Customer ExperienceBy Aly Saxe

I’ve not made any qualms about what my experience has been like since I went from running an agency to being the client of a handful of them.

I’m probably the worst client ever.

Every interaction I have with an agency I hold to the measuring stick of how I ran my PR agency, and then I get all control-freaky on some poor junior account executive.

And, um… I just got fired by one of the marketing agencies we work with.

I was THAT client.

And yes, we work with several. I believe strongly in areas of specialty, but that’s a topic for another day.

Today I want to get another deck of cards on the table.

Customer Service in PR

Let’s talk about customer service.

And I don’t mean just agencies—when you work in house you’re serving your brand as a client.

The service your team provides to your stakeholders (leadership, investors, board) is just as important as your performance, whether you’re brand-side or agency side.

So let’s do this.

How often do you tell clients you’re customer-focused? Don’t answer that. You OBVIOUSLY include something along those lines as part of your pitch.

How true is it?

You can define a successful PR team several ways, but one solid definition is a team that listens to clients and higher-ups, and provides what they need, when they need it.

It’s all well and good to talk about your media wins or the prestigious awards you’ve racked up.

Results are great.

Sales are great too.

So are strong media and industry relationships.

But the beating heart of your PR practice is your customer—their goals, their needs, their vision—and how you cater to each one uniquely.

You’re nodding your head in agreement and thinking, “Captain obvious over here. No wonder she got fired.” 

Hold Yourself Accountable

Let’s have an accountability moment.

Maybe you’re growing an agency and your team members don’t give account management quite as much care as you do?

Or perhaps you’ve inherited a big corporate comm team and you’re now discovering some bad habits that formed before your tenure?

Any of this sound familiar?

Consider a CEI Survey that says 86 percent of clients will pay more for a better customer experience, while only one percent think vendors consistently meet their expectations.

One. Freaking. Percent.

It’s easy to recite numbers and focus on the objectives in the statement of work, but the reality is that emotion drives business decisions more than logic.

Sixty-five percent of B2B executives openly admitted this in one survey.

Attend any sales training course and the first thing you’ll learn is that buying decisions are emotional.

When it comes time for your review, to renew retainers, or increase budget, your clients or your boss are going to spend some time considering how they feel about working with you, as much as they think about your performance.

I made the painful decision once to cut loose a vendor who was delivering stellar performance, but their account management was so deplorable no amount of website traffic was worth the bruises on my forehead.

The truth is, your relationships with clients, leaders, and bosses will evolve over time as their needs evolve.

The best way to stay customer-centric is to make an effort to think like your clients and stakeholders, and mold yourself accordingly—from the analytics you monitor to your methods of communication.

This is much easier for the in-house PR pro, but agencies can and should aim for this.

Four Ways to Think Like Your Clients

Consider these four practices as a guide.

  1. Identify the real customer. No, the real one. Let’s say you’re part of an in-house communications team, and you feel pretty confident that you’re satisfying your leadership, thanks to glowing feedback. Yet one day you hear that someone at the top isn’t quite as satisfied as you assumed. That pesky board member, right? You know the one. They have a friend who’s a PR genius who they’d love to bring in “just for an audit.” Make an effort to find out everyone you’re serving, as this knowledge will serve you. Can you make them all happy? No, but you may be able to identify a vulnerability early and triage it before it’s too late.
  2. Don’t wait to be told what to do. You could be waiting a long time. Not every client will know how to give you direction, especially if they’ve been tasked with managing PR, but have never actually done it. So you need to a) not assume, b) be proactive with recommendations, and c) make sure they truly understand what you’re recommending. No industry lingo, K? Go beyond the day-to-day PR tactics here. What is your brand or client trying to accomplish this quarter? This year? How can you help achieve that?
  3. Listen for what they don’t say. Clients and bosses can’t always articulate what they want or need. Shocking, I know. They might ask for a news release when what they really want is blog post. (Side note: Does it drive anyone else nuts that “news release” seems to be the catch-all term non-PR pros use for all pieces of content related to PR? Anyhoo.) Another, more vague example: Instead of saying, “I want to see customers talking about our new product on social media channels,” they’ll say, “I want more brand visibility.” Make an effort to get clarity on what they’re asking for and come back to them with actionable solutions.
  4. Find the common good and make it the standard. There are certain things that will set off every client, every stakeholder, every time. Not having answers on the spot, focusing on hours instead of results, making them repeat themselves to every person on your team—these sorts of shenanigans.

Establish New Processes, if That’s What it Takes

On the flipside, there are certain things that make the people you work for feel confident about their decision to invest in you or your agency.

These would include quick response times, bringing them solutions instead of just problems, you get the idea.

Find the things that tick off many clients and train your team to avoid them at all costs.

This might mean establishing new processes.

So be it.

Then find the things that make clients send you a bucket of popcorn just to say thanks—and make them the norm across the board.

Again, new processes may be in order.

That’s okay, we’re an evolving species.

We can handle change. 

Consider the stakeholder experience as the North Star of your strategy.

Your resource allocations, workflow processes, and, most importantly, your level of communication should all be mapped to meeting that need in the client.

Make sure your reports convey what customers actually want to know, not just what you think they want to know.

Have the right people with the right answers in meetings.

ABC: Always Be Customer-Centric

You can’t deliver a customer-centric experience until you close every gap possible to deliver swift, expert, and meaningful service.

Does all of this take some effort?


Does that effort pay off?

Heck, yes.

Be the one percent and you’ll never have to prospect again.

And if you end up on my agency roster, I promise to try not to get fired.

image credit: Shutterstock

Aly Saxe

Aly Saxe is the founder and CEO of Iris, software for agencies and in-house PR teams. She founded Ubiquity Public Relations, an agency representing high-growth B2B tech startups, in 2007.

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