Many books have been written about customer service. If you want insight into large-scale customer-facing operations, stop reading now. My experiences are about the personal side: reading clients’ levels of satisfaction – or otherwise; spotting problems; building relationships; knowing where to draw the lines.
Above all, client service is about time and attention. The more time you’re able to devote to getting to know the key people, listening to them, reading the pressures that they’re under, and how their success is measured, the better service you’re likely to give.
Many of our clients are large. Inevitably, such organizations have their own politics: new people come in, others leave, market and economic factors impinge.
As a supplier, you have to be aware how external pressures create trickle-down effects. These aren’t always about budgets (suppliers can obsess about this). Often the big pressure on large client-organisations is about their own ROI, how they are delivering great service. This is where you, as the supplier, come in. If you know how their success is measured, you can help them demonstrate it – internally and externally.
This is a major one for us, where our clients are primarily in the marketing functions. We need to help our clients to show that they are doing a good job for their organization. That could be about helping them achieve PR, positive messages around a key theme, new customer engagement, reinforcing relationships with their own key customers, the list goes on.
We also need to help our clients in their own working lives (they’re people, too!). They may have a new boss, or a boss who’s himself under pressure. How can you help them, and their boss, to shine? You’ll only know if you find out the important triggers. Regular phone calls, emails, check-ins, the odd coffee or glass of wine, all this helps you build a picture of how you can help your client on their own route to success.
All this takes time, and the goalposts move regularly. Little irritates me more than non client-facing people saying stuff such as, “well, someone needs to tell the client that’s not possible”. When clients are forking out big bucks, everything is possible, I’m afraid.
This is a big challenge for those of us who hold commercial relationships: explaining to others within our own businesses that, in the end, the client pays our wages. This is the subject for another blog: how you create that client-centric culture within a company where not everyone is client-facing? And when – and it does need to happen sometimes – is the right time to tell the client that they’re pushing their luck?
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