Client Service – Deliver What They Don’t Know They Want

The other day one of our clients asked us for something that was relatively easy to do – something that we could have handled with a quick email response without even knowing why the client needed the information. But I tend to be nosey, so I asked. The client contact needed the information to share with superiors to show the success of a recent campaign. So, we had a choice – we could have simply delivered what was asked of us, or we could think about this further and deliver something that they did not even know they wanted – or didn’t realize they could even ask for – but that would provide greater value than expected.

We ended up delivering a document that, although it did not take much longer to produce than the original request, put the information in clear context for the client in a way that they could see not only the success of the recent campaign, but also its relation to other campaigns. We knew that this would be more beneficial and would make our client contact look good in the eyes of superiors, so we took the longer road.

I started really thinking about this and wondering how often I do this, or how often I push my teams to do this. Are we delivering what they ask for, or are we thinking about what they really need? Are we checking off tasks on our list, or are we thoughtfully delivering information in ways that will make our clients more successful?

Because, quite honestly, going the extra step on this one felt good – it wasn’t a huge deal, but it was actually kind of fun. I liked the idea of delivering a surprise to the client – giving them what they asked for plus a little bit more. And it made me think twice about how we can present what we do in a more meaningful way.

When you do a job for a long time, certain tasks can become routine or mundane, and it’s easy to just check things off. But when clients give us references or talk about us, I want them to say that we didn’t treat anything as “routine” – that we were always thinking ahead, differently and creatively. I am very proud that we have a staff here that keeps me on my toes, challenges me to do better and who aren’t afraid to push me, even when I’m the boss.

To keep us all fresh, I want to make sure I challenge myself and my teams constantly and always ask – are we just checking off boxes, or are we giving our clients everything we have? Let’s strive every day to deliver what they don’t yet know they want.

What is Value? It Depends on Who You Ask

The word value might seem like a straight forward term but in
reality, it’s very subjective. Those of us in the PR agency business
can appreciate this as we balance multiple clients and work hard every
day to provide value to them – which can be, and often is, very
different from client to client. You  may experience this in your own
job if you’re a part of a larger division or company where multiple
decision makers need to see what you do every day as valuable. As you
look up the hierarchy, what constitutes as value can differ from layer
to layer, person to person. So how do you ensure that you are providing
the best value you can – and to the right people (the ones that
ultimately make the decision on your job, your future, your daily work
life)?

Even
when you do figure out what each person in the decision tree sees as
valuable, it can change. For example, often times PR agencies are
replaced when a new addition  – usually a VP or Director of Marketing -
is hired by a client. Alternately, you may get a new boss who has been
assigned to come in and “shake things up.” Although you may have met
all of the objectives of value for your previous contact, the new one
will hold you to their own standards of value and ROI. If someone’s
been assigned to come in and do more than fill some shoes – but rather,
make change and find problems – they will be looking very carefully at
everything you do. And while a more experienced person wouldn’t make
sweeping changes without first truly understanding what needed to be
fixed – and wouldn’t make changes just for the sake of making changes -
often times no matter how hard you’ve worked or how many goals you
previously met, they just won’t meet the new boss’s expectations of
value and your job will change (or, worst case scenario, be eliminated).

So what can you do to ensure you are always adding value to the
myriad of decision makers in your work life? First – and most obvious -
is to communicate. Sit down with each person who is responsible for
providing input or making decisions about your job (or firm) and ask
them, “How do you define value?” and “What can I do to be more valuable
to you on a daily basis.?” More importantly, be ready to express some
of your own ideas on how you have provided value in the past – tie it
to specific ROI such as sales, customer retention or effective company
policies. Secondly, don’t stop asking. Do this often and repeat. Change
happens in the corporate world at a rapid pace (or sometimes, a snail’s
pace… which can mean you’re thinking and acting before your company
or client is ready) and you need to have your pulse on the pace. Tie
your performance to previous discussions and outlines of value provided
to you by your former client contact or boss – and ensure that they
clearly correlate “This is what I was told was valuable and needed;
here’s how I achieved it.” Next, ask questions – “If this value is no
longer important, what is? What changes are you making and why – I want
to understand so I can also make the appropriate changes and continue
to deliver the right value to this organization.”

The bottom line – don’t assume you know what’s valuable in the minds
of all decision makers. It takes constant communication, consistent
measurement of your own performance (don’t just rely on others to do
this for you) and a certain tact for tooting your own horn to ensure
that your value is clear to all decision makers. Don’t leave it up to
others to communicate how valuable you are – and don’t ever look at it
as a job that’s complete.

How do you ensure that  you understand the value expected of your
agency or your position, and how do you juggle the expectations of
multiple audiences?