Gini Dietrich

Four Ways to Break the Overservice Habit

By: Gini Dietrich | September 11, 2012 | 
86

Today is the 11 year anniversary of 9/11 and the six year anniversary of Spin Sucks.

I’m not sure why we launched a new blog on the anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies our country has ever seen. Perhaps it was our way of healing; letting life go on.

There will be plenty of tributes and memorials written and produced today so we’re going to let life go on and talk about what we always do: Communications, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

Learning the Business

Many of you know in my “growing up” years of my career, I worked at¬†Fleishman-Hillard. My biggest account, at the time that I left, was¬†Ocean Spray. I led the team that launched their 100% Juices (from a PR perspective).

Part of our job included the¬†Art of the Ocean Spray Harvest, but it also included product sampling in several different cities. Why we didn’t hire a street team from a sister agency still¬†eludes¬†me to this day, but we didn’t. Instead,¬†Michael Stern¬†and I traveled the country, setting up tents, lugging boxes of juice around, and providing little cups of juice to hundreds of thousands of tourist.

I was super buff that year because those boxes were heavy. I also was very tan from being outside every day. We would leave on Thursday morning and fly home on Sunday nights…and then into the office on Monday mornings.

As you can imagine, being on the road like that was super expensive for the client. I’m pretty sure we wrote off close to $1 million in our time that summer because it wasn’t in the budget.

Overservicing Clients

Fast forward to my Rhea and Kaiser days when I ran the horticulture team for Bayer CropScience.

I was traveling with the client to vineyards and apple farms and potato farms during growing season. I was doing interviews with growers for a library of videos we were creating. I was gone from home. A lot. And I billed every minute of my time.

I remember the controller at R&K said to me one time, “How are you working 19 hours a day?” But, between flights and interviews and driving back and forth from airports to farms and dinners with clients, it was easily that many hours, if not more.

But we hadn’t budgeted for all of that time and so, when it came time for invoicing, we were always over. So I wrote the time off.

And Steve Rhea (rightfully so) freaked out.

You see, I’d been taught that overservicing was OK. So, when I went to an agency who didn’t even bill back meals to the client, that idea was so foreign to them, I spent many hours in the chief executive’s office trying to figure out how we were going to do what we said we’d do without my working 19 hours a day.

The Bad Habit

Now, as a business owner, it totally makes sense to me that you shouldn’t overservice clients. If you’re doing work with a client they’re not paying you to do, your time can’t be spent with clients who¬†are paying you. But, as an employee, you don’t really get it. You’re just doing your job and you’re getting paid so it’s not a concern.

By nature, communications professionals are people pleasers. We don’t like to say no.

But the funny thing about overservicing? You think you’re doing right by the client, but eventually it catches up and either you have to tell them you’ve been overservicing and they now need to pay you for time going forward or you lose the client because you stop overservicing in order to stay within budget.

Either way, you lose. The client loses.

And yet…

Staying On Track

An article in the Bulldog Reporter recently covered this issue. Kristin Jones, CEO of Wallop! OnDemand suggests three things (and I’ve added a fourth):

  1. Keep expectations in check by measurably defining deliverables. One of the things we do from proposal phase and then every month after beginning work with a client is clearly defining our deliverables. Sometime they change and that’s OK. But telling clients what they’ll get for the money they’re spending helps everyone stay on track and also helps you measure results.
  2. Track “goal vs. actual”results. For all of our clients, we keep a dashboard that shows the agreed upon goals for the year and where we are against them each month. It’s an easy way to not only track your results, but it keeps everything visible for the client so, if they ask you to do something outside of scope, you can say, “Sure, we’re happy to do that, but let’s take a look at the dashboard and see what we’ll need to move around to make that happen.” One of three things happens during that conversation: They change their minds and decide it’s not as important as they thought, you lose something you were going to work on, or you get more money to add it in.
  3. Give account managers support and training on how to manage budgets. We do a ton of internal training on this. All of our team leads track budgets against deliverables and goals every week. They’re incentivized based on realization, which means the time they spent that we were able to bill the client. For instance, if they have a $15,000 monthly budget and they spend $17,000 in time, they are only 88 percent realized. Twelve percent of their time could have been spent on another client so they’re docked for overservicing.
  4. Track actual time spent. While we stopped billing by the hour a few years ago, we do track our time internally. It’s the only way I know, as the business leader, how much capacity my team has to work with new clients, when it’s time to hire someone new, and how much it costs to do things. Without tracking time, I’d have to do it on a percentage of people’s salaries and, while that may work for some communications pros because it’s not hugely mathematical, it’s not how you should run a business.

It’s not an easy thing to do. We want to make our clients happy. We are, after all, in a service business. But if you set the correct expectations upfront, and track against them every month, you’ll have very happy clients and very happy bosses.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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86 Comments on "Four Ways to Break the Overservice Habit"

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nolamaven
nolamaven
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich Great post, Gini!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@nolamaven Thanks!

NancyNorde
NancyNorde
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich excellent post; hope people listen!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@NancyNorde I hope so too!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@amylizmartin My pleasure! Hope it helps

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@sophie180 We just want to please!

sophie180
sophie180
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich Making a liveable profit is the hardest part of the job. #PR

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@sophie180 As an employee, you don’t have to worry about it. As a business owner, you have to figure it out. Quickly.

sophie180
sophie180
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich It’s challenging as a young freelancer. Been taken advantage of a few times, but learned very quickly.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@sophie180 That’s how I learned, too! I guess that kind of experience is the best teacher.

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger
3 years 7 months ago
My business partner, Christine, and I were just talking about this yesterday! We have a tendency to do a lot of unpaid consulting and planning for clients – simply because we like helping people succeed. I totally agree, however, that it’s a slippery slope. Clients who’ve grown accustomed to the free strategy sessions aren’t going to be happy with an abrupt ending. I think the best thing to do as a business owner is to recognize when you’ve created an issue like this and take immediate steps to – at the very least – avoid starting the cycle with new… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@WScott_Steele Thank you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@jfouts Thanks Janet!

bdorman264
3 years 7 months ago
That model is very similar to ours as an insurance agency. We are both providing a service and who is going to pay me for my time.¬† ¬† The key for us is aligning with the ‘right’ customer and not just picking someone up because they could pay us a lot of money.¬† ¬† We actually have two models; one is commission based and whatever you pay us in premium a percentage of that is used to pay the agency. If there is enough commission that will allow us to provide the necessary services, then there is no problem. Not… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @bdorman264 You also get tan on the boat. Jerk.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@PhilGerb Your avatar cracks me up

PhilGerb
PhilGerb
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich as does yours :)

PhilGerb
PhilGerb
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich I just uploaded a new one. What do you think of it?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@PhilGerb LOL!! That one is awesome too!

PhilGerb
PhilGerb
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich thanks!

Shonali
3 years 7 months ago
Re: launching SS on 9/11… how were you to know, right? I mean, how was anyone to know? Re: over-servicing – this is one of the toughest things for any of us in this business to deal with, I think. Unless one has a client that has pretty big pockets, I think there is invariably going to be some level of over-servicing. The question is, how much is too much, right? I love #2; it’s something I’ve done/do, but I haven’t actually thought of it in terms of a dashboard. That would be super cool… but the caveat, I think,… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@Shonali¬†Yeah…I agree. That’s why it’s so important to get goals agreed to in the beginning. Maybe it’s a new campaign year or it’s a new client. But there are always opportunities to get it done the right way.

magriebler
magriebler
3 years 7 months ago
“Hi, my name is Marianne and I’m an over-server.” ¬† As someone in recovery from people-pleasing at work, I am struck by a simple truth I’ve learned the hard way. When we aim to make clients and bosses happy at all costs, we bake failure right into the equation. I especially love how you dock your teams for overservicing; that would have stopped me cold in my tracks because I would have seen how my colleagues were impacted by my behavior. Instead, I got rewarded and praised and kept right on going. The little engine that could. Ugh. ¬† We… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@magriebler¬†I had the same experience as you. I was rewarded at FH for working 16 hour days, six days a week. Big time. So it was a very hard habit to break. And it was hard to instill a different culture in my organization. And…I agree with you on crisis work. We have a client who had an employee shot while at work. I stepped on that at 11 p.m., worked all night, and didn’t bill them a dime. But the CEO knew what I did and has rewarded us 10 fold in additional business.

barrettrossie
3 years 7 months ago
¬†@magriebler¬†@ginidietrich¬†Great perspective from both of you. ¬† I have to use traditional advertising as my point of reference, maybe it applies to other businesses. ¬† I think you have to make a choice of what business you’re in, then find the compensation model that works. (Last week’s compensation discussion was fascinating to me!)¬† ¬† Two ad agencies, similar on the surface, may not be in the same business at all below the surface.¬† ¬† – Wieden+Kennedy (the Nike/Coke/Old Spice/Chrysler agency) chose from the beginning to be in the business of making the world’s best ads. Young creatives there work long… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @barrettrossie  @magriebler Very interesting, Barrett. I have to think on this some.

barrettrossie
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@magriebler¬†¬†@ginidietrich¬†It was a completely different business model driven by media commissions. So there’s not much comparison to what most people do now.¬†

sydcon_mktg
3 years 7 months ago
Over-serving, yes it happens here! When we hire a new programmer who came from a IT department doing company development they are used to working for all different departments doing anything requested and it didnt matter cause their salary covered their department work. ¬†Here we quote each job on specific specifications, so while the client may ask our programmers to do extra or they think of something that will enhance the job and make them the programmer look like a genius, over-servicing losses us money! ¬†We have to drill into their heads that if its not in the specified outline… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @sydcon_mktg Ug. The having to undo something you thought was a nice addition. That would kill me!

barrettrossie
3 years 7 months ago

Why didn’t you write this article 18 years ago when I really needed it? E-Myth stuff, for sure.¬†

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @barrettrossie I should have written that book!

RachelStrella
3 years 7 months ago

Wow, Gini! You’re right about communications folks being people pleasers. It’s a blessing and a curse (in this case, the latter). I had to fire my first client because of my mistake: over servicing! When it came time for me to charge what I thought I was worth, they walked all over me! It took me another 6 months before I cut the cord.

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@RachelStrella¬†It’s a hard lesson to learn, isn’t it?

RachelStrella
3 years 7 months ago

 @ginidietrich
 It sure is, Gini. Glad I learned it early on!

barrettrossie
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@RachelStrella¬†I just did something very similar Rachel. But lucky me, it was a short-term project. We walk a fine line between trust and professionalism. From now on I hope to err on the side of professionalism. (“Trust, but verify,” the man once said.)¬†

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @barrettrossie  @RachelStrella And asking for a PO upfront. :)

thejoshuawilner
3 years 7 months ago
It is not just communications. I think it is common for many people to try to over deliver on promises. It is admirable but there is a time and place for it. All clients deserve great service but some will abuse your time and if you aren’t careful they will come to expect that extra work as part of their package so if you don’t deliver it will be seen as you falling short and bite you in the butt. ¬† When you have to bill your own hours you become remarkably cognizant of where you spend your time and… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@thejoshuawilner¬†I have a friend who will set expectations so low that he overdelivers every time. While there is value in this, he also makes no money. And then he gripes and complains. I’ve gotten to the point that I just say, “You know the answer.”

BethMosher
BethMosher
3 years 7 months ago

Great article and a must-read for all in the agency business. While I’m out of that business now, we weren’t this thorough and I know we WAY overserviced clients. I’d be curious to hear what dashboard tool you use. Thanks for the article –¬†
 

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@BethMosher¬†We use QuickBooks to track most everything and then export it into Excel. Eventually we’ll have to get more sophisticated, but it works for our small business for now.

RebeccaTodd
3 years 7 months ago

Great post as always, G. This is a habit I have as well. I really don’t like saying no to my customers, because I really do enjoy helping them. But then I set myself up to fail- how can I possibly follow up on the 217 meetings I had in Australia while also planning my fall sales trips in Canada and California without working 19 hours a day, or sacrificing my level of service? Because I don’t work on the “billable hours” system, it is a little different for me. ¬†Anyone else in sales struggle with this?¬†

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@RebeccaTodd¬†I don’t know how you did all those meetings in Australia, let alone how you’re going to follow-up on all of them. You need a personal assistant!

RebeccaTodd
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@ginidietrich¬†I have been building the business case for just such a person…

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @RebeccaTodd Do I need to knock some sense into someone??

RebeccaTodd
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@ginidietrich¬†Hah indeed! I’m sure you can unearth some data to support my position?¬†

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @RebeccaTodd Heck yes I can!

DanielleDAli
DanielleDAli
3 years 7 months ago

@amarie5304 @spinsucks That IS a great post. My biggest takeaway is that you shortchange your clients in the long run when you overservice.

amarie5304
amarie5304
3 years 7 months ago

@DanielleDAli @spinsucks Indeed. It’s a difficult habit to break for sure. I’m also facsinated by the notion of NOT charging by the hour.

Jon Stow
3 years 7 months ago
This is a really valuable post, Gini. Thanks. It is very easy for us to confuse good customer service with overservice. Good customer service does involve communicating with the client before, during and after the project or assignment to make sure we are doing what they want and that they are happy with our delivery. We need to be accessible as necessary. ¬† What we don’t need to be doing is extra work they haven’t asked us for and for which we have not agreed a fee. We may make them very happy, but if they were already happy, how… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@Jon Stow¬†As I always tell my team…we can’t pay our mortgages with happy clients.¬†

WScott_Steele
WScott_Steele
3 years 7 months ago

@CarmelaAntolino Hi, buddy! How are you doing? Enjoying things?

CarmelaAntolino
CarmelaAntolino
3 years 7 months ago

@wscott_steele Hi friend! I am doing great – how are you? Yes, let’s! You tell me when :)

WScott_Steele
WScott_Steele
3 years 7 months ago

@CarmelaAntolino I’ll let you know ASAP! Top of my list for sure!

CarmelaAntolino
CarmelaAntolino
3 years 7 months ago

@wscott_steele I feel special :)

WScott_Steele
WScott_Steele
3 years 7 months ago

@CarmelaAntolino Let’s pick a date for drinks soon. I’ll have good idea of where I stand after the weekend.

HowieG
3 years 7 months ago
This is so true. And I think often this happens because 1] we often don’t have our pay tied to costs 2] We might not have other stuff to do (for various reasons), 3] Poor management leadership. ¬† Yes customer service and going above and beyond is great. But it can also be damaging to your business relationship with a client expecting this. I am dealing with this now with a client. Due to not having as much work she got way over serviced. But now that I have a lot of work she is still used to that level… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@HowieG¬†I think you can still go above and beyond without overservicing. I’d like to think we do it every day. But you do it in ways that help you build your relationship with the clients and in a way that helps them think differently about their businesses. It might be as simple as an article you think they’d find value in or paying for their lunch, without billing it back.

FocusedWords
FocusedWords
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@ginidietrich¬†¬†@HowieG¬†It’s a delicate balancing act but as my employees consist of “me”, it is one that I have to conquer. ¬†I tend to overservice out of fear of losing the business. ¬†My logical self tells me exactly what you have said Gini, overservicing is going to result in the client seeing my service as having less value. ¬†

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@FocusedWords¬†¬†@HowieG¬†Maybe think about it from this perspective: Could you take on one (or two) more client if you didn’t overservice the clients you did have? If the answer is yes, do it!

Remiliz
Remiliz
3 years 7 months ago

Gini, this is such a valuable post. Thank you for taking the overservice bull by the horns and suggesting actual solutions. I’ve been in countless unproductive discussions about the need to stop overservice without anyone actually answering the question, “OK…how?” Thank you a thousand times!

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@Remiliz¬†I’m sure you know this well. I remember those same conversations, “You have to stop doing this.” OK, but how? If you want me to travel with the client and to dine with them and be away from home, don’t you think we should budget for that?

SociallyGenius
3 years 7 months ago

Great points G-Money. You’re right, it’s a lose-lose because the over-coddling and people pleasing will become the expectation, not the exception.

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@SociallyGenius¬†Yes…and when it becomes the expectation, you can’t really back out of it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@MichaelBowers Did you do your event…or is it still later this week?

MichaelBowers
MichaelBowers
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich I’m in New Orleans now. Conf starts tomorrow. I’m speaking Thursday.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@MichaelBowers Oh good! You can have a hurricane tonight then.

MichaelBowers
MichaelBowers
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich I like the way you think :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@JmeSolis oh good! I’m glad to hear that

JmeSolis
JmeSolis
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich It’s just so true; the right “No” is powerful & can really help projects/relationships. “Yes” can sometimes muck up the works

Lorrienb2vz
Lorrienb2vz
3 years 7 months ago
eveypistorio
eveypistorio
3 years 7 months ago

@JamesWBreen :) Thanks for sharing!! Hope all is well with you!!

JamesWBreen
JamesWBreen
3 years 7 months ago

@eveypistorio Doing great, thanks! enjoying the extended summer weather

eveypistorio
eveypistorio
3 years 7 months ago

@JamesWBreen Glad to hear it :) I’m just relieved it’s no longer 100+ degrees anymore out here!

Tinu
3 years 7 months ago

Truth.

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

 @Tinu Amen.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@adamtoporek Morning!

adamtoporek
adamtoporek
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich Morning to you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@adamtoporek It’s no longer morning so ‚Ķ afternoon!

adamtoporek
adamtoporek
3 years 7 months ago

@ginidietrich But then again… maybe it’s time to say morning!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

@adamtoporek LOL!! Morning!

scottpropp
3 years 7 months ago

Kudos for taking on the monster under the bed. ¬†Now having been on both side of the corporate table, I really appreciate the need for clean expectations and outcomes that you detail in your four points. ¬†The¬†cumulative¬†effect of “banked” time creates unwelcome outcomes for both the accountable corporate lead as well as the contracted firm – someone always comes up short.

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@scottpropp¬†You’re right, Scott. Someone does always come up short and it hurts relationships.¬†

T60Productions
3 years 7 months ago

Just getting to this post now, and glad I did!  I tend to work like a madman and afterwards look up and see I spent way more time on things than anticipated.  I like the idea of tracking my hours internally.  
 
Time to focus more on this.
 
–Tony Gnau

ginidietrich
3 years 7 months ago

¬†@T60Productions¬†It’s really the only way to determine whether or not your prices are correct.

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3 years 2 months ago

[…] I have seen a lot of senior execs spend inordinate amounts of time on client work, to the point of¬†over-servicing¬†the client. Sometimes this is because the senior execs are genuinely committed to the client, so feel more […]

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[…] the term ‚Äúproblem client‚ÄĚ exists for a reason, and there are days when even the best clients can grate on that very last […]

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