With the sudden onset of COVID-19 and many states dealing with shelter-in-place orders, advertising agencies have had to adapt their processes to work in a more virtual world. While every role within an agency has been impacted, account managers face the difficult task of not only quarterbacking all client work but maintaining client relationships. As account managers, we have evolved and learned a thing or two about what works with clients in addition putting some thought into client interaction post crisis. So, how do you maintain client relationships in a world of social distancing?
Communication is Key
A vital part of a successful work from home strategy is communication, and the same holds true for client relationships. Make sure your clients know what you are working on by keeping them updated with regular project status updates. And, knowing that most of your clients are filled with uncertainty about the future, above all, provide leadership. A great example of this can be seen in how our agency produced an original research study on expected consumer behavior post COVID-19. Don’t just watch their industry. Instead be someone that understands their industry. Don’t just share articles about their industry that others have written. Instead make sure you think critically about information before you forward it. Have an opinion. Provide leadership.
Be Proactive but Flexible
Industries are being affected in different ways, so you need to be on top of what is happening to make recommendations for your client. Do they need a website update to talk about a service change? Or maybe they want to highlight an existing service or product that has become particularly relevant. Be proactive in making suggestions for your clients so they can focus on operations. See opportunities for your clients, especially now, when they may be distracted with other things. Also be prepared to push back or change existing plans as the world is a different place than it was six months ago.
Zoom is Your New Best Friend
Whether you use Zoom, WebEx, or Skype, video conferencing is your new best friend. As many people are working from home and lacking that office contact that they are used to (and are probably missing) this allows them to feel connected. You can use this for all kinds of occasions to great effect.
If you would typically present something in person, do it over video conference. Video will still allow you to gauge client reactions better than by phone and overall feels more engaging. Use screen share for your presentation and either assign one person to serve as the presenter or ask each presenter to pull it up on their machine and they can share their screen when it is their turn to control the flow.
Some video conferencing apps have virtual whiteboards that allow participants to contribute to the board for some high-tech collaboration. These are great for times when you need to brainstorm and are more interactive than just typing your notes in Word.
Set a weekly video check-in meeting with each of your clients. As the state of the world is changing rapidly, a set time each week gives you the opportunity to hear how business is going and what has changed in their world. Keep these conversations short so they don’t seem overwhelming but rather more of a touch base they can keep on their calendar.
Video conference happy hours are all the rage for companies and your social circle, but they work just as well for some bonding time with clients. While not for everyone, it gives you and them time to wind down from everything happening in the world. Since everyone is working from home, it gives you a great opportunity to learn more about them personally as people tend to be more relaxed in their own environment. But there are other opportunities for conversation as well. For example, what is in the background of their video conference screen? Photos of a vacation? Mementoes? Did they take it outside? This can give you some unique insights into who they are, allowing you to get to know them on a deeper level.
Pick Up the Phone
While it is usually a best practice to make sure you connect via phone with clients often, in the world of social distancing it becomes even more paramount. This is another great opportunity to provide some much-needed human interaction. Even if it’s a quick question, pick up the phone a few times a week and make a connection.
Snail Mail is Still Nice
If budgets allow, an occasional package or delivery of something small can really go a long way. Did your client mention that they were craving chocolate, but they don’t have any in the house? With so many delivery services these days, you can get many things delivered straight to their door. It is an added bonus if you can find a local business, or even use another client, to provide an unexpected treat.
The New Normal
As we begin talking about re-opening our economy and removing restrictions, we also need to start thinking about what our new normal is going to look like. Social distancing won’t be going away for some time which will affect our everyday interactions. I often hug clients hello and goodbye except for the few that I know are not “huggers.” As we move forward, we will need to treat everyone as a non “hugger” and even stop shaking hands. Rely instead on how you can strengthen that relationship with words and actions from complimenting them on their attire, to asking after their children, to helping prepare them for an internal stakeholders meeting.
Take advantage of your new comfort with technology and continue to use Zoom for meetings that you normally would not have in person because of travel. And when you do have in person meetings, make sure your conference rooms are stocked with anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.
While we are doing our part today to ensure the safety of our clients, community, and ourselves, everyone can agree how hopeful we are to reconnect with each other soon. Social distancing and shelter in place changed the way that we conduct business practically overnight and those changes are going to be felt for years to come. While at first glance these changes may seem all negative, there are positive changes too like getting accustomed to remote working and video conferencing. And for determined account managers, it offers unique opportunities that can actually bring you closer to your clients in the long run.