My last column, What kind of boss are you?, elicited a very good response. In fact, a lot of people wanted me to add more categories of bosses to the list I had shared. In particular, three categories shared by my friends caught my eye:
- The ‘Political’ boss: one who plays team members against each other
- The ‘Clueless’ boss: one who is finding some pretext of pushing an agenda through, irrespective of the logic to the contrary presented to him
- The ‘Butcher’ boss: one who always ‘sacked’ a person every time he took a stroll through the production facilities. (I can think of a recent example of this kind of boss, who fired people online, but has quit since this story went viral on social media and became quite a scandal)!
Having been in client servicing, after having been a client, today I write about the kind of clients one has encountered. So, what kind of client are you?
- The ‘I am always right’ client: This client, irrespective of whether she/he is in the right or wrong, can seemingly do no wrong. It is only the consultancy partner who is at fault, according to this client. Normal behavior is to sit at the table to point out ‘faults’ by the consultancy partner. When confronted by any senior resource from the consultancy, this client will also know how to backtrack. I had one such client whom I had confronted and told him off for always criticising the team. At a meeting to discuss the results of a press conference, which he claimed were very poor, he said, ‘Atul, in my earlier zone, your consultancy would get me at least 45 news clips from a press release. Why has this come down to only 22 in this region? You folks are not doing your job.’ I just smiled and told him, ‘well, in your earlier region, we had 50 publications, and we got you 45 news clips, but in this region we have only 25 publications, so there is no way you can get 45!’ On hearing that, he quickly diverted the subject.
- The ‘Insufferable client’: My mind goes back in time to this client, who headed marketing in one of the regions for the client. In the early days, he was extremely nice, and even applauded the achievements of my team member who was a part of the servicing team in his region. Things went downhill after he was transferred as head of marketing to a larger region. A few weeks into his new role, he asked for a change of our team lead. This was done with much acrimony. For some days, he was raving about the team member who had replaced our earlier team lead. ‘Atul, xxx is just amazing. He always has new thoughts, and ideas, and is a gem.’ Indeed, the replacement was very good and has since migrated to Australia, but the unfortunate part of this exercise was that the client never implemented any of the new ideas which were presented. So much for the new ideas. The icing on the cake was when the client moved into the client HQ as their digital marketing person. In less than a week, he had asked for a change of the digital team servicing him; in less than a month, he made the replacement team cry and ask to be relieved of having to deal with this person. A total of 4-5 team members refused to work with him. I had to finally escalate the matter and put in a written complaint to his superior. That helped, but only just. This was one relationship which was never meant to be.
- The ‘vengeful’ client: This is an interesting story, but one which I am sure must be playing out in many PR consultancies. To understand this kind of client, one has to appreciate that the ‘vengeful’ client was once a PR professional herself/ himself. They must have been treated like dirt by their clients as PR professionals, so when they had the opportunity of moving to the client side, they thought that it was their birthright to treat their PR partner the same way they had been treated. It was simply a case of ‘venting’. I recall telling one such client to just ‘lay off’. We threatened to resign the account unless our team was treated with a greater amount of respect. That put the client’s antics on the back burner, but then the ‘Empire’ struck back. They ensured that they had me replaced as the client lead. However, even with me out of the way, our team had developed the capabilities of handling this client. All’s well that ends well!
- The ‘make new excuses’ client: This is the story of a client, who approved every estimate which was submitted to him. It was only after the invoice was raised that the client used to point out reasons why the payment was delayed, or how he had signed the estimate on trust, but actually the amount should be much lower etc. Net result, payments invariably got delayed. We developed a ploy to get the payment out faster. Every time the client thought that a potential crisis loomed, he used to turn to us. After his brief on the ‘crisis’, instead of presenting him with the plan, we used to remind him of the outstanding. And pronto…all overdue amounts would be paid within 48 hours!
- The ideal client: I have been fortunate in working with client’s who have been extremely understanding and supportive. And one client definitely needs to be on this list. She was simply amazing…she was also very process driven and demanding, but she was also very considerate and listened to reason. I would do daily calls with her; have a cup of coffee at least once a week to discuss macro issues and what was happening in the environment. She treated all my team members very humanely and was always open to suggestions. With her, it was never a one – way street. Every plan we presented was discussed in the true spirit of partnership. She had her views, but if she felt after discussions, that she was wrong, she was the first one to acknowledge it. This partnership flowered, and she was the only client I have known who actually recommended a fee hike for us, without any negotiations. It was truly unfortunate that we had to resign this client because our firm had accepted an engagement from a large conglomerate, one of whose businesses was in a competitive category. Very honestly, I learnt a lot from her. From her maturity; from her ability to take thought through decisions and from her humility. If only, more such clients existed!
Once again, there are a few more categories of clients who can be written about, but the word count holds me back. I am sure that there will be those who read the column who will point of more. I look forward to that!
- Always make an effort to understand the client archetype. It will help you take the necessary actions to develop a great relationship and deliver some great work.
- All clients are just like you and me. Never feel overawed. Keep an open mind and learn from them. They know a lot of things you may not have been exposed to.
- Push back when you feel that a client is not being respectful. Never take rubbish from them.
- Don’t be scared to escalate matters when things start getting out of hand.
- It is not always difficult to convince a client to accept your point of view. That is the only way to build mutual respect and the only way to produce great work.
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