I Do, But I Don’t: What Puffy Sleeves Taught Me About Client Service

I felt my mouth dry-up and my heart begin to race. Oddly enough, my breathing slowed. The mirror reflected an image of me, standing on a pedestal at Long Island Bridal Wear, in a wedding dress that looked like it had traveled forward in time from 1984. The 18 year-old store assistant immediately knew something was wrong. I finally whispered, “THIS isn’t the dress I ordered.”

After years of working in a service industry, it wasn’t until I looked at a crisis from the perspective of being “the client” that I truly understood what client service really means.

Top 5 SIMPLE Rules of Client Service:

  1. Be a calming force—but not at the expense of accuracy. Our first instinct, when we hear the urgency in our client’s voice, is to have a solution—yesterday. But a quick answer could also be an inaccurate answer. Clients look to their agency to be a calming source of counsel and advice. Inaccuracies will only cause confusion and make an already stressful situation worse.
  2. Be a sincere team player—your problem is my problem. Let’s face it, people can tell instantly when you are being sincere. While everyone knows that the most effective client and agency relationships are partnerships, we always have to make sure that we are holding up our end of the bargain. Simply put: view every budget as if it was your personal bank account, and your client’s success/challenges as your own.
  3. Don’t overpromise and under-deliver. Doesn’t it feel great to see that glint of excitement in your client’s eye when you tell them that your team can deliver something in record time, or return astonishing results? There is nothing better. However, there is nothing worse than having to make a follow-up call explaining why, actually, things didn’t turn out as expected. Take the time to develop a point of view on what’s possible before you promise what’s awe-inspiring, but maybe not doable.
  4. Be prepared. A wise person once said that when someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about, they use a lot more words. When an answer becomes a soliloquy there are usually problems. Short and sweet is usually also precise. If you are having trouble communicating something, it might mean that you have not wrapped your head around the situation. Clients appreciate candid and concise guidance.
  5. Raise red flags—early. Not all crises can be avoided. However, many times there are little cracks that if ignored can turn into the San Andreas Fault. Being the bearer of bad news or flagging a possible problem can be uncomfortable. But clients need to be able to count on you to stay ahead of them and warn of impending problems. No one is perfect and sometimes crises can take everyone by surprise. But, life is a heck of a lot easier if we don’t ignore the signs.

Months ago, in a too-tiny dressing room surrounded by sample shoes and veils, a crisis was solved using all of these steps. Before the tears had made it to my chin, the sales associate rushed in a small, sturdy dynamo with a pin cushion. She gave me a hug, hit me with the truth, made sure I understood that to solve my problem she needed time, and said she’d get back to me with the answers she did not have. It wasn’t a quick fix – oddly, that reassured me. I met with this miniature miracle worker two times a week for three weeks and happily walked down the aisle in a dress with sleeves—normal sleeves.