The Importance of Fostering Clients into Partners

In high school and college, I worked retail at a large department store—specifically, the shoe department. While some may wince at the thought of encountering the public’s feet, I chose this department for a good reason. The shoe department was the only department where associates could make commission on their sales. Luckily, the store carried a premium selection of designers which made it easy to make a solid paycheck. I could’ve traveled the easy route—work my shift and hope we were busy enough to sell a decent amount shoes. Instead, I learned I valuable lesson: You can make a lot more by providing excellent customer service. I took time to get to know my customers and develop a genuine rapport. I worked hard to dazzle them, providing numerous options so they walked away sincerely happy. And if they were unhappy? I made it right. It paid off! I had repeat customers that sought after me (I also always let the sale dates slip ahead of time), my clientele rarely walked away with a single pair, and my parents were beyond thrilled. Who wouldn’t love when their 16-year-old buys their own car and takes care of the insurance and gas?

Here I am, many years later and still in the service industry. A lot of what I learned in that department store holds true at an agency. Clients want to trust who they work with and know the recommendations being delivered to them are what’s best for their business, not the agency’s. And even thought they may not know exactly what they want, when educated on their options, they feel better about the strategy and tactics put in place. Providing service like this is what it takes to elevate a relationship from client to partner.  Here’s how we’ve been able to make this transition with ours:

Get to know your clients

There’s in an undeniable human element in this business, as the great Maya Angelo put it, “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” So, it’s important that you make the time you spend with clients valuable and enjoyable. Start small by asking your clients how their weekend was, and conversely, tell them what your Super Bowl plans are or if you got a new puppy. It makes work feel less like work and it’s a good way to ease into stale status meetings, not to mention, you’re getting to know/like one another! It’s monumentally essential that this develops from an authentic place. Don’t rush things, be genuine, and a mutual respect will organically develop with time.

Give your clients options

Much like my experience working at a department store, it’s important to provide you clients with multiple options so they can be delighted in the final product or decision. This applies in all agency areas—pricing, design, creative, targeting, vendors, etc. This is not to be mistaken for making the client take responsibility. It is our job to provide recommendations that are right for their business. Don’t give options for the sake of doing so. Provide choices that would make a good fit and uncover with your client which of them would be best. Maybe it’s the more affordable or maybe it’s the long-term play. You don’t know every aspect of your client’s business, so truly partner with them in the decision-making process.

Making it right when things go wrong

Being that advertising is a human-driven service, human mistakes can and will happen, unfortunately. Bear Bryant hit the nail on the head when he said, “When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it. ” The worst move and agency could make is lie about a mistake. Will your client be upset that a mistake was made? Probably. Will they appreciate forthcoming and a plan to move forward? Yes. And lastly: always have a solution paired with your apology.

Provide value

Simply put, do more than just the job. Uncover insight that helps clients understand their customers better and identify opportunities for future campaigns renditions. Help them understand, learn, and feel comfortable with aspects of the industry. Even if they don’t have the time to learn right now, continually offer, because a knowledgeable client will see more value in the performance you deliver when they understand the hoops you had to jump to get there.

Following these tips alone won’t yield a great client relationship. It takes teamwork between the agency and the client to make it happen. We, the agency, must establish a solid foundation from good work with an authentic-positive attitude. Conversely, clients must reciprocate with open communication and a desire to collaborate.  When these worlds combine, a limitless partnership emerges.

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