Laura Petrolino

Seven Things Successful Client Service Leaders Do

By: Laura Petrolino | February 15, 2016 | 

Seven Things Successful Client Service Leaders DoBy Laura Petrolino

This time of year the Internet is ablaze with “X things happy couples do” type articles.

These articles lay out important factors in successful relationships and marriages.

Much like customer retention strategies I discussed last week, similar guidelines can be given for another very important relationship in many of our lives—that with our clients.

Successful client service is a partnership.

It’s a relationship that’s formed based on business goals and deliverables, but really made successful through many of the same things which make any other relationship successful—trust, communication, respect, and a clear understanding of who your client is, how they think, and what they need to be successful.

Successful Client Service is About Relationships

While the list of things needed for a successful client service relationship really could be a thousand miles long, the following seven tenets lay a strong foundation for any client relationship to build upon.

Set Healthy Boundaries 

You should be there when your clients need you, but this doesn’t mean you need to be there 24/7. Every good relationship needs some time apart.

It’s important to set boundaries from the beginning of the relationship as to when, where, and how you will respond to communication. This is good for both you (you aren’t on call around the clock) and the client (they know when to expect communication will be returned and followed up on and what to do in case of an emergency—this provides them a sense of trust and comfort that communication will be returned in a timely manner).

The most important thing here is once you set a boundary, you must be consistent. So if you said any non-emergency email sent after 6:00 p.m. will be followed up on by noon the next day….then don’t email them a response at 8:00 that evening.

Otherwise, you’ll reset that expectation, regardless of what you said previously.

This is a really HARD one for me, since I almost always work at least a bit on weekday evenings (often finally getting to emails I wasn’t able to respond to during the day), so I use SendLater (thank Gini Dietrich for this find), which allows me to respond to emails while I have the time, but not re-set expectations (for when I don’t want to or can’t respond to an email after hours). 

Practice Self-Care

Along the same lines as boundaries, you must take care of yourself in every relationship.

In a client service role you are constantly taking care of the needs of others. You respond to clients, support your team, provide info to influencer and reporter, and assist and support in everything that goes on.

Most people in client service enjoy helping other people (hence why the role found you to start with), but that doesn’t mean you don’t need time to reboot as well.

I think of it as a recalibration. It can take many different forms, so find what works best for you and make it a task like any of the other ones you have on your client service to-do list.

Look at the Big Picture

While the day-to-day details are very important in client service and running a successful integrated marketing campaign, don’t get so stuck in the weeds you don’t constantly keep an eye on the big picture and overarching strategies and goals. Because client service leaders have so many demands on them on a daily basis it’s very easy to be constantly in triage mode.

And guess what happens when you are in triage mode?

It’s a vicious cycle and you never escape. There will always be another need, another demand, a fire that needs to be put out. Your desk will never be clean.

Learn to accept this, delegate where you can, and prioritize tasks that help move the big picture forward and help you escape a life lived in code blue (things such as project management, creating efficiencies, communication protocols, or better processes).

You will always have “reactive” tasks that you’ll need to take care of (they are kind of like rabbits), but try to realign your perspective and proportion of reactive tasks to proactive tasks.

When you find yourself doing more reactive tasks than you should, stop, take a step back and see how you might be able to change it to something more proactive.

The more you do this the fewer reactive tasks will be born (essentially “reactive rabbit” birth control).

Clearly Define “Emergency”

During the holidays when everyone got all worked up over the red holiday Starbucks cup, I told our team that, when presented with “emergencies,” before we react (see above section) we should  ask ourselves if it is a real emergency or a “red cup emergency.”

It’s very easy to fall into a constant cycle of first-world emergencies.

Instead spend less time responding to pseudo-emergencies, so we can be more successful for our clients and move closer to our goals by focusing on proactive tasks.

Now that said, if a client comes to you with what they perceive as an emergency you can’t just ignore them or dismiss it. It is an emergency to them and you need to be sensitive to that fact, understand why it is of concern, and talk them through the problem and the solution.

That’s part of being proactive—proactive in your response to your team, to your client, and to the situation itself.

Understand the Business

The whole business. Not just the communications department, but every part of the business:

  • What they do;
  • How they work together and all the elements that affect decisions;
  • The industry and the important players;

…..and so on and so on.

When we bring on a new client we put a lot of time and effort into learning every detail of the organization.

Every team member working on the account should know enough to be able to become part of the internal staff on a moment’s notice—and integrate just fine.

Because, we ARE part of the business. That’s what being a partner means—it can’t be silo-ed into communications only.

Obviously this takes time and effort and isn’t always easy, but when we look at proactive time spent, this investment is always worth it.

Understand the Personalities

Every client is different, works differently, is motivated differently, and has different needs.

While you need to understand the business as a whole, you must also very clearly understand the individual personalities you work with—otherwise you will always be trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole.

While we have certain protocol and efficiencies in place for all accounts that are similar, we work with every client slightly differently.

Because every client is different.

Take the time to learn about them as people vs. “clients,” and connect and communicate with them that way.


Quite simply, there must be a mutual respect between you and your client, as well as the rest of the team.

We’ve had situations where clients are great and very respectful to Gini or to me, but anytime they communicate with another team member they treated them in an unacceptable way.

That just doesn’t cut it.

Likewise, everyone on your team should treat the client with respect. Without mutual respect the relationship will never be successful.

Respect is the foundation everything else is built upon and should be one of your major priorities to establish, cultivate, and maintain.

Client Service Relationship Needs

This post was originally going to be 12 things, but 1,200 words later I choose the top seven that are most often overlooked.

So now I’ll turn it over to you.

What other client service relationship needs would you add to these seven?

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.