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Niki McKay

Customer Service vs. Client Management: Which One Rules?

Niki McKayThis past holiday season led one of my team members into her first predicament of customer service versus client management. When was it okay for her to be a “yes” person, and when was it better for her to be a “yes, and...” person? It is a valid predicament, a tough question and an ever-evolving answer.

A “yes” person is the type of person who wants to jump on opportunities, try new things, be accommodating. Is this an admirable mindset to have? Of course!

But, in business, and more specifically, when working with clients, is it beneficial to always be a “yes” person?

Building relationships is pinnacle to both customer service and client management. There’s no discrepancy there. However, client management is about setting boundaries. It’s taking control of the situation to help keep the flow going; it’s not shorting your customer or becoming difficult. You’re serving the customer while maintaining a sustainable partnership, your expertise on the situation at hand, and your ongoing education with the client.

Saying “yes” in a moment that requires client management might be a feel-good short-term solution, but it’s not setting either of you up for success in the long term. If you’re setting your client up for success long-term, you’re providing the ultimate customer service. See, they go hand-in-hand. The issue arises when they’re seen as separate management styles. It’s a thoughtful balance.

Here are some tips from the top on how to balance your customer service and client management tactics:

  1. Be proactive. Address issues before they become issues. Set the client up for success by thinking ahead to what could arise. Your client relies on you to be the expert here, so be the expert. Sometimes this means being a bit of a realist when it comes to predicting what could go wrong. Identifying these potential issues with enough advance time is providing superior customer services, while managing expectations.
  2. Remember that communication is key. Whether you’re providing customer service or practicing client management, be communicative. Even when you don’t know the answer, a heads-up to the client to let them know you’re looking into it is important.
  3. Educate your client. Let your client know if an idea or request may present a challenge, but ensure them that you’ll do your best to overcome it. That way, if things aren’t able to come to fruition, the client is not completely blindsided. This is a way to say “yes, and...” because you are saying yes, while informing them of what could or will happen by moving forward.
  4. Identify decision-makers. It’s important that both your team and their team have head decision-makers, or a main point of contact. Sticky situations can come from trying to manage the expectations of multiple points of contact who might have different ambitions and goals. There should be a hierarchy to the communication chain. Of course, the client can always forego a hierarchy, but at least it’s been set in place at the beginning for efficiency purposes.

Relationships are the foundation to building happy clients. Those happy clients need to be both serviced and managed. The balance of both leads to long-lasting partnerships.

What are your best tips for client management?

Niki McKay is owner of Blue Danube Productions, based in Seattle. Photo by Mike Nakamura Photography.

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