“How do I keep my clients happy? Can you teach me some tricks?” That’s a question fresh-faced kids from top B-schools often ask senior executives.
To be fair, I would never call them tricks. Especially in a transformed agency. These are things that one needs to practise such that over time, they become second nature. Much like a Tendulkar would practise his straight drive or a Federer his forehand.
The client-agency relationship takes on an absolutely different hue in the advertising business. This is because one, the product that the agencies deliver is subjective and is dependent on the judgment of key client and account personnel. Two, the interaction between client and agency is at several levels. So, while the top people from the two sides may share a great equation, it can easily come to nought if niggles at the lower levels are not addressed in time. Three, and most important: Agencies lose business not because they couldn’t deliver on work, but because they couldn’t manage the relationship. So here are seven tips to keep the client happy:
Account management, not client-servicing
The first one requires management skills and forces you to think about account requirement, plan your deliverables. It instills a sense of ownership in you while interacting with colleagues and with the client. “Servicing” at times is mistaken as being servile. This feeling often leads to a dent in self-esteem or to a response mechanism which is aggressive. Unfortunately (or fortunately) clients pick up both the contexts with precision. Intuitively the client starts forming an impression about you even before you have delivered your first job. It almost always starts with what you feel about the job. I have seen young bright men and women often failing to realise their potential because their minds were not programmed right. The Secret: “Thoughts become things”. So do some homework with your thoughts.
Know your client’s problem – be a client
Know about the client’s business and understand his objective, anxiety and his happiness. Every client is unique with different binary codes. You can use a common sense approach to break the code. Observe. He/she is a human. He has specific codes (schools of thought) about your strategy, your creative, your agency and you. This may or may not match with your agency code. At Ogilvy, I was once told, “You got to be a fish in the ocean of consumers” if you really want an insight. Be a fish and dive deep into his water first. Even if it looks like troubled waters, he will treat you as a comrade for sharing his trouble. This lets you in, inside his comfort zone. If you are genuine, he will start diluting the wall of formality he has built before the agency. Over time, you will stop looking like a vendor and be a trusted colleague, even a friend.
Focus on client’s success
We are anxious to sell the campaign and the client is anxious to get the numbers. He is looking for an out-of-box solution for his marketing problem. We are looking to see the release of “this out-of-box” campaign. And the client is paying for it. That’s a little unfair. Professional integrity demands that we give him the return for his spend. Have the courage to break the clutter of conflicting points of view and stay focused on value creation for the client, who will then trust you with more investments.
Focus on value, stay away from cost anxiety
We are one of the few industries left in the world to follow cost plus revenue model. The reason stems from an earlier point. Cost is an emotion and not a figure. He cuts cost because he has not figured out which “50% of the advertising cost” is a waste. Also he is suspecting that the ad agency is sweet-talking and fleecing him in “Madison-avenue style”. He is cost obsessed when dealing with the agency. He does not do so while buying a technology, or while dealing with a consulting company. Do homework on value of activity and the opportunity cost of not doing the activity. He will come around if your homework is solid. He will pay your price if you give him his value.
Stay in touch; talk. Especially when there’s trouble
Conversation is critical; a lull in communication is a clear sign of impending doom. Even when there’s no work, call up, send a mail, forward some market information or a piece of marketing wisdom related to the client’s business. Or, just send a new idea even as you know that the client is never going to implement it. If there is a delay, call and inform. If something is about to become a disaster, warn in time. Last moment news is a sure-fire recipe for trouble.
Talk small, deliver big. Wouldn’t say more over here.
Be a war strategist, not a warrior
Learn to ignore little things that may seem unpleasant. You make an issue of small stuff, and the client sees you as a mean, difficult person. You turn a blind eye to these niggles, and the client may see you as a magnanimous guy, and will actually stand by you when big things need to be done.
And here’s the last tip. Knowledge does not bring wisdom. Practice probably does.
(Subrata Chakraborty is Managing Director, BrandCurry.)