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Problems managing your client accounts? Learn to communicate

The perfect client – is there such a thing? If there was, how would you define it? Open and honest for sure, never flaky or indecisive, realistic with expectations and ready to take on your advice whole heartedly – time to wake up. Clients will never be perfect, because people aren’t perfect. That’s not something to be upset about, the challenges you face along the way – and the changes you adopt to accommodate, are part of becoming a better agency. If you never had to deal with obstacles, how would you know what to do with one?

So rather than see them as problems, here are a few challenges a PR agency will face when dealing with different accounts.

The ancient snail account
Some accounts have been with the agency for years but are little more than ‘ad hoc’ projects. They are ‘stop-and-go’ by nature, leaving time gaps between assignments. For instance, you might only issue their quarterly newsletter or develop their annual report each spring. They might only call you in crisis situations or only when their internal staff needs support.

Even those who have been with you forever can be lost forever. Never take an account for granted and use initiative to keep the account alive and active. Acknowledge them periodically. Pick up the phone. Go to lunch. Stay briefed on the client and the industry. Ask questions. Make suggestions. The more you reach out to them, the closer your relationship remains, and the less likely they’ll forget why they hired you in the first place.

The big fish
New clients with big budgets are an exciting experience for any account team. Problem is, a lot of people can get involved and potentially run amok with the account. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that the account handler takes complete charge of the work flow and becomes the guardian of the client’s interests. The budget must be well drawn and realistic, the assignment of work clear, and control of the administrative procedures so tight that little or nothing slips through. You must be on top of the situation and be prepared to move decisively before it gets out of control.

Little fish with big dreams
Smaller and emerging companies; they always seem to want a lot more for a lot less. Once they sign you on, they begin to ‘informally’ tap into more services than what their monthly fee covers – frequent and lengthy phone calls, drop-in visits, requests for a quick review of a 20-page document, and the list goes on.

Since you cannot re-budget after each incident and would rather not have to tell the client how much each extra piece of counselling is going to cost, the monthly bills begin to creep upward until you end up with an angry client declaring you are way too expensive.

How do you handle this? Start from the beginning, and make sure they understand exactly what is included from the onset. That way, if they do ask for some of the extras, they will understand that there will be extra costs. If it still happens regularly, with clients trying to squeeze out tiny little freebies here and there, sit down and talk about it again. It is far better to be open and honest early on than to let dissatisfaction build.

My dog ate my homework
Few things agitate a client more than a failure to deliver something on schedule. And, quite frankly, excuses won’t cut it from your end and it will ultimately hurt your reputation. That’s why it’s very important that you set reasonable deadlines from the beginning. For the client that means understanding that they are not the sole account and that all the information promised must be handed over in a timely manner. For the agency, that means accurately judging how much time others will require for their participation in a project, planning for the unexpected and asking questions to make sure you have enough information to complete the task.

If you do end up needing an extension, make sure not to request it five minutes before the deadline, and to deliver on time at the next opportunity.

Can I have the bill, please
There is no magic number that is a ‘fit for all’, this is very personal and as such, should reflect the needs of the client. Even with the budget set, the unexpected will creep up, and as a professional you should not skimp on other projects to accommodate, but rather keep an open dialogue with the client.

It is also important to monitor progress – don’t wait until the end of the month to find out that you are over budget. Check weekly and let the client know in advance if extra work requested will require additional budget.

Mr. X has left the company
Turnover, especially in this industry, is a common occurrence. When this happens, and people leave an account, clients get stressed because it slows work, increases costs by calling for new people training, and raises concerns about the confidentiality of company information. Be sure clients are not being charged for retaining replacements. Management should always notify the client of changes in the account team by introducing new hires and announcing departures in a timely manner.

There isn’t a cookie cutter model when it comes to accounts, and there shouldn’t be when it comes to your approach, because people are different. But in light of this revelation, there is one remedy, or preemptive pill, that will always work, and that is communication. It opens the door towards progress, and makes sure you are both on track for delivering and receiving what is expected. So keep talking and letting clients know what you really think, and you will see that you can turn any frown upside down.

Is there such thing as a perfect client? If so, what qualities would define them?