. Lam shared.

This reminds me of Solomon and his statement on ‘live the Client’s Brand’ (Solomon, pp.8): Agencies should be the costumers of the client, to understand about their product as well and to make the breakthrough of positioning it in the market with expertise. This, in my agreement with Ramsey (2005), is the core idea of effective teamwork expectation between the client and the agencies: Complaints can be real good inputs and teachers to show us where to fix, how to understand the product right and to not pass by unnoticed mistakes. If we understand the product, we see where it should be as brand equity. By then, we know how to make it there. It is a collaborative game of the navigators and the sailors for a bon voyage to the destined harbor.

Proof of Life photo: Skype conversation taken by the author

Proof of Life photo: Skype conversation taken by the author

Word count: 660 words (not includes title and reference list)


Edminson, AC 2012, ‘Teamwork on the fly: How to master the new art of teaming’ in Spotlight on the Secrets of great team, Harvard Business Review, April, pp.3 – 10.

LinkedIn 2014, ‘Sophie Lam’, Profile image, LinkedIn, viewed on May 2, 2014, <;.

Ramsey, RD, 2005, ‘Handling Customer Complaints’, American Salesman, Vol. 50, Issue 10, pp.15 – 20.

Salomon, R 2008, The Art of Client Service, Kaplan Publishing, New York.

“Do more than is required”- exceeding the client’s expectation

Interviewed by Nguyen Anh Sang, s3449962, G1 (SGS)


The great thing about ”Do more than is required” is that it is always moving forward. When it is applied, the effectiveness of work will be pushed further. This is interesting because it is not only an ordinary thing to do but also an important point that people have to bear in mind when working with clients. Can you make the clients appreciate your skills, products or services? How can you make your clients happier than the day before?

To answer those questions, I had a chance to interview Nguyen Thien Lam, Account manager of Saigon Live Media. He had over 6 years experiences in this field and worked with many clients such as: Enchanter, Techcombank, Nutifood  and some agencies such as: My share, Dentsu and Satchii and so on. Thus, he is a live dictionary to learn many things from.

Why “Do more than is required” is so important in client management?

“I think that this ideal is a lodestar for everyone working with client. It’s simply because if you can accomplish your work and show more work to the client, it is the way to impress the client what you are capable of as well as set the bar so high that other competitor cannot duplicate the thing you do and the service you give”, Mr Lam said. Surprising clients by exceeding their expectation is a good way to ensure that they will come back in the future. He added.

Besides, he advised that showing what you know about the client’ needs or problems or the competitors will make your client amazed and believe that you will be able to do more than they require. According to Solomon (2008), before telling the client’ needs, tell them what you know . Thus, Lam’s advice is very useful for working with client.

How to exceed the client’s expectation?

“ The very first thing I do is inviting my client to the coffee shop. I want to create a friendly environment so that I can find more about their needs and do something that they won’t expect. Sometimes, their needs are impossible to serve. At that moment, just try to complete their plan.”

Figure 1: Reproduced from Ramesh (n.d.)

Figure 1: Reproduced from Ramesh (n.d.)

He also shared an experience to make clients” Wow”. He used to work with Enchanter which was a sponsor of a television program. After completing the client’s plan, he did something more by holding an event for Enchanter. After that event, more than fifty articles were written about Enchanter. Thus, his client was so happy and decided to give the sponsorship for six months, instead of three months as planned.

Moreover, he suggested that people should try to be an expert in their field in order to make clients happy. And when clients are happy, you will satisfy and maybe exceed their expectation.  It is simply because the more knowledge you have, the more professional you are when working with clients as it can save time for clients on looking things up. When you become an expert in your field, you are on the level which enhances and keeps a good relationship with clients (Casul 2014).

The final question I asked him is: “What certain attitude do you think that is needed when working with clients?”

“I am transparent, empathize and I am a good listener”. He quickly answered the question.

Figure 2: Mr Thien Lam, account manager of Saigon Live Media and me


Put yourself in the client’s shoes and ask: “How would I like to be treated? and then find out the most effective way to do that.” is the lesson I have learnt from the interviewee.


Word count: 590


Casul, M 2013, “Client Retention”, lecture inCOMM2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Vietnam, viewed 4 May 2014, Blackboard@RMIT

Ramesh, P n.d., image, Client’s expectation, n.d., viewed 4 May 2014,<;

Solomon, R 2008, “The art of client service”, Kaplan, New York




Author: Le Nguyen Phuong Anh – s3372974

Research has shown that retaining existing clients can bring higher profitability for an agency than trying to acquire potential ones (Hull 2013). A good partnership in long term is beneficial to both sides as it can enhance the efficiency of information exchange as well as the work effectiveness (Venetis & Ghauri 2004). In order word, client can achieve successful brand promotion (Waller 2004) while the agency can secure their accounts against competitors (Venetis & Ghauri 2004). However, convincing client to stay has never been easy. In order to have an insight into client retention, I met with Jimmy Hoang, Marketing Manager of Dunkin’ Donuts Vietnam. Although Jimmy has a lot of experience in account managing from his years of working as Account Executive for WPP in Singapore, our interview mainly focused on examining client’s perspectives on partnership and what are expected from the agency side.

In order to climb the relationship ladder and become a trusted partner, the most basic requirement for an agency is to deliver effective works that contribute to the success of client’s brand (Waller 2004). “We simply want something that can boost the brand’s popularity,” said Jimmy. However, fine works are not enough. “A lot of agencies out there have the same competence in creating impressive campaigns, so you have to have something else to offer.”  In order to achieve client satisfaction, agency needs to pay attention to other aspects of the relationship, especially communication and attitude.

Figure 1: The Relationship Ladder - Reproduced from Melanie Casul (2012)

Figure 1: The Relationship Ladder – Reproduced from Melanie Casul (2012)


“Many of the troubles arise from miscommunication, so both sides need to make sure in first place that their ideas are correctly communicated and understood by the others.” Good communication can minimize the chances of misunderstanding (Waller 2004). In order to satisfy client, an agency, first and foremost, must be able to listen to client’s concerns (Cleveland 2008). Also, keeping a good flow of information exchange is crucial in ensuring the smooth running of the promotional campaigns (Waller 2004). Ideally, the agency should contact the client frequently to inform them and to receive feedback about the planning and executing of the projects. If the brief is unclear of if the agency is confused about their roles, it is advised that they ask the client immediately for clarification. “It is better to clear all confusion in the beginning than to have troubles in the middle of the project.”  That way, the work efficiency, the quality of campaigns and also the relationship will be enhanced.

Figure 2: Reproduced from Dorothy 2013

Figure 2: Reproduced from Dorothy 2013


Besides communication, the agency’s attitude is important too. “Nobody likes to be ignored or taken for granted. Neither do we.”  When the relationship becomes stable and a certain level of trust is established, some agencies make a mistake of taking their existing clients less seriously and going after new ones. There is nothing wrong with acquiring new clients, but keeping current clients should not be neglected. Hull (2013) believes that the moment the client no longer feel appreciated is the moment the agency loses its account. The best advice for the agency is to “stay hungry” and show the clients that they are always important and their needs will be prioritized (Hull 2013). Agency personnel should engage with the client side, both professionally and interpersonally in order to maintain the partnership. Plus, checking up on the client’s satisfaction regularly can help agency to alter their retention tactics and protect the client-agency relationships (Cleveland 2008).

“At the end of the day, who would not want a partner that they can count on? If your client is satisfied, it is very likely that they will come back for the second time, the third time or even more.” The communication industry in Vietnam is growing tremendously in the last decade and more agencies are joining the market. Therefore, it is always better for an agency, especially the small and medium ones, to hang on to their existing sources of profits before expanding their list of clients.

Figure 3: Proof of life

Figure 3: Proof of life

Word count: 647


Cleveland, B 2008, ‘If only retaining clients were as easy as retaining water’, AdAge, 25 February, viewed 9 January 2014, <>

Hull, P 2013, ‘Don’t get lazy about your client relationships’, Forbes, 6 December, viewed 9 January 2014, <>

Venetis, K & Ghauri, P 2004, ‘Service quality and customer retention: building long-term relationships’, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 38, no.11-12, pp. 1577-1598.

Waller, D 2004, ‘Developing an account-management lifecycle for advertising agency-client relationships’, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 95-112.

Image references: 

Dorothy, TM 2013, ‘Simple communication Strategies to keep your client energized and engaged’, January 24, viewed 8 January 2014,

Melanie, C 2012, ‘Lecture 2: The Relationship Marketing Ladder’, course notes for COMM2385 CLIENT MANAGEMENT, RMIT University, Melbourne, viewed 9 September 2013, Blackboard@RMIT.

Company’s brand or… personal brand?

Author: Hoang Thi Tra My

Snumber: s3393385

To survive in business competitions, let alone thrive, you must sell personal branding first, and then company’s brand and services.

As you are a rookie with a small network of colleagues, clients and consumers, industry is a fierce battlefield for you. Thus, you need an exclusive weapon to defeat a thousand of enemies. It called personal branding. In the article “The brand called you”, Peter (1997) claims that personal branding describes who you are and make you different from your competitors. It is built by your own powers which are characteristics, intelligence and knowledge. Linking to client management, personal branding is often used as word – of – mouth sell to attract clients and make them remember you at the first meeting, then your company.

So, how do we practice personal branding in a right way? The question is solved in my interview with Ms. Phan, she friendly shares her own experience of building long – term relationships with client by applying personal branding.


Figure 1: Ms. Phan Bich Ngoc (left) . Photo taken by the author (2013)

Ms. Phan Bich Ngoc is a 16 – years – experienced sale managers in Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) – a science – led global Healthcare and Medicines Company (GSK 2013). Although it is reputed brand in the world, it appears in Vietnam for only 18 years. GSK needs to enhance the awareness of its brand among Vietnamese people through doctors. Therefore, her mission is to introduce GSK pharmaceuticals to Vietnamese doctors and build a strong relationship with them.

According to Payne et al (1998) (cited in Little & Marandi 2003), building client relationship is a process as we climb a ladder. This includes three major phases which are prospect, developing and establish. In developing phase, client managers will demonstrate the distinctive and needed products and its benefits to client (Little & Marandi 2003). This mostly depends on the quality of goods. In contrast, prospective phase need communication skills and personal branding to catch clients; and establish is to maintain the relationship by offering much higher rewards.

Agreeing with ladder concept, Ms. Phan states that establish is a main mission; but for her, prospect phase is most important to create a satisfied impression to client. “I think the most challenge is client catching. In the first meeting, I must ensure that I create interest and attraction when I sell who I am. This makes doctors intend to talk with me every next times. Therefore, I have chance to introduce pharmaceuticals and its advances” she said.

She continually shares her experiences to build strong relationships with client through personal branding.

You are the face of the company

In very early times, clients do not know about company’s brand or product quality; however, they know client managers who communicate with them firstly. So, managers’ performance represents their companies. If clients are lured by them, they will appreciate the companies. “Clients can like your voices, your characteristics or even your smile; so you have to maintain your image because you are the face of the company” Ms. Phan assumed. This tip is for prospect step.

Remember your clients are human beings

Going to the highest steps, the clients need higher rewards. Ms. Phan claims that the rewards may not necessarily profit; it can be care.  She explains that although GSK do not have much incentive for doctors, she concerns little things in their daily lives such as birthday cards and New Year messages. All of small care makes them be happy because they are human beings. As a result, to maintain a close relationship, client managers have to treat their clients as similar as their lovers.

(596 words)


GSK 2013, ‘Vietnam’, posted 6 August, viewed 30th December 2013, <>.

Little .E & Marandi .E 2003, Relationship marketing management, Thomson Learning, London.

Peters .T 1997, ‘The brand called you’, Fast Company, 31 August, viewed 30th December 2013, <>.

Phan, Bich Ngoc 2013, interview, 21st December 2013.

The Balancing Act: Walking the Service Excellence line

Source: The Rocas Chronicles @Wordpress

Source: The Rocas Chronicles @Wordpress

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 at the TBWA offices, HCMC.

Hanh Duong at the TBWA offices, HCMC.

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.

Source: Non Profit Chapin @Wordpress. © Seuss.

Source: Non Profit Chapin @Wordpress. © Seuss.

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!

Proof of life, Hanh Duong and Ellen Burgin at TBWA HCMC. Taken by Author.

Proof of life, Hanh Duong and Ellen Burgin at TBWA HCMC. Taken by Author.

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.

Wordcount: 1031.

Reference list.

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, <>

Finley, Jeff, 2010. Telling a client no, From GoMediaZine online. Viewed 4th September 2013. <>

Sobel, Andrew, 2010.  Andrew Sobel Advisors: How strong is your client relationship? From, 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.

What clients seek

“I understand most agencies have their own guidelines for dealing with clients. They tell their client managers how to speak, what gestures to make and what to say, etc. This is all perfectly reasonable because at the end of the day, they need to have their services approved by their clients. How else are they going to make ends meet? Unfortunately, from my point of view, things start to get quite repetitive after a while and it turns out most pitches are similar to a certain extent. This makes them predictable and, I don’t mean to be rude, also rather boring. Thus, the ideas and pitches that stand out is the winner. Naturally, they have to be of, at the very least, decent quality, but as a rule of thumb, I’d say if you can dazzle, you will most likely win.”

Figure 1. Ms. Chi Tran (right). Photo taken by author.

Figure 1. Ms. Chi Tran (left). Photo taken by author.

Figure 2. Colgate-Palmolive Logo. Reproduced from Career Builder Vietnam.

Ms. Chi Tran is a Human Resources (HR) Director at Colgate-Palmolive Vietnam (Colgate). The paragraph above is a small portion of her answer when I asked her  how she would recommend communication agencies to approach the pitching phrase and also how to deal with their client afterwards. As an HR Manager, Ms. Chi and her team has held many internal events for the company’s staff and employees. These events are usually not very large and although I initially assumed Colgate can plan and execute them by themselves, it turned out the company actually has been recruiting the services of many domestic communication agencies to assist them in making these events as special as possible for the staff and employees.

Figure 3. Made to Stick. Reproduced from Amazon.

Surprisingly, Ms. Chi mentioned the book Made to Stick (Heath & Heath 2007) as soon as I asked her for advice on how to communicate effectively with my future clients. As part of my studies in Client Management at RMIT, Made to Stick was used as a reference point on many aspects of the task of managing a client, or many clients for that matter. Although she recommended the book because it contains many valuable lessons, she disapproves of how many people seem to think of it as the go-to guide for professional communication behavior and etiquette. To a certain extent, the book can even be considered the definition of effective communication, but in no way is it universally applicable.

“Made to Stick isn’t actually unique. There was Tipping Point in 2000 and just recently there was Contagious. These books are reference points, not guidelines. It is a given that you would want to be, most ideally, in the service of large multinational companies and giant conglomerates when you graduate. Keep in mind, however, that your clients, the ones you will be interacting with for most of the time, are individuals. Yes, you can read all about how to deal with people and how to persuade or appeal to them, but at the end of the day, there is no sure-fire way to anticipate human reasoning and behavior, at least not that I’m aware of.”

Figure 4. The Tipping Point. Reproduced from Wikipedia.

Figure 5. Contagious. Reproduced from New York Times.

It would appear, then, that the success of these books has become the downfall of whoever sticks to them too closely. They are so widely read and their instructions so commonly applied that clients have become “immune” to them. So if not even the critically applauded and best-selling Made to Stick, its spiritual predecessor The Tipping Point (Gladwell 2000) as well as its spiritual successor Contagious (Berger 2013) can reliably provide a to-do list that can guarantee a high level of success, what can agencies in general and, more specifically, client managers do to be in sync with their clients?

“Just leave out all the rest and focus on the now and next.”

Ms. Chi’s biggest gripe with most agencies is that sometimes they tend to focus too much on brandishing their past accomplishments and do not pay enough attention to the details that will get them the contract. Past accomplishments, achievements and awards are great to look back upon at the end of a tiring work day, but they play no part in guaranteeing a high quality project in the present and future. A vivid example for this line of reasoning can be observed in professional sports in which a team winning the title the previous year does not necessarily mean they will repeat as champions the coming year. Ms. Chi humorously called agencies who focused too much on what they have achieved in the past “shiners” because they tend to “shine” their trophies instead of looking forward to acquiring new trophies. In other words, they spend their time presenting to her and her colleagues why they are qualified for the job but not why the project will be a success in their hands. And no company is willing to commit a budget to a project without a clear picture of what it will actually be like.

“Try to do the presentation at our pace, not yours and keep it steady. Drive slow.”

In psychology, there is a theoretical basis for several cognitive biases called naive realism (Ross & Ward 1995). The social cognitive bias that Ms. Chi is most concerned of is the Curse of Knowledge coined by Robin Hogarth (Camerer, Loewenstein & Weber 1989), according to which better-informed individuals have difficulty thinking about certain matters from the perspective of lesser-informed people. When giving presentations, it is important to determine how much the client know about the subject matter being discussed and walk them through all the details step by step. This might sound simple enough but in reality, it is anything but. Over the course of her career, Ms. Chi has not had much problems with this but she said some of her colleagues (she did not reveal their names and positions) can easily be put off by phrases such as “obviously” or “as everyone knows”. Beware of the Curse of Knowledge, she said, because while we communication abstract terms and jargons for granted, the uninitiated will only be hearing opaque phrases (Heath & Heath 2006).

“Be presentable. It’s not good if your presentation looks better than yourself.”

I’ve observed that the communication industry requires less stringent dress codes. However, as Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man” (Atkins 2012). True, what we wear affects how we perceive ourselves, and how others perceive us as well. As future client managers, we will one day be representing our entire agency as we should make ourselves look as appealing to the client’s eyes as possible. Many people mistake being well-dressed for being dressed in expensive clothes. Nothing can be further from the truth. A dress from NEM will look just as good as one from Margiela if the wearer knows how to adorn it.

Although our interview was brief, it contained much useful information. Ms. Chi did not gave me many suggestions to take into the workplace, she only gave me the most relevant ones. I will end this blog with another of her gems.

“You should dazzle your client by working with purpose. Don’t be fancy. Simply and truthfully show your client who you really are and what you can really do because if they cannot be convinced by the real you, all the fancy extras in the world will not help you succeed.”


Atkins, A 2012, “Clothes Make the Man”, Atkin’s Bookshelf, posted March 2012, viewed 5 September 2013,

Camerer, C, Loewenstein, G & Weber, M 1989, “The Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis”, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 97, No. 5, pp. 1232-1254.

Heath, C & Heath, D 2006, “The Curse of Knowledge”, Harvard Business Review, posted December 2006, viewed 5 September 2013,

Kakutani, M 2013, “Mapping Out the Path to Viral Fame”, New York Times, posted February 2013, viewed 5 September 2013,

Ross, L & Ward, A 1996, “Naive Realism in everyday life: Implications for social conflict and misunderstanding”, in T Brown, ES Reed & E Turiel (eds), Values and knowledge, Taylor & Francis, New Jersey, USA, pp. 103-105.


Berger, J 2013, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Simon & Schuster, New York, USA.

Gladwell, M 2000, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Little Brown, New York, USA.

Heath, C & Heath, D 2007, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Random House, New York, USA.

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