Savage counsel – building client/agency relationships

Chris Savage tackles your career and agency dilemmas in his weekly Encore advice column.Chris Savage

Hi Chris,

My clients are becoming less and less loyal. We used to have great partnerships; now we seem to be nothing more than a supplier. What do we need to do to build stronger, deeper relationships with clients in a harder nosed, more fickle business world?

In 30 years working with clients, not one has ever viewed me as a partner. I have always been seen as a supplier.

Becoming ‘partners with clients’ gets talked about a lot in agency world but it has never happened to me. We’ve had deep, enduring client relationships, but none crossed the line to true partnership. Why do I say that? I always knew that if we stuffed up two times in a row (maybe three at a pinch), we’d be out. That’s not partnership – it’s a supplier relationship.

Our mission has to be to become our client’s most valuable, most indispensable supplier. To achieve this, we have to become trusted advisors. Let me tell you how.

I once ran a session on great client service in Shanghai for the leaders of a global company. At the last moment the CEO asked me to include advice on how to become a trusted advisor. I hit the internet to find the best possible ‘trusted advisor’ model. Business guru David Maister delivered it using the acronym C.R.I.S. I’ve added a P. So let’s call this model CRISP.

To become a trusted advisor, we need to tackle CRISP’s five pillars:

1. Build credibility. We must build a perception of credibility with clients so they feel they can trust what we say, that we are experts in our field, and are outstanding at what we do.

2. Build reliability. We must be perceived as totally reliable, and seen as a firm which delivers on its promises. We do what we say we will do. We communicate strongly and regularly with the client. No surprises. On time. On budget. Honest. Genuine. True to our word.

3. Build intimacy. We must build a close, sincere relationship that extends beyond the day to day imperatives of getting great work done. The client has to feel comfortable with us as people, and trust our intent. As David Ogilvy said: “A client does not care about how much you know until they know about how much you care.”

4. Avoid self-orientation (at all costs).The client must believe our every motivation is about them and their success. Our motives must be around delivering great outcomes for the client. Never about self-serving interests. It’s all about the client – always.

5. Deliver passion. Do everything with enthusiasm and optimism. Be a ‘can do’ person. Be a ray of sunlight in your client’s lives. Really care about that client and their fortunes. Feel it in your heart. Harold Burson, the founder of Burson-Marsteller, once told me: “When someone hits my client with an ice-pick, I bleed.”

So – if you want to build a stronger relationship with your clients, and ensure more loyalty, become a trusted advisor. It’s the Holy Grail of business services.

Chris Savage is the chief operating officer of STW Group. His blog, Wrestling Possums with Chris Savage, can be found at chrisjohnsavage.com

Encore issue 11

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


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