Client Service – Deliver What They Don’t Know They Want

The other day one of our clients asked us for something that was relatively easy to do - something that we could have handled with a quick email response without even knowing why the client needed the information. But I tend to be nosey, so I asked. The client contact needed the information to share with superiors to show the success of a recent campaign. So, we had a choice – we could have simply delivered what was asked of us, or we could think about this further and deliver something that they did not even know they wanted - or didn’t realize they could even ask for – but that would provide greater value than expected.

We ended up delivering a document that, although it did not take much longer to produce than the original request, put the information in clear context for the client in a way that they could see not only the success of the recent campaign, but also its relation to other campaigns. We knew that this would be more beneficial and would make our client contact look good in the eyes of superiors, so we took the longer road.

I started really thinking about this and wondering how often I do this, or how often I push my teams to do this. Are we delivering what they ask for, or are we thinking about what they really need? Are we checking off tasks on our list, or are we thoughtfully delivering information in ways that will make our clients more successful?

Because, quite honestly, going the extra step on this one felt good – it wasn’t a huge deal, but it was actually kind of fun. I liked the idea of delivering a surprise to the client – giving them what they asked for plus a little bit more. And it made me think twice about how we can present what we do in a more meaningful way.

When you do a job for a long time, certain tasks can become routine or mundane, and it’s easy to just check things off. But when clients give us references or talk about us, I want them to say that we didn’t treat anything as “routine” – that we were always thinking ahead, differently and creatively. I am very proud that we have a staff here that keeps me on my toes, challenges me to do better and who aren’t afraid to push me, even when I’m the boss.

To keep us all fresh, I want to make sure I challenge myself and my teams constantly and always ask – are we just checking off boxes, or are we giving our clients everything we have? Let’s strive every day to deliver what they don’t yet know they want.

What is Value? It Depends on Who You Ask

The word value might seem like a straight forward term but in
reality, it’s very subjective. Those of us in the PR agency business
can appreciate this as we balance multiple clients and work hard every
day to provide value to them - which can be, and often is, very
different from client to client. You  may experience this in your own
job if you’re a part of a larger division or company where multiple
decision makers need to see what you do every day as valuable. As you
look up the hierarchy, what constitutes as value can differ from layer
to layer, person to person. So how do you ensure that you are providing
the best value you can - and to the right people (the ones that
ultimately make the decision on your job, your future, your daily work

when you do figure out what each person in the decision tree sees as
valuable, it can change. For example, often times PR agencies are
replaced when a new addition  - usually a VP or Director of Marketing -
is hired by a client. Alternately, you may get a new boss who has been
assigned to come in and “shake things up.” Although you may have met
all of the objectives of value for your previous contact, the new one
will hold you to their own standards of value and ROI. If someone’s
been assigned to come in and do more than fill some shoes - but rather,
make change and find problems - they will be looking very carefully at
everything you do. And while a more experienced person wouldn’t make
sweeping changes without first truly understanding what needed to be
fixed - and wouldn’t make changes just for the sake of making changes -
often times no matter how hard you’ve worked or how many goals you
previously met, they just won’t meet the new boss’s expectations of
value and your job will change (or, worst case scenario, be eliminated).

So what can you do to ensure you are always adding value to the
myriad of decision makers in your work life? First - and most obvious -
is to communicate. Sit down with each person who is responsible for
providing input or making decisions about your job (or firm) and ask
them, “How do you define value?” and “What can I do to be more valuable
to you on a daily basis.?” More importantly, be ready to express some
of your own ideas on how you have provided value in the past - tie it
to specific ROI such as sales, customer retention or effective company
policies. Secondly, don’t stop asking. Do this often and repeat. Change
happens in the corporate world at a rapid pace (or sometimes, a snail’s
pace… which can mean you’re thinking and acting before your company
or client is ready) and you need to have your pulse on the pace. Tie
your performance to previous discussions and outlines of value provided
to you by your former client contact or boss - and ensure that they
clearly correlate “This is what I was told was valuable and needed;
here’s how I achieved it.” Next, ask questions - “If this value is no
longer important, what is? What changes are you making and why - I want
to understand so I can also make the appropriate changes and continue
to deliver the right value to this organization.”

The bottom line - don’t assume you know what’s valuable in the minds
of all decision makers. It takes constant communication, consistent
measurement of your own performance (don’t just rely on others to do
this for you) and a certain tact for tooting your own horn to ensure
that your value is clear to all decision makers. Don’t leave it up to
others to communicate how valuable you are - and don’t ever look at it
as a job that’s complete.

How do you ensure that  you understand the value expected of your
agency or your position, and how do you juggle the expectations of
multiple audiences?


Persuasive Picks for the week of 04/12/10

lifestream-icons Social Media Marketing Overload? Some Tips for Startups
This post by Audrey Watters in ReadWriteWeb’s “ReadWriteStart Channel” provides 4 solid tips to help businesses avoid being overwhelmed when first engaging in social media.

4 Reasons Why PR Agencies Are Taking Over Social Media
Jason Keath provides great food for thought in this post that provides four concrete reasons why PR will eventually rule the social media space for big brands and of course, we have to agree!

How web analytics can help you avoid a PR disaster
Eran Savir, co-founder and VP business development at Kampyle, explains the importance of pursuing and maintaining a high level of customer service and interaction in the online space.

The Engaged User: Bridging Your Web Site And Social Networks
JanRain CEO, Brian Kissel expands on the importance of ensuring there’s a strong bridge between your online social presence and your corporate website that can enable users to become strong proponents of your products, services and content.

Hubspot’s Foursquare Cops
Hubspot’s new video spoof of the TV show “Cops” made its debut this week and is definitely worth a watch.

It’s a Two-Way Street - 12 Questions to Ask A Potential PR or Social Marketing Client

I had a great meeting today with a business magazine publisher. A few things that he said to me during the meeting fell in line with this blog post that I had been planning for a while. Some of his comments included:

“You’re a great listener.”

“You don’t have that usual PR persona.”

“You are think and care about a lot more angles of business than I expected you to.”

I consider these compliments - and testaments to the way we approach not just business, but new business meetings. I’ve never been the PR person who sits at the conference table trying to out-talk the rest of the room. Some folks have commented that I seem a bit quiet, actually, for a PR executive - and you know why? I’m busy listening. I believe actions speak louder than words, and in order to prove our abilities, we need to listen first to align our actions later.

Listening is important - I’ve written about that plenty of times, especially as it pertains to branding, messaging and social marketing. However, as a PR or social media agency, you must first think about how you listen when approached by a prospective client. I’m always surprised when prospects say, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that - good question.” So, in my humble opinion, here are twelve questions that any PR executive or agency should be asking a prospective client in order to understand their business and marketing needs, deliver a great proposal and determine if this is a company that you want to work with (remember, like any relationship, it’s a two-way street):

  1. Why are you looking for a new PR/social marketing partner?
  2. What has your history been in working with a PR/social media firm (or consultant)?
  3. What do you want to accomplish?
  4. How will you measure our success?
  5. What are your benchmark metrics?
  6. What other types of marketing do you do now or plan to do in the future?
  7. What has been your  most successful marketing effort to-date?
  8. Your least?
  9. Why did you join this company?
  10. If you could read one headline about your company today, what would it say - and where would it be?
  11. What are your top three business goals this year? Five years from now?
  12. How do you define “PR” (or, alternately, social media)?

Of course, these are just a few of the questions that we run through during initial interviews with prospects, but they are helpful in digging deeper and gauging how well a company knows who they are, where they are, who and where they want to be, and how they plan to get there. And, what they anticipate our role to be in doing so.

How do you determine what a prospect needs and if they are a potential fit for you as a client? Are you willing to share some of your best questions?

As always, thanks for reading!


When to fire a client

In a recent new business meeting, the prospect asked us if we’ve ever ended a relationship with a client by our own choice. While this may be a bit of a taboo subject - why in the world would an agency fire a client - the fact of the matter is that good agencies recognize when a relationship isn’t right on their end as well, and take steps to correct it. When those steps don’t work, sometimes breaking up is the only thing to do. So what are the reasons one might choose to end a client relationship and give up potential revenue? I’ve listed a few below. Remember - especially if you’re the boss - protecting your reputation, your staff and your ethics are priceless.

  1. Unrealistic expectations. You’ve heard this time and time again. Yes, clients have every right to be demanding and to push for the best possible results. But when the CEO insists that not only should he be on the cover of Fortune Magazine, but his wife (who works in a completely separate company) should be with him as well (profile of a “super couple”), let the red flags fly. One might even think this CEO is joking but alas, when he is not - and six months later when he berates your team for “not knowing the right people,” (even though you’ve secured coverage for his company in USA Today, MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal and more), because he is still not profiled on the cover of Fortune with his lovely wife, it’s time to consider that pleasing this client may never happen. Sometimes you have to know when to stand up from the game and walk away.
  2. Abuse of your staff. This may sound dramatic, but it’s not uncommon. When a client contact treats your staff in a way that you would never tolerate internally, you have to address the situation and demand respect for your people. No one should ever have to tolerate verbal abuse, sexual harassment or demeaning situations - and it’s up to you as a leader to ensure their safety and comfort. If a client consistently crosses the line, it’s time for you to cut the cord. Like a parent, encourage your staff to open up and tell you whenever an uncomfortable situation arises. They need to know when it’s okay to push back - and that you would never expect them to tolerate inappropriate behavior.
  3. Sudden change in metrics - without the accompanying change in resources. Any good PR agency is flexible and smart enough to alter strategies when a client’s company goals change. But when a client insists on adding five new programs and increasing metrics two-fold, with no additional resources (read: budget) provided, you have to reassess the situation. Often, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and sometimes clients take that approach in requsting additional work under the same budget. While to some degree this can be tolerated, when significant changes are made and the expectations for your team to crank out results are not given the proper support, you have to assess whether or not the relationship is still returning value to your agency. Sometimes accounts simply become non-profitable. No one can run a successful business giving away free work. Talk to your client and explain that additional resources are required, or changes to the existing program need to be made in order to meet their new metrics. Most times, clients will understand and you can find a mutually-beneficial resolution. But if you can’t, be prepared to walk away and allocate that team to a more profitable prospect.
  4. Consistently late payments - or lack thereof. Every now and then a client has a reason that a payment arrives late - and the respectful ones will tell you about this glitch before you have to ask. But if you have a client who continually forgets to pay their invoices, or worse, hasn’t paid in over 30 days, you need to change course. Times are tough for every business, but just because you’re in client service doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate non-payment. If a client can’t keep their commitments to you, you should evaluate if this is a “healthy” relationship for your agency - and the future of your business.

Ultimately, although we are in the client service business, it’s important to remember that it’s a client relationship. And the best relationships must involve mutual respect and admiration. It’s up to you to ensure those elements exist on both sides of the coin - so don’t be afraid to speak up when something’s not working, and to walk away if it seems beyond repair.

Have you ever fired a client? Why or why not?