The 9 Essentials for Best-in-Class Client Service in 2024

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In the competitive landscape of agency life, standing out and avoiding the race to the bottom is crucial. The focus of this episode is on empowering you with strategies to not only win clients but also retain and grow them. As we approach 2024, a challenging economic year, ensuring exceptional client service becomes even more vital for the sustainability and profitability of your agency.

1. Discerning Prospecting: Learn how to identify and target clients who not only fit your core niche but also value your services, leading to successful, long-term relationships.

2. Precise Project Scoping: Understand the importance of detailed project scoping to set clear expectations, prevent misalignments, and ensure a smooth client-agency relationship from the start.

3. Outcome-Focused Communications: Discover the significance of communicating with clients based on business outcomes and strategic goals rather than just providing tactical project updates.

Now, dive into this episode to gain insights into the nine non-negotiable strategies for elevating your agency's client service. Implementing these strategies will not only set you apart from the competition but also contribute to the long-term success and profitability of your agency. Don't miss out – hit play and start transforming your approach to client service today!

Topics Covered In This Episode:

[00:45] Nine Essentials for Client Service

[02:51] Discerning Prospecting - Importance of finding ideal target clients who understand and value your services.

[04:09] Clear Project Scoping - Emphasis on precisely scoping client projects to set clear expectations.

[07:09] Outcome-Focused Communications - Advantages of focusing on business outcomes and strategic goals in communications.

[09:25] Standardising Internal Processes - Implementing standardized systems and processes for consistent client experiences.

[10:46] Cross-Functional Teamwork - Ensuring adherence to client service methodology and fostering collaboration through technology.

[13:05] Proactive Relationship Building - Proactively building human-based relationships with clients by understanding their needs.

[14:11] Preventing Over-Servicing for Profitability - Highlighting the need to prevent over-servicing for long-term sustainability and profitability.

[15:09] Team Training for Client Service Excellence - Advocating for investing in team members' training in account management and client service.

[16:26] Proactive Account Development Planning - Stressing the need for proactive account development planning to focus on client growth.

[17:30] Summary of Customer Service Pillars - Summarising the nine pillars for exceptional customer service, combining strategy and empathy.

Quotations

“No one wants to have a revolving door of clients coming in one door and clients exiting out the other. So one way to ensure that this doesn't happen is to make sure that you have great client service in place that is consistently delivered by everybody." - Rob Da Costa
“Great customer service requires strategy plus empathy. Take a consultative approach laser-focused on achieving your client's goals." - Rob Da Costa
"Preventing over-servicing is perhaps one of the most important of my nine tips for you. Time track carefully, and whenever over-servicing approaches 10% of the estimated hours, implement strategies to rein it back in before it becomes normalised." - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

Rob Da Costa:

I've been talking a lot with clients about the importance of really great customer service, especially in 2024, which I think is going to be a challenging economic year for all of us. Indeed. Recently I ran a workshop entitled Nine Essentials for Bestinclass Client Service in 2024. So in this episode, I thought I would share with you the nine things that you really need to focus on if you want to win, retain and grow your existing clients and also separate yourself from the competition. So today we are talking about the importance of having fantastic client service without massively over-servicing and ensuring that you're profitable. So that's what we're going to cover today. And let's get started with the show. I'm Rob Da Costa, and this is the Agency Accelerator Podcast.

Rob Da Costa:

As someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown and sold my own agency, I know 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's experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business. Let's face it, the agency world is supersaturated. There are tonnes of agencies cropping up all the time who promise to deliver services, whether that be digital services or web development, graphic design, PR, content writing and so on. And if we're not careful, that everybody starts to look really commoditized. And then it becomes a race for the bottom because clients pick agencies based on who is the cheapest or who's going to promise ridiculous levels of service. And of course, we know that neither of those are smart ways to run an agency unless you want to be poor and completely stressed. So we need to make sure we separate ourselves.

Rob Da Costa:

And one of the ways to do that is to have exceptional levels of client service. After all, no one wants to have a revolving door of clients coming in one door and clients exiting out the other. So one way to ensure that this doesn't happen is to make sure that you have great client service in place that is consistently delivered by everybody, not just you, but everybody in your team. Now, the key here is to implement processes and then systems to laser focus on client outcomes. And by processes, I mean the documented processes you take people through, and then the systems are the text that you use to deliver those processes. So if I use those terms, systems and processes, you understand what I mean and they're not just interchangeable. So today I want to share with you nine nonnegotiables that your agency needs to have in place to ensure that you win clients for the long term. Now, great client service starts way before you start working with a client, which I know sounds a bit strange, but you need to make sure that you are finding ideal target clients if you want to have successful long-term working relationships with them.

Rob Da Costa:

That means clients who not only fit in your core niche but also value the work that you do and are willing to pay a fair fee for your work. So you might find a client that does fit in your core niche but they don't really understand what you do and therefore they don't place much value on it and they are going to be really difficult clients to keep and retain. Or worse than that, you might even just be finding people who are tie clickers who are looking for the company, who's going to be the cheapest or indeed just looking for ideas on budgets. So when you're pitching, dig into the client's goals, their challenges and their criteria of how they will measure a successful engagement and make sure that you understand all of the stakeholders that you need to engage with and not just your first point of contact. Trust me that this upfront investment prevents disappointment later on and it means that you are only taking on clients that you can truly help and clients that will value the service of what you do. So that is number one, which is to be really discerning when you are in the prospecting stage and best-in-class client service. Tip number two is to be really clear with your project scoping so precisely scoping client projects up front is absolutely crucial for setting clear expectations and preventing misalignments down the road. Before kicking off any engagement.

Rob Da Costa:

Detail all the deliverables, the responsibilities, timelines and the communication processes as specifically as you possibly can. Make sure there are no ambiguity or grey areas in the scope of work that you're sending your client and that means clearly outlining what your agency will provide, what the client is responsible for, as well as all the major timelines along the project delivery journey and also that cadence of communication. Specify what sign-off and feedback cycles will entail. Identify any dependencies that could impact the delivery timelines because you need to work in partnership with your clients and also define and agree on what success looks like and how it is measured. Outline that in the scope of work but of course, you would have discussed that prior to creating the scope of work. And then once you have that in place, you want to make sure you're securing formal written sign-off from the client to ensure that all stakeholders fully understand and agree on expectations before you even start. Do not proceed until you have an agreement to prevent any misunderstandings later on. And then you want to schedule regular reviews, maybe quarterly reviews to revisit and potentially modify the scopes as projects progress.

Rob Da Costa:

After all, priorities can often shift and the scope needs to evolve as the engagement unfolds and the client's business and environment change. So you want to make sure that you are maintaining flexibility to adjust the scope and redefine responsibilities when appropriate. Now, this is going to be really important to retain clients. So you need to make sure that you have that flexibility and that you are ready to refine and revise as appropriate. And of course, if certain deliverables or timelines need to change, discuss them with the client to get buy-in. Do not unilaterally alter agreed-upon scopes without approval or of course, you risk losing trust. Now look, in all of this, the goal is to maintain a laser focus on the client's most business-critical needs at any moment in time, not just delivering exactly what was outlined months earlier in the original scope of work. Approaching scopes as a living document will better serve both the clients and the agency in the long run.

Rob Da Costa:

With precise upfront, scoping, regular reviews and collaborative revisions, your engagements will stay strategically aligned over the long term, delivering maximum value to clients and them seeing you as a partner that is invested in their success. So that was the second of my nine tips, which is being really precise about the scope of work. And the third tip I've got for you is to make sure that you are really focusing on outcome-focused communications. So seamless communication is really integral to client service delivery. Obviously, establish consistent meeting formats such as monthly recaps, quarterly business reviews, informal weekly chats and so on. And agree on the optimal cadence which suits each of your clients. Make discussions focused on business outcomes and their strategic goals, not just the tactical project updates. I want to say that again because it's so important.

Rob Da Costa:

Make sure that your discussions and your reporting focus on their business outcomes and their strategic goals, not just the bits and the bytes and the tactical projects that you are delivering. And if you are talking about those tactical project delivery, then it has to map to the bigger business outcomes that the client's looking for. So resist simply reporting on tasks completed each period. This might make your junior members feel like they are doing a lot, but trust me, the client cares most about those bigger tangible outcomes and the overall progress made towards the client hitting their goals. And you want to show how your work translates into these key goals. Now of course you can't do any of that if you haven't done the two points I've mentioned prior to this. So get your prospecting right and those scopes right and then you will be able to do the third point, which is outcome-focused communications. And the fourth point I want to talk about is standardising internal processes.

Rob Da Costa:

To deliver a consistent, excellent client experience, no matter what team members are working on the account, agencies must have standardised systems and processes in place. So document every step of the client journey from initial onboarding to adventure offboarding, leaving nothing to one-off ad hoc efforts that of course lead to inconsistency. So you want to create your playbooks that outline the ideal workflows for each client service process, from account management to creative review, from approval to reporting and build templated documents that allow for customization whilst maintaining structure throughout the agency. So invest time up front to design these streamlined processes and then train all your employees, especially your new hires, on these standardised processes through each stage of the client lifecycle. Now of course, you want to review them regularly in team meetings and update the procedures frequently to prevent inefficiencies from creeping in over time. And of course, things change and new team members come along with ideas. So you want to be open to all of that, but what you want to do is not have people doing things their own way. And you don't want to end up with silos in your agency, but rather you want to be creating standardised processes that you are continuously looking for ways to optimise.

Rob Da Costa:

Now, remember that these systems you're putting in place should work when you have five clients, but they should also work when you have 50 clients and they should work when you have one account manager and they should work when you have ten account managers. Now, once you've documented those processes, you can look at the technology, the systems that you put in place like CRMs and time tracking and so on, to make sure that you are building consistency across the agency and building in automation where you possibly can to increase efficiency. With robust evolving systems fully adopted across the agency, every client will receive the same high-calibre experience regardless of which team member is assigned to the account. And that is super important if you want to retain your client. So that is point number four, which is all about standardising internal processes and point number five is about cross-functional teamwork. So standard processes include how you work internally. So ensure that each team member is adhering to your client service methodology and as I said, use tech to help your teams collaborate such as project management tools like Asana and Monday, time recording tools like toggle harvest Streamtime and so on. You want to make sure, especially if you have dispersed teams across the country or across the world, that you have centralised systems and structured workflows.

Rob Da Costa:

So you're eliminating, as I said earlier, any silos that will undermine the external delivery and of course, the experience that the client receives. Tip number six is to be proactive in building your customer relationships. This can be a tricky one, especially for more junior members because great service requires both strategy and delivery, but also empathy. So we need to learn each of our client's needs, their motivations and their pain points at a human level, not just a tactical delivery level. So we need to ultimately evolve from being a vendor to being a trusted partner through building genuine relationships. So you want to be proactive, assessing your account health, fixing issues as early as possible before frustration escalates and then often it's too late, and regularly measuring satisfaction, analysing churn rigorously and making all decisions through the lens of caring about a client's business. Now, this comes with time, with building your confidence and being seen by the client as a peer rather than a supplier. But that is tip number six, which is being proactive at building human-based relationships with your clients.

Rob Da Costa:

Number seven is super important and kind of counterintuitive to a lot of what we've been talking about so far, but vital if you want to be profitable, and that is preventing over-servicing. Because if you jump or your team member jumps whenever a client asks and constantly goes the extra mile, you're setting unrealistic service expectations that just can't scale long term and are unsustainable and create loads of stress in your agency. So time track carefully and whenever over servicing approaches 10% of the estimated hours, i. E. 10% more than the estimated hours, then you need to implement some strategies to rein it back in before it becomes normalised. So you want to be able to say no to out-of-scope requests or agree on an additional fee. And of course, if you've got a very clear scope of work that is possible, you want to be clear and transparent about capacity constraints. So clients understand that you obviously have multiple accounts and multiple clients set boundaries politely but firmly when required work exceeds the agreed scope and manage expectations up front to prevent disappointment down the line.

Rob Da Costa:

So educate your clients on what your standardised processes are and your typical cadence of work and stick closely to the signed scope of work agreements. Over-servicing stems from really good intentions, especially from junior members, but it leads to client confusion and ultimately client disappointment when you can't sustain it and team burnout. This is perhaps one of the most important of my nine tips for you, and that is preventing over-servicing. So the next point I want to talk about is training your team members to be great account managers or great client service people. Because we give our teams technical training, I e. How to use the latest design software, but we don't so much focus on investing the same efforts into account management and client service. And I never quite understand why that is the case. As your team member develops, it isn't a given that they will naturally be a great account manager, so rather invest in them and make it part of their professional development to attend client service training as well as coaching and mentoring.

Rob Da Costa:

You want to build a culture focused on great delivery and you're going to do that by training your team and making great client service part of your DNA. So make sure that is part of their professional development. Obviously, you want to recognise and reward your team members who provide appropriate levels of client service but retain and grow their accounts. And that takes me on to the last point, the last tip, which is proactive account development planning because it's vital not just to focus on client retention, but also client growth. We all know that it's way cheaper to keep and grow an existing client than it is to win a new client. And as I said at the beginning, we don't want a revolving door of winning clients onboarding them, keeping them for a few months and then they leave because they're disappointed in the level of client service. So we also want to do some proactive account development. So plan how you are going to expand relationships beyond the initial project.

Rob Da Costa:

And of course, if you've done the other eight tips, you've got a really good chance of doing that because the client is going to be delighted by the work that you do and they're going to see you as a crucial partner rather than a tactical provider. So internally, you should be conducting quarterly account reviews focused on this expansion strategy. You're probably only going to do this for your top three or four clients, but you want to be looking at your strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats with that client so that you can mitigate some of the weaknesses and threats and you can maximise some of the strengths and opportunities. You want to uncover new revenue opportunities and then set some targets to increase the budget share and have a strategy for doing that. Make growth intentional through this kind of strategic account planning and don't just plateau at the initial engagement project or fee and think we can never get any additional work because for most of your clients that is not true. And of course, ultimately you want to be aiming to be as indispensable for your client as you possibly can. If you apply these nine strategies, you are definitely going to be heading towards that type of relationship because you'll become a valued partner in your client's success, not just a replaceable vendor. And of course, this shift builds loyalty, it boosts lifetime value and it generates referrals as well.

Rob Da Costa:

Because if your client loves you, they're likely to talk to their network about how great you are. So great customer service requires strategy plus empathy. Take a consultative approach laser-focused on achieving your client's goals. Be proactive, anticipate needs, and work seamlessly as an extension of their team. With these nine pillars in place, you will be able to deliver exceptional customer service that delights your clients but also makes sure that you are hitting your profit margin targets, which is vital. Okay, I feel like I've raced through these nine strategies almost in one breath, but these are nine areas that you really should be focusing on in 2024 to provide great customer service. Now, if you want to learn more about this, then go and grab a copy of the Agency Growth Book, which is a book I contributed to this client service article, but there's a whole bunch of other stuff from some other amazing coaches that will help you with every aspect of running your agency. So I'll put a link for you to grab a copy free of the Agency growth book in the Show Notes and, of course, a couple of other things to remind you of.

Rob Da Costa:

If you want to get support like this, then make sure you're signing up for my twice monthly agency accelerator live events that happen on a Wednesday morning at 09:00 A.m. If you're in the UK and cover everything from client service to Niching to marketing to sales to recruitment and so on. So everything that you need to know about running your agency they are free, they're live and they are just 45 minutes long on a Wednesday morning at 09:00 A.m.. So I'll put a link to that in the Show Notes. And of course, if you found this useful and as we're coming to the end of the year, do me a huge favour. Give me a Christmas present by going over to your favourite podcast platform, whether that be Spotify or Apple, and leave a review. I wish I could get more reviews for this podcast. I know lots of you are listening, but lots of people don't leave reviews.

Rob Da Costa:

So do me a massive favour, and as I thank you for hopefully helping you out this year, please do leave a review. I've even put a link in the Show Notes with a video of how to leave a review on Apple. And the reason I want those reviews is because it helps the algorithm. Show this podcast to more people so I can increase the listenership, which ultimately means I can impact more people, which is my key reason for running this podcast. So other than that, we are heading to episode 200 next time and I've got something really exciting in store, so make sure you have hit the subscribe button so you are alerted to that. And it's really fitting that that will be our first episode of the new year. So this is our last episode of 2023. I hope you have a restful Christmas.

Rob Da Costa:

And I want to say a big thank you for joining me throughout the year and throughout these 199 episodes. And I will see you on the other side in 2024.

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