Kimberly Eberl
Founder & CEO
Motion

By Kimberly Eberl, Founder & CEO, Motion

We’ve all been there.  You’ve gotten negative feedback or a bad review from a client, and you’re terrified.  Are we going to get fired?  How can we save this relationship?  Can it be salvaged? How did we get here in the first place?

It’s a terrible place to be with a client, and those are the questions we should ask.  But maybe the most important question is what can we do to prevent negative feedback or poor review in the first place?

Right from the Start

At Motion we have an initiative called Right from the Start. It begins the day you win the client.  Create realistic expectations, tighten communications, and ground them when they may have ideas that might not get them the results they want or need. Give the client a road map for what the relationship will look like and build in opportunities along the way to course-correct if the team has a bad day (all teams do), makes a mistake, or lets things veer off course.

But what if you’ve set realistic expectations, your communications are tight, everyone’s working hard, and suddenly you find that things have gotten off track.  What to do then?

I have a theory that you are always three meetings away from getting fired:  one mistake; repeat the behavior; third strike and you’re out. Teams need to take it very seriously and be active listeners — it’s time to sit up a little taller and finesse the work.  This helps create a sense of urgency, hones attention to detail, and hopefully prevents things from getting too off course, too quickly.

Steps to Follow

One key strategy is to connect and stay connected to the senior client, making sure that you have continual exposure to them. As CEO, it’s my job to stay connected to the client; regular phone calls, and check-ins, asking for feedback, and listening for areas they are focused on. It’s a 15-to-20-minute investment that helps the client feel important and valued. If I hear negative – or even less than positive — feedback, I can get it to the team to work on before it’s too late.

Are You Truly Listening?

Being an active listener is crucial.  It’s not a buzzword, it’s a responsibility.  I think of active listening as Nirvana listening.  It requires developing the skill to put aside concerns for yourself or your firm and focus on what the client is saying.  Being fully connected to what he is saying and truly hearing the needs.  It does not include listening for the word “budget” or waiting for it to be your turn to speak and sound smart.

This kind of listening is truly important to the Agency of the Future and training we need to do in the industry; it’s important that active listening becomes more than that buzzword we hear over and over and becomes what we do.

Over-servicing and the Unhappy Client

One of the pitfalls if you find yourself with an unhappy client is being forced to overserve in an attempt to over-correct.  This is where setting clear, realistic expectations is key. Having conversations with the client can be a key piece of fixing the over-service problem, and may end up helping to save a client, or point to a situation where it’s time to part ways with the client.

We, the agencies, as we look to the future have to value our own work, our team, and what we do.  Sometimes we have to know when to walk away. This can also be a great way to build loyalty and reduce turnover.

Difficult Clients Offer Growth Opportunities

On an individual level, the experience of winning over a difficult or unhappy client can be rewarding and valuable, especially when looking for opportunities to advance or grow. Tackling the most difficult client at an agency and gaining her confidence, growing the budget, and leading them to success is a great way to build your own case study, and hone your skills.

As a team leader, don’t neglect the post mortem. These are great opportunities after meetings or events to regroup with the team and talk about what went right, and what could have been better.  What was the client’s reaction? Did she seem happy?  The post-mortem is a great opportunity for more junior members to be heard and feel valued and learn the important three meeting rule.

This blog is part of “Agencies of the Future,” the PR Council’s initiative to help Members future-proof and grow their agencies. It was also recorded as an episode on the Agencies in the Future podcast. Listen to it here

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