Somewhere between my first job in marketing (at Anheuser Busch Advertising Services) and my last Account Service position (VP, Promotions and Events), I came across an 8×10 white sheet of paper titled “The Art of Client Service.” What followed was a list of “58 things every advertising and marketing professional should know.”
I hung it on the wall above my desk.
Today, it hangs above my desk at alpha | BRAVO. It occurred to me that this is the one thing I’ve carried through every agency, every doorway, every office along my journey. The advice is timeless. In fact, in our current era of customer experience, it feels more relevant than ever.
Here are our top 10 of those original 58 tips and what they mean to us here at a|B.
Client Service Tip #1: Agree on a strategy, a budget, and a schedule.
We never kick off a project until we have sign-off from the client on those three things. The first document a potential client receives is an estimate. The first document a new client receives is a timetable. And it’s only after we have a signature that we dive into strategy. This keeps everyone on the same page so that no work and no time is wasted. Presenting these documents shows your clients that you understand their time is valuable and sets a tone of mutual respect.
Client Service Tip #2: Always ask, “Does this advertising pass the ‘So What?’ test?”
Feel free to swap out ‘advertising’ with any word – still holds true.
Does this Content pass the so what test?
Does this Strategy pass the so what test?
Does this Visual pass the so what test?
As an agency, it’s our job to create something that the client can’t dream up on their own. If they can do it themselves, they don’t need us. So what? The goal is not to have them look at your content/creative/strategy and say, ‘that’ll work.” That’s so-what work. Your goal is to earn a “Wow!” That’ssolid work. Get after it.
Client Service Tip #3: Fight about the work with colleagues, fight for it with clients.
The planning, prepping, ideation, and creation stages are highly creative. And creatives have different visions, so there’s bound to be some friction. That’s okay. Work through it internally until it’s a perfect collaboration between strategy, writing and design. Once you’re ready to present it, you need to fight for what you’ve built. It’s now your job to make sure the client understands why you’ve created what you did. If they immediately don’t get it, don’t simply give in. Stand up for your work and your team. You’ve put in the sweat, make them understand why it’s great. If you can’t fight for it with your clients, it’s not worthy of them, or you.
Client Service Tip #4: Do not sell.
Oh, how this speaks to me. Oh, how it should speak to you. This is the lynchpin of every content marketing strategy. Of every blog post, social post, newsletter, e-book and infographic. Do. Not. Sell. Your job – and the content’s job – is to inform, entertain, advise, offer, help… you get the idea. You build trust. Trust builds loyalty. Loyalty drives sales.
Client Service Tip #5: Client presentations are as important as new business presentations.
It costs 5x more to land a new client than it does to keep an existing one, so why do we still put so much more time and effort into new business presentations? Landing a client doesn’t mean you’re done wooing them. If cheesy analogies help, marrying the bride shouldn’t mean you’re done wooing her. Every interaction with your client should remind them of why they hired you in the first place (ah yes, that’s why I married him!). So when you’re considering whether to go to the trouble of presenting those analytics vs. sending a PDF? Go to the trouble.
Client Service Tip #6: Listening is more important than talking.
More often than not, the smartest thing you can do is close your mouth and open your ears. We can’t begin to understand our client’s objectives and challenges unless we really listen – that includes absorbing what they write down, in a creative brief or in an email. And when we’re done listening and it’s our turn to talk? That’s when we start asking questions. I’m betting that you’ve heard, and maybe said, “there are no dumb questions!” at some point in your life. I’m also betting you’ve sat across from a client at some point in your career and nodded understanding when really, you didn’t fully understand, but didn’t want to speak up. That’s a rookie mistake. Asking questions not only shows that we care about getting it right, but the right questions asked at the right time help our clients understand what we’re digging for, and almost always lead to much greater insights that inform a stronger campaign.
Client Service Tip #7: In a high-tech world, be low-tech.
Technology has come quite a long way since The Art of Client Service was published in 2003. Today, we have access to hundreds of tech tools that make collaborating, coordinating and conversing with clients and teams fast and easy. But nothing beats face-to-face. We have the means to hold digital meetings with clients on the other side of the country – or the world for that matter. But you should still make time – and budget – for travel to meet face-to-face at least once a year.
Also? Put down your phone. Seriously, put it down.
Client Service Tip #8: Once a client, always a client.
LinkedIn makes this easier than ever. We stay virtually connected even when we’re not working together. You might have 800 connections, but only a few dozen active clients. The point is that we have the ability to stay in touch. alpha | BRAVO was born from the merging of two businesses: a5 Creative (Aaron’s company) + Smart Creative (my original freelance business). We’re proud of the fact that many of the same clients each of us we worked with 15+ years ago are with us today. These relationships ebb and flow over the years; people move on, companies are bought and sold, they merge and restructure. Modern business is not transactional. It’s based on building relationships that are mutually beneficial. Which is to say that while great work might win you business (or sell a product or service), a great relationship keeps it (another of the 58 rules).
Client Service Tip #9: Be brief, be bright, be gone.
Guys, this is important. Clients don’t have the time or the patience for ramblings, long explanations and wasted time. Look at it in terms of content: no one wants to read your five-paragraph intro. If there’s anything 15 years of professional writing has taught me, it’s that the first two paragraphs of the initial draft get the axe. Writers can be verbose. And that’s okay as part of the process – I call it “writing yourself in” to the topic. Just know that when I get ahold of my writers’ first draft I’m taking a machete to the first couple paragraphs. Same goes for presenting: If we can’t explain our strategy, concept, or USP in one sentence, we haven’t figured it out yet. Be razor sharp in your presentation. As they say in the world of Journalism: if it bleeds, it leads (I know, it’s horrible. But we believe in getting right to the point.)
Client Service Tip #10: No matter how social it becomes, never forget that it’s business.
While we abide by this rule, things have changed quite a bit since it was written back in 2003. Perhaps the original version was speaking to another smart business rule: the 2-drink maximum (the 3-martini lunch is dead for more than one reason). Today, social means more than just lunches or happy hours. When it comes to social media, there is a (not so) fine line between being yourself and creating a relatable, authentic voice for your brand. Know the difference. Also know your brand isn’t so much what you design it to be, but what your customers decide it is. We’ll amend this last rule with a caveat: No matter how professional your brand is, never forget that it must also be real.
No matter what industry you’re in, or what your role is, client service should be part of your job description. Over the years, this piece of paper has earned a few notations, some folds, tears and earmarks. It’s been passed around and copied countless times to share with colleagues, employees and interns. Today, I’m sharing the list on my wall with you. Download it here.