Nailing client service means hammering on communication

Public relations is a client services business. I’ve worked as a PR professional for almost 20 years and know, simply put, that our job is to serve our clients. We do it better than any other firm as we help clients solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity.

At Elizabeth Christian Public Relations, we not only serve our clients; we enjoy long-term relationships with our clients. I think it’s because we understand and provide excellent client service. No matter how good I think we are, though, there’s always room for continued learning and improvement.

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to be a client myself through a home renovation project. While it hasn’t been a smooth process, it has been a great reminder of what NOT to do when working with a client.

I’ll spare you the specifics, but I will share my lessons learned. These may seem basic, but my experience with my renovation has shown me just how much details matter and how they translate to any client services industry—not just public relations.

When in doubt, err on the side of over-communication.

Whatever the client service—creating a website, developing a new logo, writing a press release or installing a farmhouse sink in a kitchen—make sure all involved parties are on the same page about what’s going to happen and when. The best way to accomplish the task is to stay in constant communication. Get the client’s preferred method of communication, provide a heads-up about what you’re going to do and report back once it’s done.

If you make a mistake, own it right away, apologize and explain how you’ll fix it. Then fix it and don’t let it happen again.

It’s not a question of if, but when, a mistake is going to happen. Client services depend on humans, and we are all fallible. What sets the amateurs apart from the pros is how the mistake is handled. Sure, you may feel embarrassed or awkward after a mistake. The answer is not to avoid the client—like a certain contractor who renovated my house and will go unnamed—but to confront the situation head-on with maturity and grace. Not only is this approach the best way to correct the situation, but it will strengthen your relationship with your client and help build trust in you.

Provide realistic timelines and stick to them.

I admit it. I’m a planner. I actually love timelines and checklists. They aren’t for everyone, but I think we can all admit they do make a project run more smoothly. If you’re providing client services, timelines are essential to ensuring everyone involved is on the same page and has the same expectations. If my client has never planned a large corporate event, for example, he or she may not understand how long it takes to do this well. Similarly, I’ve never installed tile, so I have no idea how long that job should take. (We all have our own areas of expertise.) Over the years, I’ve learned that clients would always rather you beat your timeline than to come in late, so keep this in mind when scheduling deadlines.

Don’t take on more work than you and your team can realistically handle while maintaining quality.

Most of us would like to grow our business. If you’re in a client services industry, expanding the business reach without sacrificing excellence can be tricky. Do you add new clients and then hire extra staff? Or, do you hire the additional staff before you bring on new clients? If you’re truly committed to excellence and willing to invest in it, choose the latter. In the short term, it can be costly, but it will pay dividends in long-term and repeat clients and happy employees. Trying to grow beyond the capabilities of your current staff—to the detriment of the services you provide—is never a good business plan.

Most importantly, treat clients as you’d want to be treated if you were the client—if it was your money being invested and your business with everything to gain or lose. Understand that as the retained client services professional, whatever your industry, you have an opportunity to play an important role at a critical time for the individual or business you serve. That’s a big responsibility and privilege—and isn’t to be taken lightly.

Kristin Marcum is president of Elizabeth Christian Public Relations. She and her family (finally) moved into their newly renovated home just before Thanksgiving.

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