Successful client service is a partnership; one that is based on business goals and deliverables.
And, like any relationship, it relies on the same elements to succeed.
Things such as 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
The list of things needed for a successful client service relationship could be a thousand miles long.
Unfortunately, I only have this article and 1,000 or so words.
The following seven tenets lay a strong foundation for building any client relationship.
Set Healthy Boundaries
You should be there when your clients need you, but this doesn’t mean 24/7.
Every good relationship needs some time apart.
It’s important to set boundaries at the outset as to when, where, and how you will respond to communication and needs.
This is a good practice for both you and your client.
For you, so you don’t have to work or be on call 24/7.
For your client, so they have the comfort of expectation.
When you set boundaries and follow through on them, your client clearly knows when they’ll hear back from you and how to reach out in case of an emergency.
Knowing they will always be taken care of provides them with a sense of trust and comfort.
Set a boundary and then be ferociously consistent.
If you said any non-emergency email sent after 6:00 p.m. will be responded to by noon the next day, don’t email them a response at 8:00 p.m. that evening.
Otherwise, you’ll reset that expectation, regardless of what you previously said.
This is a really HARD one for most communicators.
By nature, we are people pleasers and we like to be needed.
We tend to over-serve and feel bad if we don’t respond to everything, all the time, instantly.
Stop. Drop. And do not respond.
You are NOT doing your client any favors by being an automated response system.
Set boundaries and stick to them.
Along the same lines as boundaries, you must take care of yourself in every relationship.
In a client service role, you constantly take care of the needs of others.
You respond to clients, support your team, provide info to influencers and reporters, and try to quench every fire that pops up.
And we all know there tend to be a lot of fires in our jobs.
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
The day-to-day details are very important to run a successful integrated marketing campaign.
But it’s important you don’t get so stuck in the weeds and lose track of the big picture, strategies, and goals.
Because client service leaders have so many demands, it’s easy to be in constant triage mode.
And guess what happens when you’re in triage mode?
It becomes a vicious cycle you can never escape.
There will always be another need, another demand, a fire that needs to be put out.
Your desk (or inbox) will never be clean.
Learn to accept this, delegate where you can, and prioritize tasks that help move the big picture forward.
You must stop living life as if everything’s a code blue.
Take the time to think through things such as project management, creating efficiencies, communication protocols, or better client service 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 the proportion of reactive 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”
In our world of #firstworldproblems, it is really easy to feel like EVERYTHING is an emergency.
In fact, sometimes we simply love getting all hopped up in the panic and thrill of problems that aren’t really problems at all.
I listened to a medical researcher on a podcast once who said we do this because we need to create reasons for cortisol elevations since we no longer have lions chasing us around the jungle.
As a client service leader, it is your job to take a step back and evaluate if a situation is really an emergency.
Normally, it’s not.
Aim to spend less time responding to pseudo-emergencies, so you can spend more time doing things that matter.
Then you can be more successful for your clients, move closer to your goals, and focus on proactive tasks.
That said, if a client comes to you with what they perceive is 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.
You must understand your client’s business, the industry they work in, everything about their world.
You are not an excellent communications pro if you are not an expert on all of your client’s businesses.
And I’m not just talking about the logistics of what they do and why they do it.
I’m also referring to the situational dynamics of the organization.
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.
This takes time and effort and isn’t always easy.
But it needs to be part of your client service protocol.
Understand the Individual 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, your ability to work effectively will always fall short.
While we have certain similar protocols and efficiencies in place for all accounts, we work with every client slightly differently.
Because every client is different.
Take the time to learn about them as people versus “clients.”
Connect and communicate with them as individual humans.
Earn and Give Respect
Quite simply, there must be 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 Dietrich or me, but anytime they communicate with another team member, they treat 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.
It must be one of your major priorities to establish, cultivate, and maintain.
Client Service Relationship Needs
This post was originally going to be 12 things. Then 1,300 words later …
So, I choose the top seven that are most often overlooked.
That means now I’ll turn it over to you.
What other client service relationship needs would you add to these seven?