Time and Date: 08:30am to 10:00am, Tuesday 29 August 2017
Venue: 15 Queen Street Edinburgh EH2 1JE
Never one to shy away from the big questions, Jessica Mullen, Co-Founder, CreateFuture, led the debate at the second BIMA CSD roundtable breakfast in Edinburgh addressing, What does good client services look like and how do we get there? As usual the breakfast was at max capacity and Jessica was joined around the table by agency heads and leading practitioners from: Tayburn; DigitasLBi; Stripe; Yard Digital; Deloitte Digital; DACGroup (formerly Ambergreen); Front Page; Black AD; Uservision; After Digital; Realise; and iProspect.
We had a big question to address and those around the table were coming at it from various viewpoints: the agency head overseeing CS along with other teams; those going through a role transition; those going through a team transition; full service agencies and specialist practitioners. As you can imagine the chat was lively and diverse.
With this in mind, Jessica was keen to allow for as much discussion as possible so opened with a few observations and some challenges to discuss. Held under Chatham House Rules a lot of the good stuff had to stay in the room but below we have pulled together some key observations, lessons and insights we can share with the wider CS community.
On a recent trip to London, Jessica met with Nicki Sprinz, Acting MD, Ustwo and Chair of the BIMA CSD Council. She took the opportunity to ask Nicki what she thought good CS looked like and below is her response:
"It's about a mindset shift. We're all client services now.
Always closely with delivery teams to identify opportunities for account growth, always asking "How will this deliver impact and ROI for our client's business?"
Relationships matter, but that doesn't have to translate to boozy dinners. Invite your client to speak at one of your events; bring them as a guest to your conference, or run a training workshop that demonstrates a new way of working to them and their colleagues.
Consider new business models. Test value pricing or performance-driven pricing models. Demonstrate to your client you're willing to take risk with them and enjoy the rewards too."
From this starting point the discussion was structured under three themes:
1. Ensuring the Client sees value in CS
2. Creating the optimum team structure and what to do when roles are not working
3. Creating a culture of strategic thinking / proactivity
ENSURING THE CLIENT SEES VALUE IN CS
Insights and questions arose under this recurring issue for debate:
Who to use for the pitch?
Everyone agreed addressing this was an issue. One client asked for there to be “not too many suits in the room” but the instinct is to put the senior team front and centre. This can unravel when the client assumes they are “buying” a specific individual to be replaced with a junior team member. Continuity and balance are key. Your senior people should be there throughout as the strategic lead and trusted advisor but the more junior team members should be recognised as essential for ensuring solid delivery on a day to day basis.
This raised the point of how to avoid having an army in the room at a pitch, but the use of video intro’s to the wider team or smart use of your pitch deck can bring the full team to the client pitch without crowding the room. Furthermore, reference the wider team and their successes with similar clients to prove process and worth.
Communication and Education
Educating the client and the internal team on the value of the CS function is essential. Strong and clear communication between all parties is crucial. Work as a collaboration to achieve maximum results. Being the “filter” is a word we hear often used as the function of the CS between the internal team and the client.
Billing for your Services
The transition to charging for CS now seems to have taken place across the industry with clients understanding the worth (as long the function works well). However, it was noted that the agency should be careful how to bill the client. Eg: Don’t itemise charges for quick phone calls. This looks nit picky and is a negative message which will lead the client to think twice before picking up the phone to resolve a potential issue or raise a new opportunity and therefore could be very damaging to the relationship. So absorb the cost or calculate it packaged up in the contract from the outset.
Chemistry and Relationship
Which leads to the crucial point of ensuring an excellent relationship with the client. This is scrutinised further in the second part of the debate, looking at how to build the right team. It also brings to mind a quote from Richard Warren of Rufus Leonard at a BIMA CSD session back in 2015 when he stated “Helping people to achieve their potential is at the core of client services”. Richard was alluding to the client here but it works equally well when considering the CS team.
CREATING THE OPTIMUM TEAM STRUCTURE AND WHAT TO DO WHEN ROLES ARE NOT WORKING
We started the debate on team structure with a quick round robin on how each agency builds their team for a new client. Despite the different types of people and agencies in the room the process was pretty much agreed as:
- technical ability
- personality fit: chemistry was perceived more important than seniority
For agencies with multiple offices – how to create or manage a team in different locations was discussed.
This led to when things go wrong:
- when the above selection mix is misjudged, eg: too much sway put on personality over ability to complete the project
- examples of poor CS were raised, citing lack of push back, planning and strategy as key downfall areas
- when the team are too stretched or under too much pressure the above tends to be the result which leads to the solutions of a comprehensive training and development programme and strong leadership skills as key.
So how do we grow our current talent and create the CS leaders of the future?
There was a lot of passion expressed around the table with regards to nurturing and building current talent and attracting new talent to the industry. Those present felt that they had a collective responsibility to develop the talent pool now to ensure future leaders of excellence.
In terms of each current environment it was agreed coaching and feedback were essential. Building a culture of trust and honesty is crucial to allow people to work through mistakes, challenges and learning new skills. And to bring new people into this field we can look beyond the agency world and look at how we can inspire new young talent into this space.
NB – BIMA Scotland is already working on some plans here - watch this space….
Client services is a craft to be learned – again this is a phrase that reverberates through the many CS discussions, often accompanied by the lament that the craft is overlooked or misunderstood. This is at our peril!
Which segues beautifully to the third and final tranche of the debate….
CREATING A CULTURE OF STRATEGIC THINKING / PROACTIVITY
Much of the debate focussed on how to be your client’s trusted advisor and how to grow these skills in your team. There is a fine balance to be had to ensure your client has the best possible client experience, and also be looking at how you can grow the relationship through meaningful problem solving and business growth for the client. As such at its very best it should be a symbiotic relationship – easier said than done.
There was extreme eyeball-rolling of complete agreement around the table when the issue of the CS function being used simply to increase revenue was discussed by “selling stuff”. There was complete unity of thought that building a client relationship came from patience, trust and understanding. There is only room to grow the relationship if the CS understands the business needs of the client well enough to see where they can add true value. It is all based on trust and achieving this was depicted with great lucidity by an equation quoted:
TRUST = credibility + reliability + intimacy
Of course the challenge is not only developing a deep and intimate understanding of your client business requirements but also feeding that back to and achieving buy-in from your broader delivery team – getting them to buy into your vision for growing and improving the relationship.
So how do we develop our young talent to get to this place? What can they learn from us?
- Financial incentives for the CS team were discussed and while agencies in the room had different strategies they agreed it was hard to measure and award fairly.
- Training sessions on how to talk about money
- Shadowing and exposing junior team members to the wider business processes
- Encourage your team to read more, even if it only reinforces what they already know – it will build confidence
- give the junior team members their place, don’t tread on toes, work behind the scenes where possible to support, only swoop in where absolutely necessary.
We closed the session off with a few diamond-encrusted golden nuggets of wisdom the seasoned folk around the table had picked up in their career:
- be proud of your scars
- things go wrong and they always will: deal with it
- focus your effort only on things you are in control of
It was agreed across the group that these meet ups are incredibly helpful and there is a will to do more. Next topic will be more technical: Pricing / Risk Reward / Financial Control.
A huge thank you to Jessica running the session and to CreateFuture for hosting in the fabulous boardroom of 15 Queen Street.
This event was over-subscribed again – due to the strong demand more are planned and we will roll out to Glasgow too. If you are interested in hosting, speaking or moderating a session please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Art of Client Services by Robert Solomon
The Trusted Advisor by D. Maister, C.H. Green & R.M. Galford
The Blinkist app is a great starting point for seeking further reading choices
Jessica has been in digital for over 16 years (yes, it’s hard to believe). With a client service heritage, she has successfully ran multi-million pound projects, accounts and agencies.
Jessica started her career as an e-learning content developer. Full of ambition. she quickly progressed to Production Director before making the transition to Account Director. Agency life beckoned. In 2008, Jessica joined the digital agency Realise where, as Client Services Director, she led the account and project management teams. During that time the agency grew from 40 to 120 and transformed from technical design-and-build to strategic full-service. In 2013, she joined the UX consultancy Nile. As Managing Director the business tripled in turnover (and profit!) in less than three years.
Last year Jessica decided she was ready to do it for herself, taking the brave move to start her own business. CreateFuture is a strategic, creative consultancy, working within ambitious brands to collaboratively improve marketing, services and capability through creative thinking. In less than a year, with a core team of six, CreateFuture is working with brands such as the BBC, Penguin Books and Expedia. Jessica was recently announced in the 2017 BIMA100.
Find out about CreateFuture here.