06 Jan Managing Client Relationships in the Covid Era – 3 Tips To Consider
When I started my career as a 25-year-old copywriter, the idea of account management was not only scary, but foreign. I was too green to be fully trusted with clients and too focused on the notion that creatives handled the “creative stuff” and account people handled the “account stuff.” I’d come to advertising from journalism, where I worked in a newsroom where my only “clients” were my editors. Most of my interpersonal professional relationships were with interview subjects and most of my work was done in solitude with a solitary goal: write the best story you can and move on to the next.
Now, 10 years into my career, I write less and speak to clients more on a daily basis, and as my responsibilities have grown so has my awareness of how great work happens. Unlike I envisioned early on, you can’t succeed as a creative, or as an agency, without strong client relationships. And that fact has never been more apparent than in the Covid-19 era.
The fallout from Covid-19 has disrupted all of our lives in ways big and small, and it’s forced all of us to make wholescale adjustments to our work life and personal life. Now is the time to embrace the personal side of our work – to understand and meet clients where they are both literally and figuratively, and to let them into our lives as agency people too. This mutual understanding and shared sacrifice can be the difference between keeping your client relationships happy and healthy, or letting the moment put cracks in the foundation. Here are three things I’m keeping in mind in my daily conversations:
1. Find out exactly how, and how often, your clients prefer to communicate. It seems like a simple enough concept, no? But chances are your clients are experiencing the same stresses as you are managing remote work schedules and various forms of virtual communication, so it’s in your best interest to learn which way is most efficient for them and where you’re going to get their best, most comfortable self. If your client mentions they’re frustrated with Zoom conferences, make your next meeting a phone call. If they mention they’re flooded with emails, maybe relax on that 10-question thread with a dozen cc’d colleagues. If they’re at home with their kids, maybe texts might be the friendliest, quickest choice. Consolidate what you need from them and streamline the frequency of your outreach. Anticipating and responding to their communication needs will be an unsung, meaningful way to show you’re listening.
2. Know what is going on with them. Start with the personal side. You don’t have to probe for intimate details, but given how Covid-19 is affecting everyone, it’s unlikely it’s not on your clients’ mind in some way shape or form. Are they stressed? Are they calm? Do they have at-risk family? Are they caring for a loved one or home with children? In the 9 months since the pandemic hit I’ve spoken with clients dealing with one or many of these factors and a simple show of solidarity, flexibility, or compassion in the right moment can go a long way to showing a client you not only care about their business, but you care about them as people, too. It works both ways! Let them know what is going on in your life and they might be able to help you on a tough day or offer some words of encouragement. These are stressful times, lean on each other when appropriate.
3. Know what is going on with their business. The economic realities of Covid-19 are different for every client. Some industries are booming. Some are struggling. And some have fallen somewhere in between. No matter where your clients are, the constant is that their business is undoubtedly in a different place than it was last year, and it’s your job to make sure you’re offering the insight and services necessary in a way that’s sensitive to their new landscape. A client seeing more demand might need you to be a more reactive partner, whereas a client looking to rebound back into the market might need you to be more proactive. Listen, look ahead, ask them what their outlook looks like in 3 months, or 6 months to the extent they can predict it. And leave your agency out of it. This is not a time for solicitation, it’s a time for partnership!
As agencies we’re always looking for ways to add value for our clients, and sometimes that value has nothing to do with the work. These simple approaches to my client interactions have helped me navigate the uncertainties of Covid-19 and build more well-rounded relationships with my clients. And with the pandemic’s end nowhere in sight, I’ll be employing them well into the future.