Laura Petrolino

Four Skills for Successful Client Service Negotiations

By: Laura Petrolino | October 7, 2019 | 
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Four Skills for Successful Client Service NegotiationsI had originally planned on doing the second post in my series on professional ghosting today.

But a memory popped up on my Timehop that diverted me to address client service negotiations instead.

Look for more on what to do when a prospect ghosts you next week.

But right now, I have a tale of client service woe …

A parable of a client relationship gone wrong …

An epic narrative of broken dreams and destroyed hopes …

(OK, I’m being melodramatic … if only Gini Dietrich would let me install the background music plugin, this post would sound like a Univision Telenovela.)

Anyway, here’s the story.

How to Lose a Client …

A few years ago, we had a client who was working with a graphic design firm to do a big rebranding and visual refresh.

It was something the client wanted to do for a while, and their entire team was excited about finally having the funds to devote to it.

They spent countless hours internally thinking about what they wanted their new image to convey and we worked with them on the communications strategy to make sure everything aligned.

When they received the initial outlines from the design firm, they were less than impressed.

But they figured that was part of the process.

They worked with us to craft some extremely comprehensive feedback.

They followed up with the design firm and provided both the feedback and examples from other brands they really loved.

… Like Really Bomb a Client Relationship

When the next round came in, pretty much none of their feedback was included.

At this point, the chief marketing officer asked to sit down with the client manager at the design firm and talk through the disconnect.

He hoped an in-person meeting would allow him to translate their ideas better than through email.

While in the meeting, the chief executive officer of the firm came in unexpectedly (at least to our client; it was obvious the design firm had planned it).

She told our client he had no idea what he was talking about and that was why he didn’t appreciate their fantastic designs.

After a somewhat “civilly heated” discussion, in which our client was adamant about certain design elements being included, the chief executive officer threw her notebook across the table and stormed out of the room.

(I suppose as a statement of absolute exasperation.)

Client Service Is Your Product

Fast forward to a few days later.

The design firm sent another round of revisions, which were much more in line with the client’s vision and fairly good.

Unfortunately, the relationship was already destroyed.

Tainted by their poor client service experience, our client was unable to see any new designs, except through the shadow of their horrible experience.

The relationship AND product were both destroyed.

The moral of this story: client service is a fundamental part of the product you provide.

No matter how innovative, skillful, or downright awesometastically fabulous your work is, if your client service is poor, the client will never be able to see the work itself as separate from that negative shadow.

Product and service are never mutually exclusive.

This is not only true in service businesses like ours, but in every business.

And, most interestingly, while a good product will not help a client overlook bad client service, good client service can help make an average product acceptable.

(Not that I’m advocating average products.)

Good client service is:

  • The yeast to your bread
  • The water to your flower
  • The hips to your hula
  • The yo to your yo-yo

You get my point.

Negotiation, Compromise, and Client Service

However, standout client service is NOT just bowing to your client’s every demand.

It’s about creating a relationship of trust and leading your client down the best path based on your insight and expertise.

After all, that’s why they hired you in the first place.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to lead a client.

The example above highlights many angles of the “wrong”.

The art of negotiation and strategic compromise are two of the most important skills a client service professional can have.

Negotiation is NOT getting your way.

Nor is it about bulldozing your way through a situation in an aggressive (or passive-aggressive) manner.

Negotiation is about guiding.

A successful negotiation is always one where both parties walk away pleased with the outcome.

Successful Negotiation is Client-focused

Here are four important tenants of a successful client “negotiation” process:

  • The conversation should always be results-oriented: Often simply refocusing the client on goals and results (vs. emotion or preference) is the alpha and omega of any conflict of opinion. Your job is to help a client remain focused on their goals. Use your expertise, research, and knowledge to align tactics and strategies to those goals.
  • Facts vs. emotion or preference: Watch any political discussion on Facebook for a 101-level course of how not to negotiate. Why? They are based on soundbites and opinions vs. any type of logical fact.
  • Ego has no role: Negotiation is always about the client and their best interests. It’s not about you, your ego, or getting your way. Take the self-possessive words such as “I,” or “we” out of your messaging. If this leaves it meaningless, then you know you are relying on ego too much in your discussions.
  • Understand your client: I’ve discussed before the importance of communicating with your client on their level. We are communicators. Yet too often we don’t talk to a client in a way that best resonates with them and their needs or world view. Think of client service as a product, and your client as your target audience. We create “buyer personas” for each of our clients to help guide our communication with them.

Client Service is Your Number One Asset

Take the time to develop a strong client service operation in your organization.

Treat it like any other type of skill.

It should be the focus of professional development for all team members.

And you should invest in resources, tools, and people who continue to help you improve from a client service perspective.

Client service is not how you deliver or communicate your product, it is your product.

How would you describe your approach to client service? What have your biggest challenges and learning been? Share your answers in the comments.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community.