Excellent client service

Agencies sometimes get the concept of client service confused with maximising client profitability. They are linked from the perspective that happy clients are often spending clients but a good client service strategy shouldn’t unduly impinge or impact on your client relationship.

Clients can be confused and concerned about sudden changes in agreements, retainers, rates and personel so minimise any risk by putting in place a client service plan and then deliver against it.

1. Introduce Standard Agreements / Service Level Agreements for all new clients only, and roll them out gradually to existing clients of a certain size. SLAs are different to contracts (unless a retainer is involved) as they should talk more about service, responsiveness, policy and process.
2. Create tailored KPIs for each client (internal KPIs for the agency as well as KPIs you can share with the client to demonstrate your superior focus on measurement and their ROI). See my post in Principles on KPIs.
3. Create and then review a rate card of staff rates and include a transparent discount structure based on specific and quantifiable volume of work.
4. Evaluate and continually re-evaluate each client’s pricing based on the previous and predicted levels of support.
5. Produce rolling annualised internal plans, linking in to deliverable KPIs, with a quarterly focus.
6. Agree status reporting intervals and level of telephone and face to face contact with each client.
7. Provide transparent financial reporting and regular billing intervals. This helps to create more frequent billing where appropriate (to aid cash flow). Ensure invoices link to quotes and have all the right information to be quickly processed.
8. Working on a retainer basis provide long term security but often on reduced rates. Decide if retainers can work in your business and migrate larger clients to them.
9. Develop client optimisation plans (internal documents highlighting opportunity areas for each client) with the express aim of locking them in with additional and previously unused services.
10. Install effective, regular and added value customer relationship management with all clients & prospects (can be as simple or complicated as you choose).
11. Create a referral reward scheme and encourage referrals (this is the easiest way to secure new business).
12. Encourage trial & take up by providing a limited number of taster workshops, white papers, meetings.
13. Provide proactive reiews of clients, their business and challenges once a year.
14. Put in place a rigorous client feedback process right from first project, to six month and twelve month reviews, compiled in advance on both sides and discussed face-to-face.
15. Overhaul your website – bring in external support (most agencies are poor at managing their own site), add a client login area, add a blog that anyone can post to, and use social media to provide and promote incoming links.
Some small, some large, most relevant and at the heart of delivering excellent client service in the information age.

Principles of marketing 14: How to be a good client

As a marketer, there will be times when you’ll need to engage suppliers. Don’t sully your personal or company reputation by being a bad client.

As Seth Godin wrote on his blog http://sethgodin.typepad.com/sethsblog on 2 December, a client’s job is to foster innovation but not actually be innovative.

There is indeed a big difference between the two. Here’s my take on how to be a good client from fifteen years experience of working with good, bad and indifferent ones:

1. Write down what you want. Agency partners will go the extra mile for clients that are fair and know what they want. Don’t expect your agency to fathom what you want from a sketchy brief. This results in unclear ground, unchecked expectations and problems in your relationship.

2. Review and dumb down what you want, so what you get is categorically what you want. Nobody wants to spend time working on the wrong thing.

3. Make yourself available. Don’t assume you’ve done your bit in briefing. Good partners will have a ton of questions regardless of how thorough you think your brief is – and you should encourage it and answer them all.

4. Hire someone with a track record. If you can’t settle on one, select two but do the decent thing and give them both a paying gig so they have something to invest in. You’ll get better end deliverable. Agencies rightly despise pitches as a necessary evil giving time/resource and creative ideas away for free with no guarantee and no protection of their intellectual property.

5. Be prepared to pay the going rate, or a rate relative to the service, resource and value on offer.

6. Don’t make unreasonable ‘creatively stifling’ demands on your agency partner. Remember why you are outsourcing this specialist requirement in the first place.

7. Celebrate milestones throughout the course of the project and don’t just wait for the end result. Doing this brings the team closer together and encourages everyone to work harder and smarter.

8. Manage the internal communication of what you are doing externally. This ensures everyone from your sales teams right the way to the guys who answer the phones and make deliveries understand who you are, what you stand for and what you are trying to communicate. Too many companies fall at this critical hurdle.

9. Support your agency with recommendations, testimonials and referrals if they have done an excellent job for your brand, and personally for you. All good agencies work on the maxim of only being as good as their last job so this is very important to them.

10. Above all, be positive and enjoy what you’re creating.