CLIENT CONTACT: EMPOWERING YOUR ACCOUNT HANDLER AND ADDING VALUE TO YOUR CLIENT AS SENIOR MANAGEMENT Farzana Baduel
Empowering your account handler and adding value to your client as senior management is a key way to strengthen and sustain client relationships. This chapter will show you how.
• How to manage relationships with clients at a senior level
• New ways to sustain client connection
• How to manage risks to your agency and clients
Bridging the gap
It is often a concern for clients that they are missing out on the skill-set of senior management.
Maintaining relationships with the client at a senior level is really about two things, communication and added value. This means maintaining a base level of communication that suits each client as well as you, whilst proactively looking for opportunities to offer services above and beyond the account manager role.
It is imperative the client feels confident the account manager knows their business – this message needs to be transferred to the client through personal introductions and hands-on relationship building, support and empowerment of the individual, as well as evidence of strategy.
Inside and outside of normal working hours, events are a great opportunity for client bonding, but the real value lies in the type of event you involve them with.
Positioning an event around thought leadership and making it experiential is a way to demonstrate you understand your client. Vary the topic so events become an opportunity to broaden their network, and educate the client on other industries.
This is also a great way to teach your client about the other services you or your industry provides, such as reputation management or digital or influencer marketing.
Asking clients to give a short talk at a salon or breakfast exposes them to other thought leaders and builds a platform for them. You can also use your client’s talents to inspire and motivate your team.
Making personal introductions communicates to the client that you are interested in building relationships that benefit their business, and that you exist to think outside of account manager scope.
Whether at your own events or by inviting clients to third party ones, always think dynamically about what introductions might be useful for them. Let existing clients learn from each other or complement each other’s skills. Share your contacts and do not forget that this is often reciprocated.
Digital and social media
PR is being revolutionised by the digital landscape and as senior management you should engage with your client’s digital presence. Social media is a gift which enables you to show you have an interest in your client and are in touch.
At a very basic level this means following their profiles, liking and sharing their posts, and joining their professional and social networks whether it be LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr or even Snapchat.
Be intelligent about these interactions as it means nothing if you like or share everything. Sharing with the right people in the right networks reinforces your engagement with the client and the understanding you have of their business and message.
Managing risks: Employee and client risk
We are already alert to the concept of risk management but risk extends far beyond corporate operational risk to areas of an agency’s internal processes.
Agencies should be thinking about risk management in terms of their culture and processes. With employees, this means quality on-boarding and off-boarding - the importance of which is often severely overlooked.
On-boarding should be treated as an act to empower and motivate your new employees, showing them you are investing in the cycle of their employment from beginning to end.
By investing time from the start you are introducing them to your agency’s values, your best practices and the skills they need to be productive from the outset. This differs hugely from a basic induction to your HR policy – it is an introduction to your culture and performance expectations and should be planned well in advance.
Research shows that structured on-boarding leads to retention of staff, important to keep clients happy. Whilst an introduction to your systems is vital it should not be confused with training. New employees should be actively encouraged to share knowledge and expertise from the moment they are hired and senior members of the team should at this stage commit time to them. Always think about maximising employee engagement.
In implementing an effective on-boarding process for employees at every level you are setting a standard for how they perform with your clients. Rather than waiting until a new starter’s first day, an online introduction to your company’s ethos can begin as soon as an offer has been officially accepted.
Off-boarding safeguards your agency.
From your intellectual property to ultimately your reputation, every brand has assets it needs to protect and employees leaving for whatever reason may have business critical information and experience unique to your clients.
The process of transferring this information should never be a last minute panic but an intelligent, cohesive handover by collaborating as a team. Managers should encourage information transfer not just as roles change but as standard, to safeguard ideas being lost or undocumented and critically so the client is unaffected by any transition. This is where CRM software has become an increasingly important tool.
The transference of client relationships should always be handled sensitively and transparently. The news that someone is leaving, and introductions to new members of staff should be handled at the highest level, preferably in person, to ensure that clients feel confident that their best interests are still the company’s top priority.
Remember brand advocates are not just existing employees, or indeed existing clients, and that departing employees or clients may well return.
Be legal aware
On-boarding and off-boarding can also act to underpin the contractual agreements in place that prevent competitive disadvantage.
As an employer you have a duty to make staff fully aware of rules surrounding both client confidentiality and data protection, but this is often set aside. An employee is much less likely to abuse trust if they view you with respect and integrity from the outset.
Safeguard yourself and your client’s interests by building into your contracts appropriate non-competition and non-solicitation clauses.
In the PR industry, data theft can have serious implications, and off-boarding is an opportune time to review this area. An eye-watering number of employees copy or download information before they leave and it should go without saying that there should be steps in place before that stage. Prevent them accessing the network, conduct an audit of passwords disclosed to them and ensure physical data in the form of hard-drives or USBs is not forgotten about.
The exit interview is the last point at which a complaint can be documented. Where there may be contention, this reduces the risk of potential legal fall out. Invest time in it.
Maintaining client confidence is a responsibility that transcends your whole agency from the bottom to the top. Its fulfilment is down to the way you communicate as an organisation both internally and externally. Be agile and receptive to how your client communicates and always be open to the opportunities that good relationships can bring.