Our latest Northwest Client Services breakfast briefing saw Client Service professionals from BGN, Cube3, JB Cole, Mando, E3, and Amaze debating the challenges and successes of demonstrating the true value of Client Services (CS).
The good, bad and the slightly ugly.
Our initial discussion focused on the experiences around the room in liaising with clients and internal agency stakeholders, the perceptions held of the role and, therefore, the value of CS.
It was felt that the traditional role of CS in driving client growth had an influence on the perception of CS as being sales focused v’s our more delivery focused PM counterparts - differing roles which have differing tangible outputs and therefore differing value profiles to our clients.
The levels of experience of CS was also deemed to be a contributory factor to the value derived from clients – some citing commercials or contractual discussions are elevated up the ranks by clients valuing immediate or decisive decision making.
It was also noted that our strengths in having a broad knowledge of our industry and the disciplines within it could actually be detrimental, as some cited that being generalist v’s specialist could be construed as less valuable to our clients.
This opened up a discussion on the way CS itself can undermine its own value by being self-depreciating and less assertive of its role in ensuring a successful partnership and the individual contribution of CS, at all levels, to the success of a client project.
This lack of clarity left many citing clients questioning the commercial rational to include CS costs as part of a project / a negotiation point (therefore perpetuating the de-value cycle).
How does perception change?
The next point for discussion revolved around differing client profiles and the influence of that on the value perceived from CS.
It was recognised that CS sometimes are responsible for much more than just CS, such as finance, strategy, resourcing and project management, and that for some clients that multi-faceted capability was of real value.
For others, where the brief, the commercial scale or level of engagements needed to drive the success of the project were complex, having a single point of contact as a trusted advisor focused on excellence of service was vital.
With that in mind, we discussed the comparative ease of creating value in more mature/established clients than in start-ups. It was agreed that there’s no one-size fits all and CS has to determine client suitability for different working approaches, whereas other roles within an agency with a delivery focus have more consistent and recognised commercial models.
So what is ‘value’?
In order to understand how best to demonstrate value, we all agreed it was vital to understand what value is to each and every client and contact.
Some cited that being focused on understanding where value can be added rather than trying to be all things to all men would drive greater relationships, greater client growth, enable CS to focus on the 20/80 (client/revenue) and ensure the agency isn’t diluting its offering by trying to chase value that won’t be recognised.
It was agreed that the level of experience with the CS team will often dictate the value derived and the natural progression through the ranks – AE/SAE were the ‘doers’ along with AM taking project ownership are seen as having immediate impact. Then there’s a jump to AD/BD which is 20% of the ‘doing’ and 80% driving strategy which in itself is of real value to a client in driving long term ambitions.
Everyone agreed that it was important when determining value to really understand the clients view and it was suggested this be picked up as a future BIMA CS initiative. It is also a continuation of the important of understanding Client Satisfaction – an earlier BIMA Manchester CS Breakfast Briefing: A happy client is a happy agency
The group also touched on some of the insights from the recent BIMA CS Event, Reinventing Client Services, where one agency noted their move away having CS specialists, with everyone expected to own and deliver a great client experience with equal responsibility. It was noted that many people wouldn’t want to be dealing with client constantly on topics such as escalations and commercials and that experienced Heads of Departments, who have great client rapport, really focus on their specialist areas and wouldn't take overall accountability.
The following traits were agreed to be of underlying value from CS:
• Facilitation – be that the Conductor of an Orchestra (of specialist) or the Director of the Cast & Crew. We bring the best people to the table.
• Being customer first - understanding our clients individual and professional needs to build trust and enable their success.
• Being client ambassadors – being the clients voice in the agency to challenge output and drive excellence in delivery, ensuring it remains true to the vision of the brand and the brief.
• Accountability – a single point of accountability for the outputs of the agency and acting as a long term, supportive sounding board.
We ended this point asking ourselves the question ‘What is Client Services really’?
A debate for another day!
So, how do we look to change the dynamic to have more successes than battles?
It was agreed that CS should be as represented at the pitch or the fist engagement with a client as any other specialism and should ensure there is absolute clarity on the roles involved, their overall contribution - from Account Executive, to Client Service Director - and their reflective cost.
All agencies are different in their CS structure and the remits of their teams, so reinforcing the approach will ensure like for like comparison as well as remove legacy expectations or perceptions.
It was agreed that transparency is critical as it’s difficult to introduce a commercial requirement around CS once a way of working and a value exchange is already embedded.
It was also noted that to enable agencies to demonstrate the value CS brings, we need to have the data to tell the story.
Some cited that CS didn’t always keep timesheets which made it difficult to demonstrate how much time teams have invested and the resulting outputs – this is especially important if looking to draft a retainer model. Whilst we all agreed timesheets we’re ‘the bane of everyone’s lives’, it was recognised they are business critical.
Ensuring an agency has clearly mapped out the minimum CS requirements for a given project or client deliverable will ensure a solid rationale for discussion as well as making estimating easier and more consistent. Making sure CS time is accurately reflected and not a bolt on will halt some of the perceived ‘give-aways’.
There was also a debate about the convention of wrapping CS up under ‘Governance’ and if that in itself masked the contribution of the CS team.
Everyone agreed that value isn’t constant and needs ongoing work to maintain. Having a structured client on-boarding and engagement programme above and beyond project work has real merit.
As client relationship custodians we can be instrumental in realising value for our clients but it’s a collective output and we are reliant on everyone around us working in the same direction for the same goal.
We can’t become bottlenecks and have to leverage the skills of those around us to do our roles to the best of our abilities.
We wrapped up discussions with a couple of quotes:
‘The value of a person is subjective to your relationship with them’ – stressing the importance of building open, trusted relationships with our clients
‘Customer Service will become the primary value added function of every business’ (Bill Gates) demonstrating that CS are going nowhere just yet and we should be confident in the value of the role we play.
Anyone wishing to get involved in future events or commentary should contact the BIMA Northwest team for more information.
Read more about past and future events happening in Client Services here.