Monday, March 7, 2011

Be nice!

I came across this quote recently from David Ogilvy on what matters to clients:

“It is not enough for an agency to be respected for its professional competence. Indeed, there isn't much to choose between the competence of big agencies. What so often makes the difference is the character of the men and women who represent the agency at the top level, with clients and the business community. If they are respected as admirable people, the agency gets business—whether from present clients or prospective ones.”

I can’t help but feel that this is true for all business relationships. We all prefer to be around people we like and respect. Both at work and at play. So it’s no great secret that people tend to do more business with people when they enjoy their company.

Agencies, for the most part, are nice to their clients. We kind of have to be. But I don’t think many clients truly realise how important it is to be nice to their agencies.

Things always start out amicably. But it’s when pressure mounts, things go wrong, bad news needs to be delivered, that temperaments change. I have seen even the mildest mannered of clients turn nasty when they feel things are not going the way they planned.

The problem is that the client/agency transaction is ultimately viewed (by clients) as a service relationship. And if you are of the mindset that you don’t particularly have to be nice to waiters, bank tellers or shop assistants, then at some point you are going to decided that you don’t have to make the effort to be nice to the people at your agency.

Nobody thinks they are that person. But I am always amazed by how often that person is lurking underneath just waiting for the right circumstance for their outing to be acceptable.

I am of the opinion that losing your cool in a professional situation is never acceptable. No matter what the circumstance or perceived provocation. Aside from the fact that it is embarrassing and erodes respect, it is highly counter productive.

Account handlers and agency managers, to some extent, are built to withstand client outbursts. Creatives are not.

At This is Real Art, like many agencies, we had an open plan office. No matter how much I tried to protect my team from the worst client behavior, everyone could tell when I was on the receiving end of a nasty client call. And I was always astounded by how much it affected them. The general reaction would be that despite our best efforts the client was still not satisfied and therefore unreasonable and will probably never be satisfied, no matter how hard we try. This level of defensiveness, right or wrong, is the sign of a close-knit team and thus, difficult to discourage without babies going out with the bathwater. 

Once resentment toward a client sets in, it doesn’t go away. And it makes it difficult to elicit from your team the extra puff needed to solve the tricky problems that probably lead to the client’s discomfort in the first place.

The flipside to this is that a small amount of kindness and consideration can go a really long way when it comes to motivating teams to pull for your cause.

If it doesn’t come from the natural goodness of your heart and the depths of your winning personality, think of it strategically. Management expert Tom Peters calls it R.O.I.R.—Return On Investment in Relationships. He says, “regardless of stakes or subject matter it's the collecting of allies and the maintenance and nurturing of supporters that determines whether or not things you care about get done.”

If you’re a client, you want the team at your agency to be working late nights and weekends on your project. You want them to be sweating blood and putting the full force of their passion behind your cause. This is how creative people work best. When they care.

There will always be moments when tensions run high and outbursts will happen. But clients, realise this: there is a very simple way to get harder work, longer hours and better quality from your agency. Be Nice.

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