There is a lot to learn when you join an communications agency. The hardest part isn’t the skills. Competent writing can be taught. So can media relations. You can learn to navigate the web and how to mine the opportunities in social media.
The hardest thing to learn is client service. Simply “doing the work” is just the bottom of what we might call the Client Service Hierarchy of Needs (with many apologies to Maslow). It looks something like this:
Level 1: “Your Order, Sir.” — The client requests work. You deliver the work.
Level 2: “Fries with that?” — The client requests work. You deliver that work…and offer a little something extra.
From here, things get challenging. Agency client service leaps up a level when you’re able to understand and respond to the daily challenges of being the client.
Level 3: “Let me make this easier for you.” What makes it easier? Sometimes, it’s delivering the report with the kind of memo that the client can forward to her team. Or it’s the timely recap because you know he’ll need it for his boss’ weekly base touch. Or making the extra heads-up call on a key point rather than just assuming they’ll read the whole email.
Level 4: “It’s like you’re part of the team.” You solve enough problems, they’ll start to see you as an extension of their internal team.
Let’s call this next one the top of the pyramid…
Level 5: “Here’s what else we could together.” At this level, you’ve created enough separation to provide both an insiders knowledge and an outsiders insight. You’ve built up enough credibility to become not a team member but a partner in the client’s success.
In my view, getting to Level 3 is the key to success in agency client service. It’s the attitude that you’ll do whatever it takes not just to solve client problems but to make it easier for them to be successful in the process. This is a surprisingly difficult leap for many people. You’d think good work can stand on its own. But good work can only take you so far if you can’t communicate that work into the organization, and smooth its path to action, and relate the success it achieves … day to day to day.