10 vital habits of client service ninjas

To grow successful careers in services firms or deliver to your internal ‘clients’ in a world class fashion, we have to recapture and relentlessly implement an attitude sadly missing from many in business today. Without it, we will fail. Here it is, and the 10 Vital Habits of the very best professionals I know.

Winning clients is far easier than keeping them. Chuck Porter, the founder of iconic agency Crispin Porter Bogusky, told the 2010 Cannes Creativity Festival his secrets to building a great agency. “Hire Client Ninjas” was a key point: talented executives who live and breathe delivering outstanding service and value to the client. Keeping clients is the key to building a big business.

At STW Group,  we are relentless in training our people on the absolute critical imperative of delivering differentiating, world-class service. Here are the 10 Vital Habits Of Client Service Excellence we instil in our people. Many you can read in the writings of David Ogilvy. These are not secrets. They are obvious and common sense. The trick is actually making them happen- every day on every client:

  1. Do Great Work In A Proactive Way: deliver great work that works, delivers results and exceeds expectations. And do it proactively. Take ideas to the client. Be one step ahead. Clients want us to be delivering ‘what’s now’, but also anticipating ‘what’s next.’
  2. Stick To Your Deadlines: do what you say you will do, communicate early if you won’t deliver on a promise, under promise and over deliver. Reliability is a key pillar to becoming a Trusted Advisor.
  3. Get The Details Right: Cameron Hall, NutraSweet CEO in Australia in the late 1980s, hammered me on “God is in the detail.” Bill Marsteller, a founder of Burson-Marsteller, described Excellence as “Clarity of purpose; attention to detail.” Sweat the detail. See Rory Sutherland’s TED speech on the subject.
  4. Never Tell The Client A Lie: a topic of a previous blog. Never lie, though as in life, it is ok to sensibly manage perceptions on occasion.
  5. Know Their Business: 82% of the reason clients stop working with us is because we don’t know their business well enough. Get deep. Get passionate. Keep in the trenches of their business. Get in their shoes and stay there.
  6. Listen To Understand: listen like thieves. Listen with your eyes. When you’re talking, the client is critiquing. When the client is talking, you’re selling.
  7. Write Well: enough said.
  8. Have Respect: of their time, their culture. USE the client’s products. Don’t let the client disrespect you or your colleagues.
  9. Be Positive: be a ray of sunshine in clients’ lives. Be the bringer of hope. Be optimistic. Be ‘can do.’ Be honest and tell the truth, but always focus on the solutions and positive options to move forward.
  10. Make It Fun: the relationship needs to be an exciting, colourful, interesting, fun part of our client’s work lives. Make it that and keep it that way.

Consistently deliver great client service, underpinned by great work that works. Do that and you will have long, growing, highly profitable and enjoyable client relationships…for years to come.

>View a video of Chris retelling this post


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5 Responses to 10 vital habits of client service ninjas

  1. Amanda Little November 30, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Another great post, Chris. When are you going to write a book?

    • Chris Savage November 30, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

      Thanks Amanda- soon!

  2. Jeff Estok November 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Hi Chris.

    Another excellent article.

    You might be interested to know that we at Navigare have also found that your point 5–Know Their Business–is one of the Top Three contributors to success (or failure) with a client (feel free to contact me direct for the others!). It is truly a leading indicator that affects a lot of the lagging indicators–impacting so many of the other deliverables.

    Your other tenets are excellent as well, though I might differ with you slightly on point 1–“Proactive”. We have been working hard this year to bring clarity to performance measures with Agencies and Clients, and we have walked away from the term “Proactive”.

    We favour the word “Anticipates”. Proactive sometimes is a bit misguided, in that some clients have mentioned that their Agencies are coming to them (proactively) with things that are not usable. However, by substituting “Anticipates” (or putting yourself in your client’s shoes and asking…’what would I need from me if I were them’) has a slightly different, but always useful, end result.

    And can be as valuable on the bigger picture stuff as it is on the day-to-day.

    For what it is worth.

    We also talk quite extensively about the difference between management and leadership, and quite often use you, and “Wrestiling Possums” as an example of true leadership.

    Keep up the great work!


    • Chris Savage December 1, 2011 at 10:55 am #

      Thanks Jeff. Really appreciate the input and feedback. I love “anticipates”. It is a much better word. Thanks! Chris

  3. Anne Miles December 1, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I particularly like #6 – there’s a way to listen to find out things the client doesn’t even know they want. Those with sensitivity to others and experience behind them know how to do this. Nice insight Chris – it says a lot about you I feel.

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