Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I've been reading quite a bit of Peter Senge's work lately, particularly about Systems Thinking, which he defines as "seeing interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains; and seeing processes of change rather than snapshots." A linear thinker would tend to look at agency revenues/growth as a linear equation:
New Business +Organic Growth+Client Retention = Agency Revenues/Growth
I put "New Business" in bold because most agency leaders regard it as the primary driver of agency growth/revenues which is why business development/prospecting receives so much attention. One can't miss the linear cause and effect; it makes perfect sense. Right?
Using a systems model, I might look at it this way:
Rather than invest so heavily in business development (prospecting) initiatives, I would focus primarily on Client Service Excellence. When one looks at how most PR leaders think about agency growth (linear thinking), they don't see client service as a growth driver - which is why in most agencies it receives such little attention and why a systems model can be so illuminating. The cause and effect of investing in client service is neither as obvious nor as immediate as traditional prospecting. In this diagram, you not only see the relationship, but also you discover its reinforcing nature. Client service excellence will lead to better client retention, more organic growth, a reputation that will attract new clients, and strong revenues and growth that will allow you to reinvest in your client service program...and so it continues.
Since organic growth is arguably the strongest metric you have to measure client service excellence, then think about one change you can make tomorrow. Celebrate the expansion of an existing account with the same exuberance as you do when a new client joins your agency roster. Show your team that organic growth not only matters, but serves as the ultimate compliment to your effectiveness as a firm.
To be clear, I'm also a huge proponent of prospecting as a business development tool - but just imagine if while you were prospecting, you were doing so for an agency which enjoyed a reputation for delivering the world's best client service. For my money, it wouldn't even be a fair fight!
Monday, April 26, 2010
This week, rather than focus on finding new clients, I'd like to address the other two legs of the stool. For today, let's start with client retention. Now there are a number of reasons client relationships go bad. The problem is most agencies don't take the time to really sit down and talk about what happened. Several years ago, I developed what I believe to be an appropriate CSI tool - The Client Relationship Autopsy - a blame free, open approach to looking at why you lost a client and what you can learn from the experience. Here's a basic outline that I suggest you adapt and adopt at your own firm:
The Client Relationship Autopsy
The client relationship autopsy is a delicate process and not for the squeamish, but it may be one of the most valuable exercises you'll ever undertake as a communication professional.
Learning from the failed relationships of the past can be invaluable to building successful ones for the future. The more you know yourself and the dynamics of your client interactions, the healthier it is for everyone. The process will help you choose wisely when it comes to adding new clients, and it will help you glean insights for improving existing client relationships.
For whatever reason, at whoever's initiative, a client relationship dies. It could have been triggered by one or a combination of things: a mistake, misunderstanding, change of personnel, new agency infiltration, differing expectations, boredom, difference of opinion, billing dispute, definition of success, and the list goes on.
Step One - Talk To Your Team
Explain that as of today, the agency will no longer be working with Client X. While there may be an obvious cause of death, it would be a serious mistake not to look deeper. Remind them that this is a client the agency spent a great deal of time and money trying to secure - that when the team won the business, they cheered as if their country had just won the World Cup. Ask how they feel about how such a once celebrated relationship that had so much promise ended before its time - and possibly in such a gruesome fashion.
Cause of death isn't actually so much about the cause, as the reason. A person may have died from a virus, but how did he catch it? That's what we want to understand.
Let the team know you plan to more clearly identify what, if anything, about the relationship could have gone differently. Was it a bad match from the start? Did we not meet their expectations? Did they not meet ours? Where did it start to unravel? And if we recognized and acknowledged that moment of unraveling, could we have done something that would have made a difference? Explain that you look forward to their honest insights. Clearly underscore that this process is not about placing individual blame for the past, but helping the agency reflect and make improvements as necessary for the future.
Step Two - The Investigation
The former client isn't dead, only the relationship. That means you can call and ask to set up a meeting. I would wait a few weeks to let tempers, disappointment, and some measure of reflection find their proper place. Be clear about your intentions and the mutual benefits that may be gained by talking about your past working relationship. It may assist your former client with selecting a more appropriate agency in the future and help you improve your processes. If it has to happen by phone rather than in person, then it's better than not at all.
Use this meeting in large part to gather a sense of expectations versus results. Your notes from the meeting should be combined with employee interviews and a thorough review of the work product and associated client correspondence, including all billing letters. Only after reviewing all the forensic evidence can you begin the process of drawing conclusions and filing the autopsy report.
Step Three - The Autopsy Report
The autopsy report should include answers to the following questions:
Time of Death (When was it really over, not time of notification)
Day the Relationship Was Pronounced Dead (Notification/Death Certificate)
Genetic/Historical Influences - Chronicle of past client behaviors such as bad credit history or a pattern of burning through agencies. Quite frankly, issues you may have (or in many cases should have) known before engaging the client in the first place, but either ignored or minimized.
The Match - Were you ever really meant for one another to begin with? It’s important to know yourself and to carefully assess your new prospect, regardless of how much you may believe you want the business. If during the new business pitch, the prospect team members offer disturbing information regarding what they are like to work with - believe what they're telling you!
A Review of Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Team - In large part, look at this in terms of how certain team members matched up with the client contacts, both in terms of personality types and industry sector. It's possible that personalities played a role, or you have a staff member who’s terrific in some industry sectors and not as enthusiastic and arguably less effective in others; it may be helpful to take note.
A Review of Processes - Many agencies can be very specific regarding how they like to work and are often “less flexible" in dealing clients who may want to work differently. You either find a way to be more adaptable in your processes or, if you find it crucial to function in a very specific manner, you should clearly articulate the benefits of your working relationship style and make sure it's a good fit from the beginning.
Cause of Death - Did internal issues make the relationship susceptible to external influences? Was there any possibility of resuscitation between TOD and Notification? Identify the root causes of why the relationship went bad.
Once you've examined all the evidence and determined the cause of death, develop a set of strategic considerations and conclusions, and take action as appropriate. Develop your own version of the client relationship autopsy and make it part of your routine. Collect these reports and watch for recurring patterns over time. We all lose clients, but we can lose fewer of them if we choose wisely from the start and pay close attention to the relationship. Finally, don't wait until the relationship dies to evaluate it, but if it does, don't miss the opportunity to learn from it either.
*Image from scienceontv.com
Friday, April 16, 2010
@chrisbrogan, @edwardboches, @dmullen, @arikhanson, @TDefren, @strategicsense, @JKWLeadership, @angiechaplin, @bnjacobs, @johnhurst, @bcarroll7, @ThePRDoc, @almcfarland, @maggiesthinkin, @PRSSASDSU, @PRSrbija, @BiancaPuopolo, @lpverzosa, @remund, @sherrilynne, @BitaEhsanipour, @rlcandey, @pdncoach, @DannyBrown, @ruthseeley, @Gema_Maria, @KristinLoe, @ccduong, mandyboyle, @msebastian, MarkRaganCEO, @jonathanvolk, @LIW3, @karamlm, @CommAMMO, @prblog, @profgalloway, @PhilReinhardt, JKWinnovation, @vedo, BarbaraNixon, @rdfrench, @ScottMonty, @PhilipTater, @PROpenmic, @chipgriffen, @Will_Lukang, @shonali, @stuartfoster, @BrendanCooper.
A big Follow Friday to the 50 people listed above! Have a great weekend!
*Image from askaaronlee.com
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
While I don't believe everyone who writes an article that offers 5 tips for this or 10 tips for that is necessarily a geek or one's enemy, I would argue that we should read such articles with caution. They typically address symptoms and almost never crawl inside underlying causes. Worse yet, they rarely ever transform how we practice our profession over the long term.
Can they be helpful from time to time? Sure. Do I read these articles just like everyone else? Of course, (heck, I've written a few, although I try to avoid it). It's hard not to. I'm an avid Ragan.com reader - the undisputed king of the "tips" article! Let's face it, any headline that promises a simple, numerically organized way to address a timely, complex issue can be hard turn away from. That's why writers write them and readers read them.
That said, even when we read a tip that really connects with us, its utility is too often short-lived. As good as the advice may be, we can't help but resume our familiar ways of doing business. Because I understand that "tips" articles will continue to be written for many decades to come, I only suggest that we balance our "tips" fascination with a deeper dive into underlying causes and the mindset that drives our basic assumptions. Only then do we stand a chance of converting short-term tips to life-long best practices.
Hmmm.....Sounds like a good article:
Five Ways To Convert Short-term Tips To Life-long Best Practices
Monday, April 12, 2010
· Thank your clients for their business. We don't do so often enough.
· Send the message that client service excellence is a priority for your firm. Don't worry about overpromising or raising expectations. Clients want to know you care and that you're trying your very best on their behalf.
· Keep it brief. The fewer the questions the better. You don't need to ask 50 questions to demonstrate your priorities and engage in a meaningful conversation.
· Don't be afraid to ask. Sometimes agencies get bashful about asking for client participation, making the excuse: "my client is too busy." Rubbish. It's like saying you won't invite someone to a party at your home because you determine that they may not be able to make it. People like being invited and can get really offended if they're not. Be sure to ask; they'll appreciate it, even if they are too busy. This is also where keeping it brief helps.
· Involve all your client contacts. Don't just ask your primary client contact. Ask everyone who works with your firm - on all fronts. Also remember that the secondary contact of today may be the primary contact tomorrow. Talk to everybody.
· Share the results. Let your clients know that you'll share the results with them. Do not make the mistake of asking for their opinions without follow-up. If you have already done so in the past, I can better understand why you'd be afraid to ask again. This time, promise to share the results, and be sure to follow through on that promise.
· Develop an action plan. Regardless of how good the results, develop an action plan, or at the very least a communications plan. Revisit the plan and discuss progress once a quarter.
Show your clients that you're not just client service measurers; you're client service champions. By doing so, you'll strengthen your client relationships beyond measure.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
I hear people lament the demise of the English language all the time. They speak to how texting, tweeting, and other such practices are contributing to poor grammar, marginal spelling, and an inability to express oneself "properly" in the written form. Lunsford disagrees. She claims, "I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization." And as Thompson points out, "For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions."
*Image from edutopia.org
Friday, April 2, 2010
Over time, I watched it move up to the number one unpaid listing on page one. This was at a time when I was posting practically every day. Now I post an average of once a week, but remain in the top five on page one - today CSI happens to be listed second. I raise this issue for two reasons: 1) It speaks to how easy one can associate their organization with key brand attributes; and, 2) it's interesting who appears in the top five for client service. Let me review the top five:
- clientservices.com - a collection agency
- clientserviceinsights.blogspot.com - a blog about client service excellence focused primarily on PR firms and other professional services firms
- betterclients.com - an interesting service because it's actually kind of a Better Business Bureau that offers info to firms about potential good and bad clients
- artofclientservice.com - a book said to contain 58 things every advertising and marketing executive should know
- mckinsey.com/clientservice - one of the premier management consulting firms in the world
*Image from Olympic SEO Blog