Stepping Off The Client Service Hamster Wheel Of Doom!

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Today we are discussing strategies on how to get yourself off the client service hamster wheel of doom. I love using this term because it perfectly encapsulates the scenario where you’re so busy servicing clients that you’ve got no time to breathe alone focus on the future of your agency and when we are permanently stuck in client service mode we can’t see the wood for the trees, so it’s an important topic that most agency owners find themselves stuck in at some point and if you want to grow, then you need to find a way to stop it and step off!

Time Stamp

[00:45] The downside of ‘going the extra mile’

[01:39] The importance of stepping off the client service hamster wheel of doom!

[02:20] 7 Ways to get off the CSHWOD 

[02:32] 1. Create a respectful partner/partner relationship with your clients rather than an imbalanced customer/supplier relationship where you become the person at the bottom of the food chain.

[02:58] 2. The importance of good boundaries

[03:07] 3. Regularly review your scope of work with clients 

[03:26] 4. Be a consultant at all stages of your relationship with your clients

[04:00] 5. New ways of saying YES or NO to clients

[05:46] 6. Schedule and block out time in your diary that will never be available to your clients

[06:46] 7. As you grow make sure you have a really solid account management team beneath you who cannot only deliver great work but also can manage and communicate effectively with clients

[7:09] How Simon Isaac from Capsule Marketing has extracated him from client work

[8:26] How you should be splitting your time


“Change your mindset to thinking about how much time you have available for client work and what is your most important use of your time because it should be planning the future of your agency.” - Rob Da Costa
“No matter what small tweaks agency owners make, they can’t get off client service hamster wheel of doom!” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

Let's talk about that pesky Client Service Hamster Wheel of Doom. You know where you are so busy servicing clients that you've got no time to breathe, let alone focus on the future of your agency. And when we're permanently stuck in client service mode, we can't see the wood for the trees. So that's what I'm going to dig into in today's podcast. So let's get going. I'm Rob Da Costa, and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast as someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown, and sold my agency and just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life.

So, this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guest experiences, and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable business. I get it, we all want to do a great job for our clients and go the extra mile. But when does going the extra mile becomes extra 10 miles and result in unprofitable work and a stressed-out team? Now, sometimes a demanding client results in us not delegating work to our team if we have one or letting the client think that we are always going to be the main point of contact, even though there may well be other people in the team that should be managing the client and account and perhaps even know more about what's going on in the day to day than we do.

Nevertheless, the client keeps deferring to us. And does any of this ring true with you and sound familiar? Well, if that's the case, then you are constantly going to be feeling that you don't have enough time to focus on the future of your business because you're so busy servicing clients stuck on The Client Service Hamster Wheel of Doom. Now, this is a vicious cycle or maybe I should call it a vicious wheel because we have to find a way of stopping that hamster wheel from climbing off of it and making some changes so that we're able to allocate enough time to steer our ship towards that beautiful desert island rather than the iceberg that's in the other direction.

And you may well know that you need to spend some time in strategy mode, but you just don't have enough time in your average 95 days. But that doesn't mean you should be working longer hours to compensate for this, it means that we need to work smarter and get clients' work off our plates. Now, there are a million ways to solve this. It's like untangling a tangled ball of string. So, where do you start? So, this is something that we dig into in my running agency membership.

But today, I want to share with you seven ideas on how to start changing this. Stop the client service hamster wheel of doom and get a better relationship with your clients. It all starts by making sure you have a respectful partner relationship with your clients rather than that imbalanced customer-supplier relationship where you become the person at the bottom of the food chain that gets beaten up all the time. And that starts with the very first conversations you have. When your customer is a prospect and you ensure that you are being consultative for every step of the process so that they see you as an equal partner.

Next, you need to get some really good boundaries with your clients, and one of the best ways of doing this is by having a clear scope of work in a place that both you and your client understand and that you are working towards. Now, the scope of work mustn't be just created when you win the client, but it is reviewed regularly and it is kept up today in line with the client's larger and, of course, the ever-changing business goals. This also is one of the great ways of making sure that you retain your client for the long term, and you don't just do the same things month in and month out being the consultant. You should be able to push back on clients.

But it's amazing how many people believe that “Oh my God, if I push back professionally, then the client will be unhappy and fire me.” This is especially true for younger, less experienced team members who always want to jump as high as the client asked, regardless of the fee that they're paying. So this is something that's happening to you. You need to make sure that you train everyone throughout your organization to understand the boundaries with your clients, so we need to find new ways of saying yes or maybe no to clients.

Now, the way I see it is that when a client asked you to do something that's outside of this agreed scope of work, you've got five responses that you can choose from. So, let me just step through all of those. Number one is you could just say, “Yes, we can do that,” if you feel it's reasonable or it's within the scope of work or it won't take too much additional effort because, after all, we don't want to be jobsworth. Secondly, you say to a client, “Yes, we can do that, but we need to swap something else out that's already in the scope of work.” And then you want to discuss with your client what's going to be removed from this month's plan to do the additional task. Number three is you can say, “Yes, we can do that, but we can't do it till this future date.” And that means sort of forward passing this to a time where you feel you will have more capacity in the client's plan to do this. The additional task, especially if your client's work is seasonal now. Number four is we can say, “Yes, we can do that, but they will be an additional charge.” Now, this is an obvious one, but perhaps the one that people are really nervous about saying. But at the end of the day, as I always say, if you go and buy and pay for a cup of coffee from Starbucks and then as you're leaving and you've got your chance, you say, “Oh, by the way, can I have a croissant,” without expecting to pay? Then they're going to think you're a bit crazy and look at you rather strangely. So, why don't we apply the same thinking in our agency now?

As I said, there were five ways to respond, and I've only given you four. So the fifth way is to politely decline the work. If you can't use one of the first four options that I've outlined. Now we are allowed to say “No.” Your world will not fall apart, especially if you feel that the client or the project is going to be a challenge to deliver. And perhaps they're taking the Mickey another way to get yourself off The Client Service Hamster Wheel of Doom is to schedule and block out time in your diary that will never be available to your clients, just like hopefully weekends and evenings aren't. And you keep this time sacrosanct. 

To work on the strategy of your agency is the future of your agency. I appreciate that. This can't be days, but it certainly could be 2 to 3 hours, maybe 23 times a week. Now, this will only work if you see this time that you've locked out as the most important time. And therefore, it can't be changed as opposed to the least important time that as soon as a client asked you to do something, you immediately overwrite it. The key to making this work, as I found out, is to plan exactly what you're gonna do during that time that you've blocked out so that you know, when you get to that time, exactly the steps you're going to do and you're less minded to change it.

If a client asks you to book something or you get to that time slot, you're not quite sure what you'll do, so you end up getting sucked into client work. Now, the next thing you need to do as you grow is to make sure that you've got a really solid account management team beneath you, who can not only deliver great work but can also manage and communicate effectively with clients. This is a huge step towards not only getting off The Client Service Hamster Wheel of Doom but also building an agency that is less dependent on you (I.e. a self-running agency). Take my client, Simon Isaac from Capitol Marketing. Now interviewed Simon in Episode 118 of the podcast. So, go back and have a listen to that. But he's put many of the steps, I'm outlining today in place in his agency. And that's freeing him up to be way less involved with client delivery and pursue some of the other interests he has outside of his agency, yet still, find time to focus on the bigger picture strategy and business development in areas that he is really well placed to deliver.

Don't kid yourself that you don't have time to focus on the future of your agency because if you don't find this time, I guarantee that you're going to go around in circles, taking two steps forward and two steps back, and you're gonna feel like you're constantly bashing your head against a brick wall and that you are the beck and call of your clients and your team. And this is going to lead you to feel stressed, your agency feeling stressed. And of course, you're going to be stuck permanently on the client service. The hamster will do. So, change your mindset to thinking about. 

First of all, how much time do you have available to do client work? And secondly, what is the most important use of your time? Because, as I said, it should be. If you're the leader of your agency, it should be about planning the future of your business. Now, to give this a little bit of context, you're likely to be spending around 65% of your time each week doing client work, maybe 30% of your time working on strategy. The future of your agency and then 5% of your time on the admin, like running your agency. You're the admin tasks such as invoicing and HR, and so on.

Of course, these splits vary from agency to agency and from person to person, depending on your role in the agency. But I just wanted to give you a rough guide to give you some context about this. Now, a lot of agency owners I chat to are in this exact position of being stuck on The Client Service Hamster Wheel of Doom. And no matter what small tweaks they have made, they find themselves getting pulled right back into client work. So, I hope this episode has given you a bit of food for thought and a few ideas of what you can do to start getting off the client hamster wheel of Doom and know that it is possible.

Okay, so that's it for today's episode, short and sweet with some vegetable points. I hope you found it useful and insightful, and that it provided you with a few ideas. And if you did find it useful, then please do consider leaving a review on apple podcasts or if you're watching this on the video, please make sure you give me the thumbs up, you've shared it with your colleagues and you've subscribed. And if you're listening on Apple, please do leave a review because, as you know a review will help the algorithms show the podcast to more people and therefore help me impact more people.

All you need to do is scroll down to the bottom of the podcast page that you're listening to and click on the leave a review link. I hope you have a fantastic rest of your week, and I will see you next week on the next episode of The Agency Accelerator podcast.

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