Client satisfaction strategies were once handled by the MD’s lunching routine. This was a tightly diarised rota of key client engagements. AD’s provided a pencil sketch of recent developments and booked the best table at the most fashionable restaurant. Roll-overs and up-selling depended on the MD’s ability to charm the client, remember details through the mist of alcohol-drenched taxi-rides back to the office and to keep their livers alive. Friday afternoons were a write-off.
Much has changed. The Bribery Act. The Americanisation of business. Work / life balance. My liver. Much has not, as we discussed at yesterday’s event with the PRCA and my excellent friends at Question and Retain (see their research below).
The biggest change is something that agency heads are loathed to admit, but is the defining trend of our times.
Clients have got better.
They are no longer bluffing it. They are no longer lonely and frustrated, over-looked and under-estimated by their colleagues, needing a comradely booze-up to lift their spirits. They don’t need alpha agency bosses to give pep-talks to their bosses filled with harsh truths.
Typically, communications directors and their ilk are kick-ass types with a can-do attitude and a department to run. Most of all, they are great at the craft of communications. Most people in a modern communications team can brief a journalist, engage a stakeholder or sell-in a story. Typically, this is not the area where they need agency support.
The added value an agency that fills the client with love is in three areas.
Firstly, articulating the communications strategy, which means the structuring of a “communications plan” with realistic timetabling, a subtle eye for dependencies, and an encyclopedic knowledge of external events, the needs of stakeholders and the complexity of the internal dynamic. Modern corporate planning and risk management need the sort of communications planning that require a combination of team skills which benefit from outside support.
Secondly, creativity and challenge. Communications is more important to most companies. The communications environment is more complicated because all that digital stuff. So clients increasingly find they need their plans cranked up with a bit of creative juice that needs external support.
Lastly, modern communications requires such a complex level of corporate buy-in that in-house teams have even less time than ever to nurture their networks than ever. The vortex of internal meetings is insatiable. Even the toughest operators are sucked in. There remains a role for agencies who spend their time meeting people.
To secure client satisfaction, three behaviours at Westbourne stand out in our latest round of appraisals.
· Ensuring we have the right specialist knowledge to add value. There’s no more room for amateurs. We need to hone our skills.
· We’ve backed off trying to help with the simple stuff like writing press releases – let the client do the stuff they’re clearly good at.
· Focus on trying to help with the tricky stuff where we can add lots of value client.
Obviously, moving up the food chain like this requires really great relationships with your communications chiefs.
Which, of course, is where the lunch schedule comes back into relevance. Waiter!