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In our most recent podcast series, we decided to tackle the topic of customer retention. Given that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, we wanted to explore how to continue to provide stellar customer service without burning out and how to retain customers when there are in crisis. To do this, we turned to the experts. 

Mitch Joel – Founder of Six Pixels Media

How long have you been in client services?

Over two decades. I don’t think you ever really stop doing client services, especially when I was the President. You don’t really stop because you’re maintaining all of your senior relationships, you’re doing a ton of business development. You don’t stop when you have your client services team doing it –  your account executives, your account managers, your coordinators – that covers the day-to-day. My role was still very much about understanding where the client was and what was happening with them. At a higher level, you’re dealing with the more complex situations that require senior leadership. 

How do you protect against scope creep?

I think it’s a question of time, and who you’re paying. My harsh agency owner’s head is saying, “Don’t be stupid, don’t do that.” You have to measure, always. I always say the business that we’re in is very simple. We sell a human unit of time for more money than we pay for it. That’s the business that we’re in. So you constantly want to understand that this is a game of very small margins, very small percentages. It’s a nickel and dime business and that you have to know at every moment in time exactly where you are in terms of receivables, hours, where the clients at where your staff is. That’s part one. Part two is in a scenario like this; you also have a goal, which is to save your ship. It means you have to cut deep and hard if that’s what the budget calls for if at this point, your ship can’t carry these people. We can’t do all this extra stuff. We have to keep this line so that we can bring these people back later. It’s a question of that balance. You don’t want to be like “I’m not helping them.”  You have to think about how long has relationship has this been. Is this a sort of bill by bill, invoice by invoice, project by project or is there a real partnership here? How much will they appreciate the extra work we’re going to put in? Could those hours be banked and we understand what they are, we’re not gonna be billing them for them later? But we’re going to be understanding that that’s where we’re at. So we understand where the margins of that client might be. I’m a very emotional person. So my gut reaction is whatever it takes to keep the client. Of course, but I’ve also been in the trenches so long that I can’t just let my heart run wild, because it can be detrimental to your actual business.

Having gone through a crisis before, what’s one thing that comes up that people don’t expect or prepare for? 

Treat every day like it’s a pandemic. Let me take a step back and just give you my general theory of agency life. Sometimes the wind is in your sails and sometimes it isn’t. How many times did we have a big pitch, massive national piece of work? How many times have we been down the road things are great then a new president comes into the organization puts everything on freeze? What is an agency if not constant moments like this? I’ve had people come in and quit on us. When we said, well, how much notice are you giving us and they’re like, “I’m double-parked outside” you know? If there’s any industry that is somewhat buffered from sudden chaos, it should be the agency business. It comes from within. It comes from team members, it comes from other departments, it comes from clients.

What is your best tip for client retention?

I’ve had many over the years. The line that sticks with me to this very day, and I think It speaks directly to the business that came out of Mad Men is, “You know what they say the day you when a client is the day you start losing them.” If you can really think about that every day, the question becomes how do I prolong that? How do I prolong the losing? Because we want to think it’s a marriage and it’s going to last forever. So my tip for client services would be the minute you have the client is the day you start losing them. What are you going to do?

Listen to the full episode here: https://www.trustinsights.ai/blog/2020/04/podcast-in-ear-insights-client-retention-with-mitch-joel/

Jay Baer – Founder of Convince and Convert

How long have you been in client services?

Continuously since 1988. So you know, 30, more than 30 years, I’ve been in some sort of professional services role.

How do you protect against scope creep?

what I’ve told my team is, I don’t care what we’re paid to do, we will do whatever necessary to help our end. If our clients, they will eventually help us, but we have to, we have to be the ones that start that chain. We have to be the ones who say it doesn’t matter what our relationship is, we will do whatever you need us to do. And that that’s been the approach that we’ve taken. As I mentioned, in some cases, that similar approach for people who aren’t even paying us I’ve mentioned in conversation, and I believe this truly, that how you handle yourself as an organization over the next five weeks, will have a tremendous impact on your success or failure in the next five years. My philosophy is if we can plant enough seeds, that that we are generally trying to help people through this, regardless of what the economic consequences of that are for us, that will pay off in spades someday, not now. Maybe not anytime soon, but someday, I feel like right now, everybody has to think like a farmer, and nobody should be thinking like a hunter.

Having gone through crisis before, what’s one thing that comes up that people don’t expect or prepare for? 

You know, people behave in unpredictable ways in unpredictable times. One of the things that I’m seeing now is sort of a Jerry Maguire scenario, which is a dated reference, but clients have so many other things going on, and their life has been turned upside down, and their business topsy turvy so they stop reaching out for help. It’s kind of like a ghosting situation.  I find myself on a regular basis, sort of muttering the “help me help you” kind of mantra, We can solve some of these problems that you are experiencing, but in order for that to happen, we need to be able to actually get you on the phone or get into your email. I get it. Nobody’s marketing and communications and CX challenges are probably at the top of their list. We’re doing what we can to help as many of our clients as possible and then a lot of people who aren’t clients. 

What is your best tip for client retention?

Our breadth of knowledge is definitely an advantage. That helps us from a retention standpoint too, because we can solve a greater percentage of the client’s given problems. I’ll tell you the thing that I’ve always really emphasized at Convince & Convert, and it’s been even more critical right now, is our speed and nimbleness. We are legendarily fast. We staff 16 hours a day when we are online. Some of us are online 16 hours a day in total. When a client calls or emails, we are on it. Like right now. Not later that day, not next. I mean right now. All of our clients have access to a special email address and distribution email that goes to the entire company. If they have anything they need to be acted upon instantly, instead of sending an email to their account manager, they send it to this special email address goes to everybody. Then whomever is most readily available on the team handles it. We typically respond to client calls and emails in a matter of 5,10,15 minutes. This is a level of response time for a large strategy agency that is, frankly, unprecedented. That kind of responsiveness has not only been a secret of our success from the beginning, it’s absolutely a key to client retention right now. We know right now somebody has a problem. They have a problem they need solved right now. There is no, “I’ve been thinking about something 90 days from now, we’re you know.” In the immortal words of Keith Oberman, We’re all day-to-day.

Listen to the full episode here: https://www.trustinsights.ai/blog/2020/04/podcast-in-ear-insights-client-retention-with-jay-baer/

 

Brooke Sellas – Founder and Owner of B Squared Media

 

How long have you been in client services?

I guess since we got our first client, which would be about eight years ago in May, we’ll have been in business for eight years. I worked but as part of a marketing team before this, part of our job to make sure that we retained the clients that we had. So I would say for longer than eight years in total, but on my own for eight years.

How do you protect against scope creep?

There are really two sides of that. For me, it’s the operation side on the back end. Then obviously, on the front end, that would be the client-side. On the back end, the way we service all of our accounts is through Harvest, which is an app that clocks time. So even on retainer services, there’s a certain amount of time that’s allotted, based on the team time, the tools that that client uses, and the scope of work that they have. The team can actually see inside of Harvest where they are in those monthly hours based on the retainer, and when you’ve hit 85% use of the time, for example. We get asked to do something, whether it’s scope creep, or the client says, “Hey, I’d like to pay for it, probably on a weekly basis”. So it’s a lot of management on the front end of hand holding the project managers and helping them understand how to field those questions. Most of the time I have them send them to me so that I can just say, like, “Hey, that’s wonderful that you want this extra report that’s going to take us three days to put together that’s not in your agreement. Here’s what I want to do.” And again, I’m not mean I look at their account and if we’re not anywhere close to using the hours that are allotted we’ll go ahead and do that request. I’ll make sure that I say like, “Look, we really haven’t used You know, a lot of time on other things this month, I’d like to go ahead and take that extra time that we have and put that towards this report for you.” On the other side. If they’re over. It’s like “hey, it already says in the agreement, that anything extra cost extra at our hourly market rate. So we’re going to charge you XYZ for this report. Is that okay? Would you like us to move forward?” So it just depends, you know, I try to really be fair, but firm. Firm, but fair.

Having gone through crisis before, what’s one thing that comes up that people don’t expect or prepare for? 

The Boston Marathon bombing comes to mind, I can remember vividly when that happened. I was actually at a client’s office when it happened. I was texting with my team saying pause all of the content immediately to make sure that nothing was going out that wasn’t appropriate. I think I see this all the time with big brands too. With the software that we use, we have the ability to go in and literally hit the pause button on all content so nothing goes out anywhere. It’s not that difficult. It’s so funny to me sometimes to see these big companies running commercials or running social media posts or ads that just seems super insensitive right after something big happens. I don’t understand why people don’t just immediately hit that pause button. We paused our own content for about two weeks ago when this all hit and regrouped and slowly started posting again. We shared that advice with our clients. Not all of them took that and that’s okay. You know, we’re not the end all be all but I think it’s okay to pause, which I think a lot of people have a hard time doing. I also think it’s okay to turn back on at some point with an adjustment to your content. which I think a lot of people are still having a hard time doing too.

What is your best tip for client retention?

We are very honest. I think we don’t put up a fake front. When I sent out the email letting clients know that we have this special place for the FAQs and some of the reports and the data that we had for them to download around listeners for the Coronavirus, I said, “I’ve been writing the email, I’ve been toiling about how to write this email to you. And the only way I can think to be honest about this thing, which has been bananas. And at the end of the day, though, all I can do is continue to deliver what I think you need, and this is what I think you need because you’ve been coming to me with these questions. So here’s this resource for you.” Obviously, your clients love you, you love your clients. Here’s my best tip for client retention: constant communication. it’s also about setting those expectations from the start. Our agreement sets those expectations. We talked about the deliverables and what to expect with those deliverables, what’s outside of scope, and what that looks like. And then just making sure that you’re checking in so that all of the project managers are checking in on the scope, and making sure that we’re not breaching that in any way.

Listen to the full episode here: https://www.trustinsights.ai/blog/2020/05/podcast-in-ear-insights-client-retention-with-brooke-sellas/

 

Gini Dietrich – Founder and Author of Spin Sucks 

How long have you been in client services?

I always say that even though we do communications for a living, digital marketing, whatever you want to call it, our real job is client services because it’s professional services. We’re selling our time, and it’s about helping a client grow their business or their organization. So I’ve been doing it my entire career. Without telling you how long it’s been, but it’s been more than 15 years.

How do you protect against scope creep?

Well, I think I think it’s two different scenarios when they’re in crisis. You end up typically working 24/7 in some cases, and so that that has to be a separate scope. It has to be separate from what you’re already being paid to do unless you have a crisis retainer. I do think that from a crisis perspective, it’s a different conversation and it’s a it’s a conversation with the client to say, “Hey, listen, you know, this is beyond scope. And these are the kinds of things that we need to be thinking about.” We have one client in particular, who I would say we go through four or five major things every year. One year an employee was shot at work and a plant blew up the same year. So massives kinds of stuff. So we have a separate crisis retainer for that, for him. For everyone else, it’s just a conversation to say, “Hey, this is outside of scope and how can we best help? We can either put all this other stuff on hold and use the retainer for that or…” Typically, they’ll find budget for the specific project. So I think that’s different. Right now in this pandemic, and I think this is a different situation. We tried to be really flexible and also because we’re all experiencing it. clients have been very kind because they don’t want us to go out of business. Because if we go out of business, they have to go through the whole process of finding a new firm. But they also can’t afford to pay, in most cases, what they have been. And so we’ve been trying to be really flexible in terms of, you know, we can pause for 60 days and add that onto the back end of the contract. I have one client that we’ve paused, but he’s paying by the hour for certain things and I joked with him that it was going to actually cost him more and he was like, “Oh, I’m aware.” So it probably will end up costing him more because it’s specific stuff that he wants me and I’m more expensive than my mid-level team that would normally work on his business. So I think it’s just having conversations and being flexible and understanding that everybody’s in a bad situation right now and just trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. 

Having gone through crisis before, what’s one thing that comes up that people don’t expect or prepare for? 

We see more that they just don’t have a plan. And that they haven’t thought through scenarios. So and it’s really challenging to get people to think about it because it’s scary and it’s unnerving. So you have the different levels of risk and you just tried to sit in every scenario that you can and say, here’s how we will respond, and then have different messaging and all of that ready to go. So that when it does happen, the emotion is taken out. Because what happens typically is when you’re caught off guard and something surprises you, there’s a lot of emotion involved. And when you when you’ve been able to plan for it, you can take the emotion out and just work the plan. And it’s far more effective that way. We have three different risk levels, for example, three is a global pandemic and one is an executive is going to prison for money laundering or embezzlement. We were just talking about this  – 2019 was pretty crappy. Our industry tends to be a leading indicator, and because 2019 was so crappy, I kept saying, “Something’s coming. Something’s coming. Something’s coming.” I thought it was going to be a recession. I never I mean, nobody would have predicted where we’re at right now. Right? But we were just talking about how you have to pay attention to those leading indicators and what that means and for sure, I really did think a recession was coming and certainly, we are will have one and the economy is going to be worse than I could have imagined. But the idea being that there are triggers and there are things that happen in your industry that you can and should pay attention to that will give you information that helps you plan.

What is your best tip for client retention?

it’s just treating them like human beings. I mean, I think we get so wrapped up in the vendor-client relationship that we forget that we’re dealing with humans. And quite honestly, I don’t want a vendor-client relationship, I want a friendship. I want a great working relationship. I want a partnership and if I don’t have that with our clients, then it’s not a good relationship. It’s not something that we want to pursue. So it’s treating them like human beings and being interested in them outside of your weekly status calls. It’s understanding the things that they’re going through, both in the good times and in the bad and it’s paying attention and actually listening to the words that come out of their mouths. We always joke internally that we’re more therapists than communicators. Sometimes it feels like our clients get on our weekly calls with us just to vent. And we allow that. Because it works, and that’s why they stay.

Listen to the full episode here: https://www.trustinsights.ai/blog/2020/05/podcast-in-ear-insights-client-retention-with-gini-dietrich/

Client retention is a timeless topic. What we learned is that pandemic or not, communication is always key, being upfront and honest will get you a long way, and be thoughtful when working with your clients during a crisis. They have enough to worry about, you don’t need to be one more thing on their to-do list. 

 


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