I distinctly remember a crossroads in my professional life. It was the day the owner of the small agency I worked for told me, if I wanted to make any money in the business I would have to go from being a copywriter to an account executive. Until then, I was operating under the assumption that ownership would recognize the brilliance of my creative skills and reward me with a corner office and a lavish compensation package. How wrong I was.
What management valued far above my creativity was bottom line revenue. Somehow, the connection between the products we created and the company’s cash flow was not understood—or fully appreciated. That should have told me something. But being a young husband/financial provider, I chose the career path of account management to boost my income—and make future children possible.
I was flung into the world of client contact and project direction, without one training session, trade show conference, or mentorship. I was on my own. What little instruction I received was largely in the form of negatives like “you screwed up,” and “don’t do that again.” So what would I have liked to have heard prior to embarking on three decades of service? Read on.
Care about your customers’ outcomes—really care.
It all starts with caring. This translates into every client interaction you will ever have. Be concerned enough to want to know how your product or service helped them do their jobs more effectively. Don’t be afraid to hear honest appraisals. This will help you know how to adjust and make improvements.
Follow through on your promises.
Nothing ruins all the gains made in finding a new client faster than not following through on a promise—whether it’s a missed delivery date or a product problem. And believe me, clients have long memories.
Speak truth to clients and not just what they want to hear.
The constant temptation in serving customers is to only tell them what they want to hear. However, the best client/supplier relationships are born from speaking truthfully to each other. If my experience tells me that a customers’ choice is the wrong direction, I am negligent if I don’t tell them where it might lead. They respect this and most times welcome it, rather than taking offense. Also, be willing to admit when you don’t know. This acknowledgement and the offer to find the answer will only increase your credibility.
Listen, take notes, and share them with your client and co-workers.
The act of listening and taking notes tells a client you value their direction. By providing these notes following a meeting, it suggests attention to detail and the desire to get things right. For those who have to carry out the decisions made in a meeting, it helps them understand the directions and the thought process behind them.
Be personable yet professional.
Strike the right balance in this area by injecting warmth and personality in proper measure. Going too far in either direction can be perceived as either TMI (too much information) or too cold.
Respect thy client. Keep their best interests in mind and use their time wisely.
If there was ever an area in need of balance in customer-relations, this is it. I have sat through meetings where account managers have spewed chapters about their experiences or hobbies (that no one really cares about) in the hope of connecting with the client. However, they were ensuring the client’s future avoidance. Remember that in most cases, your meeting is not the focal point of their day. They have other responsibilities just as important, if not more, than speaking with you. If you know they are busy, be brief and to-the-point by sending an email or other more concise forms of communication.
Are there any items you would add from your experience to this list?