Client Services, Opinion
We have a pretty good life in agencies. It’s one of the reasons that I’m still agency-side two decades into my career, despite any early dalliance with the world of in-house brand marketing. But as a Client Services specialist, I’ve often found it challenging trying to ensure that clients and senior agency personnel both feel that they’ve inputted into a solution that they’re happy with and works commercially. The challenge doesn’t seem to get any easier, despite greater experience and even greyer hair.
When I was working at digital agency SYZYGY I have a vivid memory of losing my rag as an Account Manager with more senior agency employees over email. Despite various attempts to explain to the client why we thought an alternative solution offered a better user experience, the client was confident in their approach and it was an opinion-based argument with both sides capable of using some stats to support their line of thinking. In some ways it was ideal – a passionate client and an equally passionate group of senior agency folk all wanting to do the work of their lives. But having tried more than once and used all the data at our disposal, I felt the argument needed to be parked and the client solution tested for effectiveness. My senior colleagues didn’t feel the same and vented. In a rash and rather stressed out moment, I responded with an internal email I regretted (not least because the MD correctly picked me up on it immediately) which said words to the effect of “he/she is paid a six-figure sum to make the right decision on this – they’ve heard you, they don’t agree with you, please move on and stop wasting time.”
Fast forward nearly two decades and I still find myself caught in the middle of confident, and often budget-constrained, clients and well-informed agency personnel at times. It’s never easy. What I have learnt is that a typical agency specialist is unlikely to consider the stakeholder relationships (and client politics) at play that can sometimes make even the most credible case impossible to push through straight away. That’s not to say that it can’t happen, but often there is a need to pave the way, perhaps with a smaller initial project, or perhaps by getting the introductions to those key stakeholders who you’ve never previously been introduced to.
Equally, agency teams are used to letting passion win over practicalities and that’s very often to be encouraged. It’s what makes agencies exciting places to be and drives the innovative solutions that we’re often able to propose to clients. There are however times when the Client Services team need to step in to ensure that either the business changing product is value-priced, or that the client pays a sensible price for the hours of labour that are invested. It’s immensely frustrating for me and others when we can see a fantastic idea in the distance but budgets don’t immediately allow the project to proceed and again, the long game can often win the day. Escalation and evidence of the potential ROI sometimes do the trick immediately, but often a series of steps towards the ultimate solution is likely to get to the end point the agency so fervently desire, even if painful time is lost in the process.
There’s never a definitive right answer and my experience as a Client Services specialist is that everyone is very keen to offer their two penneth. As our Creative Director Andy often says, “Client Services is the hardest job there is” and he has a unique perspective on the challenge given that he’s married to a Client Services specialist. Others may not feel the same as Andy, so I’ve found that the best way to frame discussions internally within the agency is to consider three key areas:
Somewhere in the middle is where the Client Services team and I are aiming for here. And despite the often conflicting input of clients and agency specialists, it would appear we’re getting something right based on our results, on our average relationship lengths, and our NPS feedback. Long may it continue.