Like many, I waited tables during college. I worked at a local fine dining establishment, which mostly catered to out-of-towners, but had a fair number of local regulars as well. I could have easily gone from shift to shift making good money, but I quickly realized that the job was far more enjoyable when I started establishing my own “regulars.” Getting requested wasn’t just a matter of offering quick and friendly service, it was the result of making myself an integral part of the dining experience—my diners knew that I could recommend the best wine for their palate or what the chef may be offering off menu. By adding value to their dining experience, I became a trusted consultant, a partner if you will.
Years later as an ad agency account executive, I’m still in the service industry, and the same general concept applies in terms of adding value to the customer experience. Almost any agency can turn around a specific project request, but the good agencies form long-term relationships with clients based on trust. Given shifts in the marketplace, retainer-based agency of record relationships may not be as common, but years-long relationships can be built from project-based accounts by simply following a few guidelines:
- Don’t just take orders: Your agency is not Kinko’s, nor should it try to operate like one. Clients hire agencies for their design or strategic acumen (or both) to achieve objectives that serve their best interests. Offer recommendations and provide your perspective for “why” rather than simply asking, “what do you want?”
- Look for insights: You typically won’t spend countless hours researching the competitive landscape or digging into industry jargon if you’re not getting paid to do so. But keeping an eye on your client’s marketplace and competition as part of your day-to-day does prime you to speak in an informed way about your client’s business and recommend tactics or storylines they should explore.
- Think critically about design: We live in an age where design isn’t something that only luxury brands are thinking about. As marketing and design experts, “because it looks good” should never be a sufficient explanation of design intentions. As a brand advocate and steward, it is up to you to ensure a consistent and meaningful experience for your client’s customers—which means always thinking about the colors, shapes and other design components that define a brand.
- Be a good storyteller: Just as you should demonstrate thoughtfulness about design, you should be thinking about the story you’re telling. Whether B2C or B2B, marketing is all human-to-human and we all love a good story. Are you ensuring the stories you’re telling align to the brand? While you may not always be your client’s customer, put yourself in the customer’s shoes to ensure the words resonate.
- Become invaluable: By following the above items, you’re well on your way to becoming invaluable. Beyond these things, it’s the details that matter and have impact. Pick up the phone instead of emailing or, better yet, schedule time for coffee with your clients. Be grateful. Be genuine. Be unexpected.
Becoming a reliable partner helps create an enjoyable and productive working relationship for both you and your clients. Not only can those relationships be long-lasting, but your “regulars” are more likely to refer you to others, resulting in even more happy clients.