Good Client Service Never Outdated
In the 30+ years I have been a public relations practitioner, much has changed, initiated primarily by changes in technology. For example, my IBM Selectric typewriter was replaced by the laptop and iPAD; most mail, as well as telex and the messenger has been replaced by email; social media has changed how a company communicates with its publics, and mobile telephones have blurred the line between work and leisure time. The one thing that has remained constant however, is what I consider to be the top 10 tenets of good client service:
- Communicate with your client often – one of the things I have learned during my career, whether on the agency side serving external clients or the corporate side supporting internal clients, is the importance of having an open line of communication with your client that is used frequently. If a day goes by without having spoken, texted, emailed or otherwise communicated with them, then your relationship is in danger of heading south. Make sure your clients hear from you often.
- Flag potential problems before they become major issues – when I worked in corporate public relations, I always appreciated being made aware of potential negative situations even though in many cases, they turned out never to materialize. Those that did become larger issues were easier to react to because my agency partners made me aware of them beforehand and as such, it gave us the advantage of time to determine the best, most strategic course of action in response.
- Honesty is still the best policy – it is never a good idea to promise a client something that you may not be able to deliver. I realize that as a service industry, we always like to please the folks that are helping pay the bills, but telling a client you can do something without fully examining the pitfalls involved will only set you up for failure. And, while there are clients who only like to hear “we can” from their agency, they should realize that they retained their agency because of their expertise. A client who hires a public relations agency only to do what they are asked to do is wasting their money. I often use the following example to illustrate what I mean: if you went to the doctor and told he/she you want them to perform specific tests or prescribe specific medication and they immediately agree, how comfortable would you feel with this person? Would you feel they have your best interests at heart? Would you feel your care is their top priority? If you are like most people, the answer is probably no.
- Manage expectations – similar to the above point, managing expectations with a client is key to maintaining a successful relationship. If a client wants to go down a specific path and you believe there may be potential pitfalls to that course of action, it is your job as a public relations professional to help elucidate the pros as well as the cons. The best that can happen is that you will succeed. The worst that can happen is that a course of action leads to failure but the client was never made aware of the downside from the beginning.
- Know the industry your client works in – while I believe it is more important to hire someone who has a strong knowledge of public relations/communications and their ability to insightfully utilize these tools over their expertise in a particular industry (unless they have both), eventually, one MUST become an expert in their client’s industry. They must know the media that report on a particular industry, industry trade shows and conferences, key players, thought leaders…everything!
- Know/monitor the top 3 companies that compete with your client’s business – in addition to knowing the industry your client’s business is in, you must know about the top 3 companies that compete with your client for business. Establish a daily monitoring system to learn about news generated by these companies, such as new products/services, strategic partnerships, acquisitions, good/poor financial performance, etc. Understanding what your client’s competitors are doing will help you in developing the best communications strategy for them.
- Become your client’s personal news reporter – one of the great things about being a pr practitioner is the ability to quickly access all the news about a particular industry, including its key players. As it is a reporter’s job to gather and report the news, it is the role of a pr professional to make news available to your client that they find beneficial. Keeping clients updated daily on what’s happening in the industry gives them a competitive edge and in some cases, enables them to re-direct activities to counter what a competitor is doing.
- Become a valued member of your client’s team; not just a vendor – So often, I hear clients refer to the pr professionals they hire as “the agency.” While this simply may be the verbiage du jour, it may also mean something more significant in defining the relationship between client and agency. The fact is, anyone can be the agency, but those who the client considers their “partners” earn that respect. When a client lets you know that you are a part of their team, feel proud of that distinction but also realize that it takes constant good work to remain on the “A” team. Remember: you can accomplish more as a member of the team than you can as an outsider.
- Be strategic – work from a strategic rather than a tactical vantage point. Working strategically will take your client where they need to be and allow you to plan for the unexpected.
- Execute with Excellence – As Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan point out in their book, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” strategies often fail because they aren’t executed well. So, while it’s important to be strategic, the job doesn’t end there. They point out that “people think of execution as the tactical side of the business. That’s the first big mistake. Tactics are central to execution, but execution is not tactics. Execution is fundamental to strategy and has to shape it. No worthwhile strategy can be planned without taking into account the organization’s ability to execute it.”