By Pravin Singh
Let’s face it – Client servicing is difficult.
There are challenges at every nook and corner. Be it brainstorming with the client, presenting a plan or sitting for a review, things can go awry in no time. That’s why client servicing teams are always on their feet looking for the magic mantra to keep their clients happy. But the reality is that the magic mantra does not exist.
The reason for this is the involvement of human beings, and all of us know how complicated we human beings are. We are made of emotions that are never stationary. Our emotions may vary for reasons beyond the comprehension of our own conscious mind. There is no way that the person in front of us can figure out what thoughts are flowing under the many layers of consciousness.
Having said that, there are two aspects that we need to delve deeper into in order to create a long-term engagement with the client.
- Interpersonal relationship
- Business acumen
I have personally struggled with this for a long time. When I joined the PR profession in 2012, I did not have any idea about client servicing. I kept myself restricted to understanding what is being said in words, and never tried to understand the clients at a deeper level.
After a long and tumultuous journey, I figured out what is being said is only a small portion of what is demanded of me. Say, for example, a client would tell me to “make the article look more corporate” but what he wanted to say was he can’t present it to the CEO for approval because the CEO wants the article to be full of technical jargon in order to look intelligent. In this particular episode, I went into an argument with the client by asking him what he meant by “more corporate”. Obviously, he did not have a clear answer and the conversation failed to bear any fruit.
I have realised now that human beings may not say everything upfront, leaving the most important aspect to the imagination of the other party. I understand this appears as complicated as it gets but this is the reality.
There are ways to overcome this challenge by understanding the following two facts.
- People want to be heard and understood
- People need help
All we need to do is listen intently, ask clarifying questions, and be empathetic to the client. If we keep doing these things for some time, the client will feel confident in opening up to us and our relationship will get stronger.
Another aspect of client servicing is to prove that we can deliver the promise. This can be achieved by:
- Understanding the client’s business
- Understanding their target audience
Agencies feel the client is looking for either of the following:
- Media relations
- Lowest fee
- A team of senior professionals to manage the account
- Capability to identify news
Thinking so is not entirely wrong, as these skills get the most mentions from the client. But remember ‘what the clients say is not always what they mean’.
My experience has shown that the most important skill that clients look for is NONE OF THESE. Tell me, what will the agency do with good media relations, the lowest fee, a team of senior PR officials who are good at identifying news?
In order to help the client in creating news-worthy activities, one needs to understand their business before anything else comes into play.
Yes, the most important feature that the clients look for is UNDERSTANDING OF THEIR LINE OF BUSINESS. If we can project this understanding in our conversation with the client, we will have a stronger footing.
A part of understanding the line of business is understanding the target audience. The client’s business exists for a specific target audience. This target audience should be at the centre of all PR planning.
The client needs PR services to occupy the top shelf in the mindspace of the target audience. This helps generate orders for its products/services when the audience is ready to buy. But, for this to happen, we need to do two things:
- Provide information that’s relevant for the audience
- Provide it at a time and place of their preference
This is possible only when we have deep knowledge about the target audience.
There is no magic bullet to excel in client servicing but, certainly, there are practices we can follow. The above suggestions have helped me in delivering a delightful experience to my PR clients and I am sure you too will benefit from them.