Laura Petrolino

Four Client Service Processes You Know You Should Do, But Don’t

By: Laura Petrolino | August 14, 2017 | 
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Four Client Service Processes You Know You Should Do, But Don'tI’m pretty sure most PR pros would agree, if there were one thing you wish you could have more of in your job, it would be time (and maybe tropical vacations, but you still need time for that, right?).

If you made a list right now of all the things you should be doing, but don’t due to lack of time, it would probably be far and wide.

In fact, you might not even make it because you don’t have time.

As much as our jobs depend on client service, we sometimes don’t have time for that, either. 

I’m not talking about the actual work you do for clients.

Most of us waaaaay over service (raises hand), so you put a lot of time in there.

I’m talking about actual client service, the “customer service” side of client work.

And possibly THE most important part of what you do for clients (because it affects EVERYTHING else you do).

So, unlike most blog posts, I’m not going to tell you anything new.

Instead, we are going to talk about the monster in the closet: Things we know, but don’t do.

Let’s take a look at four client service activities YOU know you should be done, just probably aren’t.

You Only Have One Chance to Make a First Impression

You only have one chance to make a first impression, or so the saying goes.

So why do you not spend time and energy to create a reliable client onboarding process?

The beginning of the relationship is where you set the tone for how the entire relationship will go. Sure, things can change and adapt, but the effort needed to alter the pattern after that initial period is so much greater than if you had just taken the time to think through the process in the beginning.

There needs to be an internal process and an external process.

Expectations Equal Perceptions

As a profession, we need to do a better job setting expectations for our clients.

Those expectations aren’t always comfortable.

By nature, people who work in client service are people pleasers. We really, really, really want to achieve what our client wants, on the timeline they want.

But unrealistic expectations only lead to disappointment. Even if you are really successful for your client, if you aren’t living up to the unrealistic expectations you allowed them to maintain, you will never do a good enough job. Never.

Here what I’ve found works best when it comes to setting expectations:

  • Be honest, and explain why.
  • Provide a timeline.
  • Set expectations verbally AND in written form.
  • Consistently reinforce the expectations you’ve set (doing it once at the beginning will not work).
  • Ask them how they feel or their reaction to that timeline and goals.

That last one is key.

It’s when you can really talk through things with the client, understand where they are coming from, their fears around progress, and the things that are crucial for them to determine success.

No One Likes a Yes Man

This one is straight forward, but PR pros ignore this rule over and over and over again when they know it will never end well.

Our job is NOT to be a yes man (or woman) for our clients. Our job is to lead their communications programs in a strategic and forward thinking way, which best represents their brand, drives revenue, and sets them up for future growth and success.

When you do something for your client YOU KNOW is not aligned with the strategy and goals outlined, you are not doing the job they hired you to do.

Just like when you set expectations, you need to help your client understand why and refocus them in a productive direction. One where they can achieve the same ultimate goal, but do so in a way aligned with their strategy, brand, and morals.

Client service is not about being a yes man. Client service is about having your client’s best interest at heart and being a strategic advisor to help them achieve their goals.

Often this means you need to tell them things they do not want to hear. Often it means you say no.

Ask for Referrals

Stop cringing; I see you all cringing.

Some clients proactively refer you to everyone they know.

They love you, love working with you, and want to share their great experience with others.

Asking for referrals doesn’t have to be dirty or sleazy.

You’ll even find in most circumstances it makes your client happy to recommend you to someone else.

Don’t believe me?

Why are sites like Yelp so popular? Why do people spend the time to leave reviews on Amazon?

People LOVE to share insight with others. People want to be the experts.

Some clients will proactively refer you to everyone they know.

They love you, love working with you, and want to share their great experience with others.

Some clients won’t.

Not because they don’t love you as much as those who do refer business to you, but because they don’t think about it.

We hate to ask for referrals because so many people do it wrong.

It comes across as sleazy and careless, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Make it Personal

Every client is different, and you work closely enough with your yours to have had a good sense of how they best respond to things, and in turn, what makes sense to ask.

  • Some clients might not be the right fit for a direct referral ask, but would be fantastic for a case study or even a nice quote about your work with them.
  • Some clients have a clear network of colleagues who could find value in your work and are the type of personality that love to be connectors.

It all depends on the client and your relationship. A huge part of client service is understanding your client and who they are as people, so this shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Be Specific

Often clients don’t refer you because they don’t know who makes a great lead for you.

Be very specific in the type of referral that makes the most sense.

For example, instead of:

If you know anyone we could help, we’d be thrilled if you pass our name along

say:

If you know anyone who needs a XXX, we’d be thrilled if you pass our name along

or even better:

If you know somebody in the XX industry, who is in need of a XX, we’d be thrilled if you pass our name along.

Help them, help you.

Create Client Service Processes

The great thing about every one of these things is we can create a process around them, which can easily be followed by every team member.

The process turns these “things I should do, but don’t have time for,” into things “we do.”

Not only will that improve your client service. It will grow your business.

And give you some time back to focus on other things you know you should do, but often don’t…looking at you, business development.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks.

  • Kimberly Crossland

    YES! Guilt of all of this. The setting expectations one has always been a challenge because I want to serve clients (obvs), so I struggle to tell people no or put up a boundary. It feels aggressive, no matter how I deliver the message. But becoming a mom has forced me to change this and start learning how to establish better expectations (and thus, better perceptions). Tough to do but so worth it and important in the long run!

    Great post!

    • I’ve heard so many people talk about how motherhood has helped them in that way. So interesting, but it’s all about forced priorities.

      But boundaries are hard. I struggle with it every day. Client service people are by nature people pleasers, and so I think it’s a natural tendency we all have to watch.

  • Carol Ludtke Prigan

    Onboarding – my favorite topic! When you have a consistent process (internal and external), everything falls into place. This is the time so set proper expectations, to prep the client for referrals, and get the relationship off to a good start.

    • EXACTLY! And we’d love to have you write something for us about client onboarding, if you are ever interested Carol.

      • Carol Ludtke Prigan

        I’d love to, but I’m not in PR–if that matters. I work in real estate, and specifically in training and professional development. I teach agents how to “onboard” and “offboard” their clients, and I work on the onboarding and offboarding of our agents. I could give everyone a slightly different, but still relevant view of the process.

  • Liz Reusswig

    @laura_petrolino:disqus I really, really, really LOVE this post! Client service is definitely the backbone of the client relationship! And if it ultimately saves time, even better!

    • Yes! But it’s easy to put it on the backburner because it’s not a deliverable, per say. But it is an important part of ALL deliverables, so that view is very shortsighted.

  • I’ll stay with this: “Client service is not about being a yes man. Client service is about having your client’s best interest at heart and being a strategic advisor to help them achieve their goals. Often this means you need to tell them things they do not want to hear. Often it means you say no.”

    Great post, Laura!

    • As my bodybuilding coach tells me, “I’m not paid to tell you what you want to hear, I’m paid to tell you what you need to hear.”

  • RE: Being a “Yes” man only leads to trouble, but I get the sense a lot of clients still hire and fire agencies based on the fact the agency is not doing what they want done. I had one experience where the client asked me to put together a presentation for a product launch with autonomy, but he already knew what he wanted.

    • Yep, you are right. That’s an unfortunate fact. I do think a certain amount of negotiation and education can help a client come around, but there are some cases that they want hitmen, and not critical thinkers. Those simply aren’t our clients — from either a success or a professional integrity standpoint.

  • I’m a huge proponent of making it personal. Adrienne’s agency focuses on that as one of their differentiating points #wemakeitpersonal… treating each opportunity in the manner that fits that particular client, job, goal, is really important. They don’t want to feel like they’re being sliced and diced with a cookie cutter, and while templating and automating certain processes is important for scaling a business, that practice shouldn’t bleed into how you deal directly with clients and their needs.

    • Nope. Totally agreed. And process is what give you time to make it personal. When you create process for the way things work you spend less time dealing with the how and have more time for the who.

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