Sunday, August 3, 2008

What Client Service Really Means

What "Client Service" Really Means is the title of a recent post by David Burn on the blog AdPulp. Burn recounts the remarks from a speech given by David Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy about the importance of the work coming first - before the client relationship. Wieden said:

"In big agencies, the client/agency relationship is the most sacred thing. The difficulty seems to be that the work then serves the relationship, and everything becomes political. And when things get political, the work suffers. And when the work suffers, the business suffers, then the client agency relationship suffers, and you suffer.

"And when we say the client/agency relationship is second to the work, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Because the work is a direct reflection of the quality of that relationship. If it is strained, the work shows it. If people are having fun, it shows. If people are bleeding, it shows. If people are just trying to turn other people on, it shows."

This line of thinking squares with what Roger Fisher and William Ury describe in their book Getting To Yes - Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. They note: "Every negotiator has two kinds of interests: In the substance and in the relationship." Often times, the closer the relationship, the more that parties are likely to compromise, which can often lead to results that are not completely satisfying to either side.

Wieden says putting the work first is the only practical solution. Is he right? Or is there another way?


  1. I think he's dead-on. A truly good client relationship is based on two things - respect for the person and respect for the value (work) they provide.

    Continuous compromise sets the precedent for safe, risk-free work. Over the long-term, it's usually unremarkable and will get you fired when you see a change in your client's marketing team.

    A good relationship is one where the quality of the work is a direct reflection of the level of trust placed in you by the client.

    The catch is if you've done poor work in the past, you aren't likely to get as much leeway as you would if your track record were better.

    The work is a good as your client allows it to be. It may mean getting what's right after a spirited debate, but that's OK. If the client trusts your judgment and vision based on what you've delivered before, the work should be the focus.

  2. You may some great points, I'd only suggest that the work and the relationship are treated separately. It's not a question of one being more important than the other, as much as it is means that both sides shouldn't mix the two. In large part, I think this has a great deal to do with choosing clients that are a good fit with the agency to begin with.

  3. As a client I think we have seen this dilemma in action. We had a good relationship with a PR firm but we became unhappy with the work or at least the direction they were taking the project.

    When we approached them about the issue, they defended their work and were inflexible. We finally had to be forcefull about the direction we wanted to go.

    A short time later we were forced to work with this vendor again but this time the relationship was strained. We went into the process with much more rigid guidelines and a lack of confidence in their work, mostly based on their inability to compromise.

    Our response to their work strained the relationship even furthar.

    This firm would most likely not be considered again.

    To clarify, at the outset and through much of the process, we had an excellent raport with members of the firm and they produced some beautiful work.

    However, it was their inability to be flexible that strained the relationship to a breaking point.

    So, the question is, can the relationship be seperate from the work? I'm not sure how it can when this type of relationship is based primarily on the work.

  4. John, my comment in response to Rodger in Part Two of this subject squarely addresses your point.



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