Saturday, May 13, 2017

Client-Servicing: The Heart Of the Communications Business

Communication is the core of every living being. In business and in branding great communication is often the driving force that keeps consumers and the community at large interested and hooked. The core of every piece of communication machinery is like our heart, which pumps blood to every part of the body rapidly, providing oxygen to the cells keeping them fresh & throbbing with ideas.
This heart of the communications business is the function of client servicing. Just as a weak heart translates into a sick body, Client-servicing is today sadly mistaken for and reduced to the image of a diffident and duh waiter at a lowly roadside 'dhaba'. The ills that plague the communications business I reckon, is due to a marginalized role for this most important of functions. For the advertising and communications business to thrive, it needs to have its heart back, healthy, bustling and pumping. This article is about what is client servicing and who does it. To begin, let me address the 2nd part first. Who does client servicing?
Everybody. As simple as that. Some of the best client servicing people I know are actually guys with the title of 'Creative Director' and 'Planning Director'.
That's right. Client servicing isn't about taking down a client brief. It's not even about having lunch or a drink with the client or having his family home over the weekend. And it's definitely not about arguing over what is good communication for the client.
  1. Client servicing is about EMPATHY. To listen and to learn. To not rush into giving solutions. To have the patience to understand the unique details and differences in the client's business. To take the effort to scour every alley the brand sells in, to sift through tons of research that nobody went through, to study and evaluate the competitors, to look for similarities in other countries, categories, industries. And after doing all this, you need to get under the skin of the person sitting opposite you. What is she/he struggling with? What are his/her strengths? Where does she/he get stretched? What is the organization culture, the founder, his value-system, the key people in the company and their views. The people dynamics of the place. Also open up. Share bits about yourself and your company, personal, work...but in a constructive framework, in keeping with the line of the discussions. Let people know you & your organization, let them get comfortable with you. If you do not provide information about yourself, people will get it from other sources which may not paint the right picture about you and your organization. The best solutions are well-informed solutions. By displaying empathy, considerable information begins to flow between the client and the communications company, building the foundation of trust and creating the right environment for development of a framework for the eventual solution.
  2. You are the LEADER, act like one. I have often heard Account Managers and Account Executives whine: What can we do? I'm just an AE. I've heard them say the same even when they become GM's. Such words earn no respect. Neither from clients, nor from the creative/media/partner team nor from juniors. Great servicing people always have a plan in place. Don't worry, there's nothing like a perfect plan! 50% of all plans fail!! But a well thought-through plan improves your chance of success. You don't have to begin with a well-developed plan. Begin with many tiny ones and bounce them off your team and client to develop each on merit. Finally, you will have about 2-3 workable ones. Always walk into meeting - with clients, bosses, creatives, partners with a plan in your head. Draw ideas from anywhere around. People sense and gravitate towards those who have clarity and a plan. Be that person.
  3. Be BRAVE and always go beyond the brief. Problems are never the same, so how can solution be the same? Reflect and evaluate your work constantly. Is it similar to your past work? is there a pattern? Only print? only TVC? only digital? Only Hindi? only advertising? only GEC channels? ....If yes, it should be clear that you're not growing and neither are your solutions. You could argue that your client only asked for that much. But then you have to raise the question if that much would do the job? And if you know that it won't, then don't keep silent. It won't help to retain the client. Or your job. Give solutions that are honest. Give the right solution, even if you aren't making a rupee from it. Because the short-term never matters. Your work and advise will linger on. You client will return to you, in a bigger avatar. Quality and integrity never go out of fashion.
  4. BELIEVE. In yourself, in your team, your work and your solution. And in the fact that you can make anything happen! Yes. Seriously. You can. Send a rocket into space? Yes you can. There's always a way. Everything can be done. ANYTHING can be done. In a week. In 3 days. In 1 day. Overnight. That's because good client servicing people know, if something can be imagined, then it can be done. You simply have to find out how it's done, simple! The best part is that the more incredible the task, the more you learn and grow. If you can make one impossible task happen then you've done what millions of people don't achieve in the lifetimes. Client's don't buy work. They buy your CONVICTION in that work! A word of caution here, belief is great, but it needs to be backed by hard-work and detailing. Conviction doesn't come from knowledge. It comes from having made thing happen.
  5. CLARITY & ANTICIPATION. At any given point, good client-servicing people know exactly what is happening in their worlds. From the macro to the micro. From the smallest counter to the biggest event. Every bit is playing out in their heads, busy as they may be elsewhere. Such managers know how to 'flit back and forth between the balcony & the dance floor'. They're never pressurized by the quantum of work for they asses each task quickly, break them up into components, assign responsibilities and set them all rolling as separate balls. Then they step back to monitor the progress of every ball they've set rolling. If they see a ball lose steam, they give it the required nudge. If another's losing direction, they get it back on course. If one is hurtling towards the edge, they re-direct it. A million rolling balls are inside their heads. As they keep their eyes on them, they do one more thing. They ANTICIPATE what could go wrong. Therefore long a problem occurs they've taken corrective action to account for it.
  6. ATMOSPHERE. Well before a presentation, a good client servicing executive knows what the outcome is likely to be. That's because he knows the mood of the team doing the work. He knows the confidence levels in the work, the quality of the information used and how much of what's needed to be done has been ticked off. Which is why MANAGING work atmosphere is critical to client servicing. Ideas aren't logical. Indeed the best ones defy all logic. Ideas don't just happen. Someone, somewhere takes a LEAP. And in an atmosphere of fear and risk, I can assure you, none will. The greatest servicing people absorb the pressure to keep the work atmosphere clear, buzzing and full of excitement. That gives teams the courage to take leaps. That feeling is intoxicating. Soon ideas flow unchecked and before long you have a winner.
Client servicing is not just 'client-servicing'. It's the heart of the communications business. It's what you touch when you want to reaffirm the faith. Client servicing is to be the GO TO person in the ecosystem. For the client, for the team, for the solution.
You have to be everything: creative, problem solver, psychologist, doer, thinker, fighter, researcher, analyst, talker, sponge...yet you have to be the person in the shadow: the voice of reason, the sense of belief, the conviction in the idea, the detail in the God...
Client servicing is to be the 'Dasavataar': The 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu, taking different forms, shapes, doing different deeds and acts, setting the wrongs into rights...To be the Protector, the person who keeps the world in order, safe, secure and thriving with life and ideas.