I’m pretty sure most PR pros would agree, if there was 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.

And 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 overservice (raises hand), so you put a lot of extra time in there.

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

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

So, in the second post in our series of client service (see last week’s post on client onboarding, if you missed that), I’m not going to tell you anything new.

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

Let’s take a look at five client service activities YOU know you need to do, just probably aren’t.

1. You Only Have One Chance to Make a First Impression

Last week, I spent an entire post discussing the importance of client onboarding, so I’m just going to touch upon it here briefly as a reminder that it’s REALLY, REALLY, REALLY important.

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 a 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.

2. 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.

And we want them to love us.

Like heart eyes emoji type of love.

But unrealistic expectations only lead to disappointment.

Even if you are successful for your client, if you don’t live 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.
  • Have them be part of the process. Set an expectation that works for both of you.
  • Provide a timeline.
  • Set expectations verbally AND in writing.
  • 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.

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.

3. No One Likes a Yes Man

This one is straight forward, but PR pros ignore this rule over and over and over again.

Even when we know it will never end well.

Our job is NOT to be a “yes man” (used here as a gender-neutral representative phrase) for our clients.

Our job is to lead their communications programs in a strategic and forward-thinking way.

One 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 their strategy and goals, you are not doing the job they hired you to do.

Even if it’s something they want you to do.

Just like when you set expectations, you need to help your client understand why and refocus them in a productive direction.

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.

4. 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.

That’s human nature.

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.

They want to be experts.

And 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?


I also recommend the book The Power of Who to deep dive into the power of your networks of connections to help you achieve your goals.

Side note: Referrals (even if you are great at asking for them and your clients are great at giving them) don’t make a business development strategy alone for your business.

If it’s the sole line item of yours, read this: Cross Your Fingers Marketing: Why Hope Isn’t a Strategy.

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…


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.

5. Reporting

You know the BEST way to make your clients want to refer you to others?

Consistent reporting that helps them see how your work directly drives their goals.

This is also the best way to keep a client and grow them organically into a bigger client.

If you don’t have a client reporting process that does that, you need to fix that situation right now.

Luckily, we can help. Start by figuring out which PR metrics you should track.

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”.

Let’s make 2020 the year you transition to “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.

Do you have any client service tips? Share them in the comments!

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino