Opinion: The brutal truth about account servicing no one tells you

We’re called suits because back in the golden age, that was the standard uniform worn everyday by client servicing teams. The dapper portrayal made famous by Don Draper and his crew on Madmen.

They were the total package - strategist, project manager, presenter, conceptualist and sometimes even copywriter all-in-one. They maintained and built relationships with their clients while hunting for new ones.

Imagine a team walking into a pitch presentation dressed to the nines - first impression? Check.

But how has it changed or even stayed the same over the years? Has the standard dropped or gotten better? If it’s dropped then why?

We’ve all heard the term ‘glorified courier’ and no suit wants to live up to that label.

But what makes a good suit then? 

The days of having a mentor are few and far between with fresh faces being thrown into the mix without being shown the basics, and therefore, not having a strong foundation to build upon. They move up the ladder though and end up managing other new account executives (RIP account coordinator) and learn as they go along. They get by because sometimes being vanilla (and brown nosing) is just about enough to deflect from sheer mediocrity.

If that’s enough for you, if that’s a standard you’re comfortable with, or you’re thinking  “this guy’s full of it”, then thanks for stopping by, adios and all the best. But if you think that maybe you might pick up a point or two here, then let’s get to it.

Here are a few things I think every suit should have in their arsenal - 

The follow up/recap email

Most of everything from feedback to instructions are now relayed over WhatsApp chat groups. We’ve probably lost count of how many chat (and sub-chat) groups we have with different clients. And as you already know and have experienced, these messages can easily be missed or even buried under a pile of follow-up messages.

It always important to recap your chats via email because:

a) Everyone can see it and read it. This means that if someone in the chat group missed it because it got buried, they now have it in their inbox to catch up on. Can you safely assume your client is going to read through 100+ messages when they have the time to check?

I rest my case.

b) It lets your client reply to add more detail or even correct or revise a piece of feedback that may have been lost in translation.

c) Most importantly - it covers you’re a** and lets your client know you’re on top of things.

The Cross-Check

Too many times, documents are forwarded or just passed on without having been given a once over by the suit. There are two reasons for this that I know of:

It’s not my job.

Everything is your job. Were the revisions made? Are there are typos in the copy? If it goes to the client, it’s on you to make sure they get what they asked for. So, you should not only check your own work, but the work given through you by your colleagues.

Clients gave you the feedback, right? Exactly.

This should apply to suits of any level.

The art director/copywriter/PM checked it.

The biggest mistake you can make is to lay all your faith that the work was done properly because it’s been checked by any of the people above.

I’m not saying they don’t check things properly but even if they always do, everyone has an off-day and misses something. Don’t assume anything.

Don’t be drawn into that comfort zone because it’s a bad habit to cultivate and a tough one to break.

The phone call

It’s 2021, nobody makes phone calls anymore. We get it. But how many emails are you going to send to explain or get clarity on before everyone is clear and knows what to do?

The emails take a while to compose and with deadlines looming, why wait for a reply before being able to move forward when a 5-minute phone call can clear it all up and get the gears in motion?

Try it, you’ll be surprised with how simple it is to get an answer.

The sell

Picture this. You walk into a room with your team, there are five of you and only two of them talk.

What are the rest there for? Making up the numbers most likely. It is to let the client see the number of people servicing their team.

It is imperative for anyone in account servicing to be able to speak and present to anyone in the room. It means you need to know your sh*t on both ends of the field - the work you’re proposing and the business your client is in.

It will take some research for sure but ultimately, it is stuff you are supposed to know. It’s what you’re being paid for after all.

“But I’m shy. Speaking to a room of people makes me nervous. I’ve never presented before,” you might say.

Then go work in another industry. Nobody has a right to be in advertising and say that they’re not people-persons or that they’re shy. If you are, go be useful and learn to make great coffee.

There is no way around it. You have to learn how to present and sell your approach even if it means rehearsing in front of the mirror at home, in the cab, in the pantry etc.

A client who sees their client servicing team present and knows what they’re talking about is half the battle won. A creative who knows you understand and share their vision, is your best friend.

“Listen to me, I know my sh*t and I know yours. Here’s why it will work for your brand.” – Music to any client’s ears. 

The defence

One of the biggest gripes any creative ever has, are changes. Show me a creative whose eyes light up when they hear the phrase “The changes are in” and I’ll show you a unicorn. They simply do not exist.

As suits, we are always the first and last line of defence.

That means we don’t have to take all revisions and feedback from a client, and get them done without question.

If you believe in your teams’ work, if your gut tells you this is not the best way, ours works better, then listen to your gut.

Brand teams hire us to enhance their products and services. We are the ones who come up with the approach that we know works best to reach their audience, so if feedback or changes get your spidey senses tingling - ask the questions. Make a case for your teams’ point of view.

You will end up with a client who appreciates constructive push-back and a different point of view, and a team of creatives back home who sees a suit who believes in their work and gets it.

The reality is, we aren’t just what we wear. So, calling us ‘suits’ today is a misnomer.

What I’ve listed here might seem simple but after a career spanning almost 20 years starting as a coffee-buying, dry-cleaning collecting grunt/junior, right through to being a senior suit in several network agencies and now running my own firm, I’ve seen how the most rudimentary things are oft overlooked by account servicing hires because they forget that it’s discipline, teamwork and accountability that ends up being the foundation that holds everything else up.

I’ve loved being on the client-facing side of things, selling ideas, seeing campaigns come to life, working with some of the best creative minds in the business and building connections and friendships with clients over the years.

In the age of a new business normal, where meetings are now held over Zoom, nobody really cares if you’re actually wearing pants, let alone a suit – so getting back to the basics and doing it right isn’t just expected, it’s fundamental to the survivability of any agency.

Account servicing 101. You’re welcome.

The writer is Kristian Olsen, managing director of Type A.