If you are in public relations, you are in the business of client service. Whether your client is internal stakeholders or the traditional clients we think of with PR agencies, we all must know and embrace the idea of providing exceptional service.
So, let’s talk about the number one rule of client service – stop thinking about it as just a service! Even the term client service is transactional. It seems cold and unfeeling; something we are doing just because we are paid to do it. If that’s how you think about the topic, you are probably in the wrong industry. At Coyne PR, we believe wholeheartedly that client service is about partnership. We are in partnership with our clients to deliver on a mutual set of objectives. More simply put (in case that didn’t sink in), we are working together toward the same goal.
It's easy to develop a healthy and happy relationship with your client partners, but just like any other relationship, it requires work. So, if you want to avoid a conscious uncoupling, there are a few core tenants on which you should focus.
Dedication: When your client is in the trenches, be there with them. You must know a client’s business and be willing to jump in, no matter the situation. Let’s be honest, no one wants to be on a crisis call at midnight, the client included, but when a food-borne illness strikes a restaurant in the middle of the COVID pandemic, a good partner will be on the line taking notes, asking questions and providing counsel, even if you are in your pajamas. When you are dedicated to a client’s business, they know you are there with them to help navigate any situation.
Consistency: Just like any partnership, the longer you are together, you learn what the other needs, and how they like to operate. While change can be exciting, you have to maintain a high level of consistency for a client partnership to truly work. Clients want to know that the people working on their business know their industry and care about their likes and dislikes. Whether it’s knowing what appetizers they like at happy hour or providing a launch scenario strategy document before they ask for it, consistent and familiar faces will ensure that all the key learnings from the past don’t go out the window. When you can anticipate a client’s needs you not only seem like a mind-reader, but it shows just how much you value the partnership and that you are willing to go above and beyond what they have asked for.
Leadership: Account leadership doesn’t just mean stepping in for strategy and creativity. It’s about keeping the pulse on the client relationship and knowing when a little extra love and attention is needed. You have to know whether a project can be managed beautifully by a junior staff member, or whether it’s a major announcement with intricate high-level aspects that requires multiple senior leaders. As the leader of a client partnership, you must make the decision that is right for both the client’s needs and budget and not let one outweigh the other. At the end of the day, our job is to ensure we do everything in our power to make every project and program a success.
Friendship: You can’t love a partner if you don’t like them. Be a nice human. Ask about their weekend, say happy birthday. Be their shoulder to lean on when they are under pressure from internal stakeholders and celebrate their big wins. Great partnerships aren’t built by saying “this won’t work”, “it’s not in the scope” or “I think you are wrong.” No one likes a friend, or a partner, who is always saying no. But you do like that friend who is fun to talk to and always seems to be a bridge, not a barrier. And once you have established a friendship, it’s easier to have honest conversations with one another. Here at Coyne we know, and readily admit, that just like with any relationship, a client partnership will have ups and downs. People make mistakes. Clients need to feel comfortable approaching us and having an honest discussion about what is going right and what isn’t. As a client partner, you have to put egos aside and listen with an open mind to provide solutions. Also, never forget that a simple I’m sorry can go a long way.
For an agency, the best compliment the account team can receive is that they are viewed as an extension of a client’s team. That means that we are providing the same level of service they strive to provide to their own stakeholders. If you have an us vs. them mentality when dealing with clients, you set all parties up for failure. So, if you find yourself in a client relationship that’s struggling, it’s probably time to think about how to reignite the spark. Show them why they fell in love with your team to begin with; prove that you are committed to the relationship… skip the promise ring but a big sparkly creative idea is a good place to start.
Jennifer DeNick is a senior VP at Coyne Public Relations.