Client Service Directors Breakfast 16 September 2015

24 Sep 2015

Posted by Anna Doyle

"Helping people to achieve their potential is at the core of client services"

On Wednesday 16 September BIMA held the fourth in the series of Client Services / Account Management roundtables.

The opening remarks were made by Richard Warren, Account Director at Rufus Leonard (and ex-musician) who provided excellent observations on the complex issues involved in building and managing successful client relationships.

Emma Nicol, CSD at Amaze moderated the session and it was hosted by Rufus Leonard in their historically fascinating Drill Hall location, previously home to the City of London Rifles Battalion – luckily the ammunition stayed in the cupboard!

We welcomed: senior client service professionals from: Amaze; Bray Leino; Critical Mass; Cyber-Duck; Founded; ORM London; Realise; Redweb; Rufus Leonard; Seven; VML; and Webigence.

Emma opened the session by reminding the group of the key aims of the BIMA CSD community:

  • Work together to fathom how we can standardise our skills
  • Use the forum to openly share ideas, concerns and successes
  • For BIMA to better support its members by reaching into specific communities

Richard’s breakfast food for thought:

Richard opened the session by pinpointing the human challenge faced by CS professionals, illustrating the irony: a business entity is purely rational, run by humans who are irrational. Business motives are easy to understand because they’re always the same: the objective is always to increase profit, via increased revenues and reduced operating costs. Conversely, a human individual’s wants and needs are more complicated.

Therefore to be a good Client Services professional we need to understand, recognise and address recurring human behaviours that will challenge the success of any project undertaken:

  • The tribal instinct: in-group bias
  • The gamblers’ fallacy: putting weight on previous events believing they will influence future outcomes
  • The band wagon effect: following the masses entering into a kind of hive-mind.

The bravest and best CS people are the ones who resist hive-mind; who swim against the tide to test its current, and create space for the outliers, freaks, futurists and mavericks. They work to understand their individual client’s personal goals and help them achieve them (reference Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a check list but starting with lunch is never a bad thing). They have empathy in abundance and are awesome neck-sticker-outers!

Remembering all the things to look out for in our client we must not neglect to negate the following weaknesses in ourselves:

  • Underestimating how long it takes to get things done
  • Over estimating our competence
  • Suffering from cognitive dissonance.

The end goal is helping our clients self-actualise; to help steer them towards unlocking their personal potential. The positive long-term relationships come from success built on empathy. But things go wrong, often. Client Services is analogous to sailing, making thousands of tiny corrections to stay on course. Winds and tides are chaotic, and so are the factors that throw a project off-track: changes in personnel, technological dependencies, personal emergencies: these are all part of the chaos of life and can never be planned for, only mitigated against.

Richard’s insightful observations lead perfectly to a group discussion around strategies and tactics for handling difficult situations which are summarized in brief below…

How to reach a successful resolution when you have two equally senior clients in the same organisation with conflicting objectives:

This scenario lead to much discussion covering diametrically opposing techniques from moderating the clients together to picking them off and interviewing them individually. (To note: not mutually exclusive strategies). Appointing an ultimate client stakeholder is another approach but the other steps would need to be carried out first. It was noted that managing this for a global client involves “moving the tanker” but the ultimate conclusion was, whatever the strategy, the end goal needs to be that the CS professional manages to more closely connect the clients so they can learn from each other.

Next up: what do you do when the primary client manager pulls rank and disrupts the project at a critical moment?

Much of the discussion was around how to mitigate this happening in the first place by keeping the senior team looped in but some in the room argued that there is always a “big reveal” moment and mitigating against that is another challenge. However, there was strong agreement around that table that you should never be afraid to say if you truly believe your client is making a decision which will lead to the project not hitting their objectives.

The final scenario put to the floor was what do you do when your client says one thing and does another?

The double approach to this issue beautifully captures the dichotomy of Richard’s client service challenge to address the “logic” of the business and the “irrational” of the human. The logical response is to refer to the Statement of Work and check you are solid ground, but more importantly, ask the question “why” so you can understand the personal driver for the behaviour and only then can you resolve it by understanding, empathising, unpicking and solving.

These three scenarios lead to further discussion of more complex and challenging client issues but under Chatham House Rules these discussions are staying in the room!

What next for the BIMA CS community…

This event was over-subscribed by 200% so the priority for the BIMA team is to run more breakfast roundtables ASAP. Topics and themes that were discussed were: talent acquisition; nurturing and retention of talent; pricing and structures; and multi-disciplines working together.

If you are interested in hosting, speaking or moderating a session please contact

We are also looking to run a bigger briefing on Procurement and we are investigating delivering bespoke training courses.

If you are not yet a member of our LinkedIn Group drop Anna a line and get looped in.

A huge thank you to Rufus Leonard for hosting, to Emma for moderating and Richard for a great debate opener.

Anna Doyle
Posted by Anna Doyle

A member of the BIMA Team since 2012, Anna‘s time is focused on the day-to-day operations of BIMA, building BIMA communities across regions and disciplines and, best of all, spending time with BIMA members to learn more about their business challenges and aspirations. Based in Glasgow, Anna is also responsible for delivering member services and support for BIMA Scotland. Everyday offers a new insight. Previous experience includes 4 years in the BBC Arabic Service newsroom, heading up a pan-BBC World Service change management programme, and working in a diverse range of industries from financial derivatives trading, petroleum engineering and spring manufacturing.

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