Monday, March 24, 2008

Linkedin To Client Service

On Friday, I posted a question on Linkedin that I left open for just a few days, and considering it was a holiday weekend, I received a terrific response and some very thoughtful answers. The question was: How do you define client service excellence?

The answers focused squarely on issues such as the importance of mutually agreed upon objectives, meeting and exceeding expectations, excellent documentation and reporting, relationship building, responding quickly, etc. What struck me about the answers wasn't the particulars, but the tendency to describe client service excellence in terms of followership rather than leadership.

That's not a criticism. In fact great followership is an important component of delivering excellent client service. Barbara Kellerman teaches a course at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government called Followership. The course module is described as having two fundamental purposes: to provide a greater theoretical understanding of the critical, indeed equal, role followers play in creating change; and to provide practical pointers on how to play this particular part, the part of follower, wisely and well.

I also found an interesting book by Robert Kelly titled The Power of Followership (Available in our Client Service Titles For You). I especially like the subhead which reads: How to Create Leaders People Want to Follow and Followers Who Lead Themselves. (Sounds like our job in a nutshell, doesn't it?)

So what do you think about followership as framed by Kellerman and Kelly? Would it be fair to say that as PR professionals we tend to describe client service excellence too much on followership terms? If so, could we be better at it if we thought about it differently?


  1. I think that client service is really about a mutual game of follow the leader. At times we lead, they lead, we follow, they follow. Of course, the best way to serve clients is to have them feel as though they are leading the charge based on the direction they're receiving. So, in a way, direction is redefined as showing a roadmap to one of many possible future outcomes, and it's then a collective decision to pursue a course of action.

    Leaders can't exist without followers, and followers can't exist without leaders. But a leader who is as humble as a follower will have many followers indeed.

  2. Hi Leo,

    Very insightful material. I think for most agencies, client service starts with meeting and exceeding client service expectation. How else can an agency expect to develop the relationship if they can't cover the basics? However, I think most clients want and expect the "leadership" ability you reference even if they don't come out and say so. Afterall, working with agencies can initially be a leap of faith since most clients are responsible for agencies in the same manner they're responsbile for their support staff. Agencies that recognize this and set a higher standard by leading their clients simply affirms that they (the client) made the right decision in selecting them (the agency) to be a true business parter that is invested in identifying and growing the clients' business. Ultimately, it's the same value system between the boss who expects his/her employees to perform without always having to be told what to do and when to do it. I think this topic and insight reflect much of the frustration and negative attitudes between client and agency. Clients generally think they are spending significant money and have an inflated value system that extends well beyond the scope of services arrangement. Agecnies are generally in the for-profit business and are constantly tweaking structure and services to support their client needs. If the relationship is focused on what "we're doing for you" (as great as it may be) without a future investment strategy of "have you considered this and here's why" then the relationship can become stale for both parties. Someone a long time ago told me: if you're not going to invest in yourself or the relationship, then why should anyone else? I've seen that adage reaffirmed time and again. I also find it ironinc that communication leaders can lose sight of some of the fundamentals - consistent engagement of your audience...meaning the content should be refreshed even if the message or processes might not. How often have agencies eased up off the gas peddle once they've secured a client only to move on to the next great prospect? My advice: prospect exsiting client bases (some may refer to as a loyalty program or marketing retention) similar to new ones.

  3. Chris, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I'll be pursuing many of the issues you raised during the week, along with what the previous commenter described as the "collective decision to pursue a course of action."



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