Savage counsel

Chris SavageIn an article that first appeared in Encore, Chris Savage tackles your career and agency dilemmas in his weekly advice column.

Hi Chris,

My clients seem to be demanding more and more from us. At the same time, it seems many of the younger people in our industry simply don’t have the client servicing skills my generation grew up with. How do we instill in our executives some of the good old-fashioned behaviours that would keep a client happy and loyal?

Bloody difficult issue. Fact is, winning clients is far easier than keeping them. Chuck Porter, the founder of iconic agency Crispin Porter Bogusky, told the 2010 Cannes Creativity Festival his secret to building a great agency – hire client ninjas: talented executives who live and breathe delivering outstanding service and value to the client.

Sadly, there are not too many client service ninjas around so we have to create them. At STW Group, we are relentless in training our people on the absolute critical imperative of delivering world-class service. Here are the 10 vital habits of client service excellence we instill in our people, many of which stem from the writings of David Ogilvy.

These are not secrets. They are obvious and common sense. The trick is actually making them happen every day for every client.

Do great work in a proactive way. Deliver great work that delivers results and exceeds expectations. And do it proactively. Take ideas to the client. Be one step ahead. Clients want us to be delivering what’s now, but also anticipating what’s next.

Stick to your deadlines. Do what you say you will do and communicate early if you won’t deliver on a promise. Under promise and over deliver.

Get the details right. Cameron Hall, Australian NutraSweet CEO in the late 1980s, hammered me on God being in the detail. Bill Marsteller, a founder of Burson-Marsteller, described excellence as “clarity of purpose; attention to detail”. Sweat the detail.

Never tell the client a lie. Never lie, though as in life, it is okay to sensibly manage perceptions on occasion.

Know their business. When clients stop working with us, 82 per cent of the time it’s because we don’t know their business well enough. Get deep. Get passionate. Keep in the trenches of their business. Get in their shoes and stay there.

Listen like thieves. Listen with your eyes. When you’re talking, the client is critiquing. When the client is talking, you’re selling.

Write well. Enough said.

Have respect. Respect clients’ time and their culture. Use the client’s products. Don’t let the client disrespect you or your colleagues.

Be positive. Be a ray of sunshine in clients’ lives. Be the bringer of hope. Be optimistic. Be ‘can do’. Be honest and tell the truth but always focus on the solutions and positive options to move forward.

Make it fun. The relationship needs to be an exciting, colourful, interesting, fun part of our client’s work lives. Make it that and keep it that way.

Consistently deliver great client service, underpinned by great work that works. Do that and you will have long, growing, highly profitable and enjoyable client relationships for years to come.

Encore Issue 14

This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit for a preview of the app or click below to download.


  1. bob is a rabbit
    21 May 13
    12:12 pm

  2. The dramatic shift in values of Gen Y vs Baby Boomers, with Gen X acting as the diplomats, complicates the issue further.

    What keeps middle management clients happy is vastly different to their bosses. The boomers disdain for Gen Y in particular makes it difficult for them to not just ‘hear’ them, but to accept their point of view. Regularly I find what Gen X and Y clients enjoy, the Boomers can’t stand. This takes the form of ideas not just concerning media and advertising, but also the entire approach to how work fits in with life.

    Give it 10 more years until the boomers are well and truly retired.

  3. Tony Simms
    21 May 13
    1:48 pm

  4. Excellent points Chris.

    In my early days of account service, I was fortunate enough to have some great mentors. Some quietly directed you in these fundamentals of account service from the sideline, coached you and grew your skills. Others were a tougher mixture of
    ” riding shotgun” to protect you and pragmatically ensuring that these practices became part of your DNA. In time you too felt obliged to take on the role of client service Ninja and to mentor others.

    The scaling back of account service teams and skills is often attributed to greater financial pressures on agency margins. In both client and agency roles I have all too often seen the “deer in the headlights” stare of young account service people who find themselves starved of guidance. Young graduates enter the industry to very soon find themselves with little to draw upon in servicing a client to the level the client deserves. Mid- weight account service people who struggle to see a career path after a certain age. Senior account service people who finally build the skill set clients required and yet find themselves pushed out of the industry. The experience everyone struggles to gain clearly has a use-by-date.

    What’s the answer? A good start would be to draw upon the large pool of highly experienced account service, creative, producers and more and implement mentoring programs back within agencies.

    Financial pressures may place agencies in a position where they can not afford to employ these people full-time. That’s perfectly OK. There are veritable armies of experience ready and willing to contribute Ninja skills today and grow profitable and enjoyable client relationships.

    Apologies for the blatant plug, but I am one of many.

  5. Arthur
    21 May 13
    4:17 pm

  6. So in short, you’re saying this:
    Do more proactive work.
    Work harder.
    Listen harder.
    Research harder.
    Write better.
    Be more respectful.
    Be more positive.
    Have more fun.

    Oh, you forgot this one from the client: ‘We’re going to pay you less’.

  7. Sensai
    21 May 13
    4:46 pm

  8. Agree with you Tony – even the Ninja cult recognises the value and experience of the Elders of the Tribe.

    Now, if only we can get some of our cousins in Recruitment to open their kimonos too!

  9. Fabfour
    23 May 13
    9:35 pm

  10. these are really great tips – and true.

    The concern is that the market has been so punishing for agencies in the past four years – as @Arthur suggests more and more is being expected for less and less. So whilst you can heap on the attention and the smiling customer service, when you know you are not being appropriately remunerated for it, the smile is often through gritted teeth these days.