Car troubles & 5 lessons in client servicing

Gearbox trouble with my car came knocking on my dashboard last week. An orange light started flashing that said “Gearbox in emergency mode”. We were on our way to a Diwali party, and since the car was still moving, I decided to be brave and carry on. My better half thankfully was with me and better sense prevailed when she told me to check with Dr. Google what this could mean. As anyone who has googled symptoms (instead of going to the doctor) knows, I was now convinced my car was about to die. Dire warnings from others who had seen the same message and ignored it came pouring in.

I sent my car to the service station the next day and I am so grateful that I did. It took three full days for the car doctors to diagnose what the problem was. With each passing day, I got more and more worried and a bit grumpy because I did not know what the real problem was when I would get my car back, and how much it was going to cost. Adding to all of this uncertainty, I got to know my point of contact at the dealership was going on leave and handing my case to someone else.

Once again, my better half was thinking better than me. She asked, “Don’t you know anybody who works in the company?”. The answer was yes… After connecting with this person, the level of care and attention that I got went up a few notches (or maybe my worry came down a few notches) and I now have a replacement car, and the faulty part is going to be replaced under warranty. I am on the road again, with a smile. The problem is not fixed, but I am sure it will be attended to and in due course, I will have my car back, all geared up to go.

The personal connection I had found with somebody who I knew and trusted gave me the peace of mind and reassurance I needed. However good the back end may have been, and even if I had got the same technical outcome, my experience of sending my car to the service station was made so much better because of the relationship quotient. In Public Relations too, the science is central (the work done to fix my gearbox) but the art of client servicing is equally important to ensure that the experience of engaging with the stakeholders is a good one. It is not enough to get to the destination, the journey matters.

This episode of getting my car serviced is a good reminder that client servicing in the PR industry is much the same. The 5 lessons in client servicing that I was reminded of are:

  1. A good client leader will be able to predict when a problem is on the horizon (like the orange light that started flashing indicating a problem on the horizon). Do you have a dashboard in place that alerts you to potential problems? Regular check-ins with the key stakeholders, quarter reviews, satisfaction surveys, and a host of other options exist, but the key is to get proactive and put in place a system of predictive analytics. What is your orange light system?
  2. A good client leader will have a personal connection and provide reassurance. I always say “Clients don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care.”. I found this to be true even when I was an in-house communicator. All the vice presidents in the company and the CXOs were my clients in a way. Only when I had earned their trust, was I able to work well and get the PR machinery aligned and moving. I got to know them as people and many are still friends today. My personal connection with somebody in the car company gave me the feeling that I could trust that they would do the right thing. In all probability, they would have anyway. The personal connection just made the entire interaction so much better.
  3. A good client leader will get the job done in a predictable timeline within budget. In PR so many things can and do go wrong. There are many variables and we don’t control most. Yet we are expected to deliver results. What is important in this journey is to provide a sense of what is likely to happen and factoring in all the moving parts, still give guidance on when the results are expected and the costs for different elements. Is the part replacement covered under warranty (read included in the retainer) or is this going to be an extra cost I need to find the budget to pay?
  4. A good client leader will handle team transitions proactively. Getting to know that the person I have been dealing with is going on leave tomorrow, the evening before they disappear is designed to cause stress. When the information has been shared well in advance and the person taking over is well prepared, I have never seen a client who has been unreasonable about team transitions and movements.
  5. A good client leader will provide the support needed to tide over the problem phase. Once I got to know that the problem with the gearbox was serious and my car was going to be off the road for a while, I was really worried. The offer of a replacement vehicle to tide over the period was much appreciated. Similarly, in the PR world when things go wrong, what is the equivalent of a replacement car that you can offer? Find that answer and you have converted a problem into an opportunity to build trust and deliver value.

When there is trust and a strong relationship, the road is wide open for growth. Good client servicing is not just about technical prowess, you need to know how to fix the gearbox, but you also need to keep the driver of the car engaged and smiling. When you do both, then you are practicing the science and art of client servicing in PR.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nikhil Dey
Nikhil Dey is Executive Director, Adfactors PR.

A trusted coaching and communications professional, Nikhil Dey is a certified life and leadership coach (International Coach Federation - ICF). Nurturing talent and helping clients achieve their goals is what makes him happy. He loves learning from students of communication, teaching courses and guest lecturing at various educational institutions. When he is not working you will find him on the tennis court or out for long walks with his family and four legged friends.

Previously he has held senior leadership positions at Weber Shandwick and Genesis BCW.

He can be reached on twitter @deydreaming

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