The Key Ingredients of Client Service

I’m a foodie. Not a real foodie, actually – I’m not the kind that really knows food and names ingredients and knows where they’re sourced from and how bio-dynamic they are, etc.. I’m more what we used to call a “gourmand”. I like to eat well, and I like discovering new restaurants with my partner and my friends. I don’t have the vocabulary (for example, I still don’t even know what a “gastropub” is exactly), but I’ll spend the money.

So when we went to NY this past weekend for a mini-vacation, we explored lots of places. The Smith, a boisterous hipster steak joint in the East Village, where I sat next to John Legend and his very attractive female entourage. Il Buco in Noho, with their Italian rustic cuisine and atmosphere. Steak Frites near Union Square, an institution, where I had, guess what, an outstanding steak and frites. As I enjoyed these wonderful meals and the service that came with them, I realized that what a great restaurant does to create enduring loyalty is strikingly similar to what an agency needs to do. Here’s where I landed:

1. Deliver. Keep your promises and deliver on-time, on-quality, and on-promise. Seems like motherhood but it’s surprising how many agencies (and restaurants) fail to meet this standard.

2. Lead and Exceed. Clients want leadership and guidance, not just order-taking (I’m referring to good clients, of course). They want creativity, originality, a sense of mastery. A feeling that they’re in great hands, with accomplished experts. And they want to know that you’re passionate about them having an enjoyable experience and great results. To exceed expectations is to honour the customer.

3. Communicate. Things can change, go wrong, go better than expected, you name it. Best not to leave clients in the dark and let them know about the changes happening, without offering excuses or over-sharing. It’s like sitting at the table in a restaurant after the waiter has taken the order, and he shows up a minute later to let you know that they’ve run out of the veal scallopini, but he has two other suggestions for you. In a great restaurant, they’ll even offer to customize a meal for you to make up for it.

4. Relate. People thrive on relationships, and the restaurants I go to on a regular basis all have people (managers, hostesses, waiters, chefs) who have gotten to know me personally by coming to the table and having an authentic chat. A relationship builds over time, and enhances the experience. I remember to go to restaurants not just because they have good food, but because I feel something for the people who work there. This is doubly true of an agency/client relationship. When I worked at a big agency years ago, my peers and I used to mock the Executive VP for going to so many lunches with clients or playing golf with them. Seemed so self-indulgent. Now I know that what he was doing was creating a deeper personal relationship with our clients. Which allowed us to keep the accounts that paid our salaries.

All of the above is easy to type, but hard to do, I realize. But it’s good to keep a simple set of principles in mind, so we can measure ourselves daily against them. I know that in the restaurants I love the most, they do this habitually. Obsessively. Successfully.