Nothing is more important to the overall success of an agency than exceptional client service. An effective client service team is one of the most important marketing initiatives that an agency (or any organization for that matter) can undertake. Willow has created an agency culture we refer to as the Willow Way, and it drives our client service strategy. The Willow Way is a client-first approach we’ve implemented across the agency that also impacts how we work together and communicate internally. It fosters teamwork, friendship and trust. The Willow Way has proven to be very successful for us, so here are some tips on how you can incorporate your own version of it in your team or organization.
Let’s get the excuses out of the way first.
All too often, the mention of creating and implementing action plans to a group of account associates and managers results in the following reactions and responses:
- We need more time.
- We have always done things this way and we don’t want to change.
- We don’t need any more business—everything is fine the way it is.
Moving from debate to planning and implementation is difficult for any business. However, unless you can move from debate and ideas to actual accountability and implementation, plans for success will remain in a field of dreams, out-of-date practices and unhappy or unsatisfied clients.
Here are some tips (in chronological order) to help you get started initiating change and focusing on client service.
1. Get the Data
Every plan of attack needs to have a basis and a foundation—one that everyone can look at and agree it is the reason why the organization is making a change in the way they do business. For Willow, this was a client survey. Surveys are great tools that help organizations in every industry measure satisfaction, determine areas of focus and provide an opportunity for client communication. Building plans to improve client service without measuring the current impact of your client service team will be a waste of time. Do your due diligence, and find out how you’re doing first. The results will likely surprise you!
2. Create the Team
After completing client research and taking the time to review and digest it, you can move forward with plan development. This means assembling the team of key players who will be responsible for developing the plan and implementing it throughout the organization.
As coaching legend Vince Lombardi once said, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”
Choose your team wisely. Make sure each person is on board with the goal and fully understands the “why” behind it.
3. Identify Your Mission Statement and Goals
A mission statement is a one to four paragraph statement that stresses the importance of exceptional service and spells out your organization’s basic commitments. It can include:
- A definition of what business you are in
- What clients you serve
- What principles/beliefs you pledge to adhere to regards to clients and employees
Once you have a clear mission statement, your team can carefully consider the mission of the organization and how each individual employee can live that mission out with clients. The team should expand those ideas into actual goals with firm deadlines, which will begin creating your new “way” of doing business.
4. Brainstorm do-able Solutions
With the feedback from your survey(s), the team must identify problem areas as well as opportunities. Observe and review internal processes and the impact they have upon client service. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and think like a client or even a customer of the client. This should help you to develop a list of processes you can [and will] improve, who will be responsible for completion and timely expectations for completion.
What’s important to remember in this stage is not all ideas are actionable. Create solutions people can understand and work towards, not some “pie in the sky”, unobtainable dream.
5. Put Together the Plan
At this stage in the game, you should now have the information and foundation you need to spell out an effective client service improvement plan. There are six critical areas which must be included:
- Top-down commitment
- Service standards
- Improving processes
- Rewards and recognition
- Ongoing feedback
Service standards (or the Willow Way in our case) should be developed and incorporated into the plan. Examples include:
- Smile at clients
- Answer the phone within three rings
- Return all calls and emails within 24 hours
- Under promise and over-deliver
- Be on time
Over time many agency processes, procedures and ways of doing things become obsolete or no longer make sense. Often they are “client irritants” that can frustrate clients and make it difficult for them to do business with you. Be on the lookout for these and be prepared to consider ways of doing things differently. Process improvement should be ongoing. All employees should be encouraged to think of ways processes can be improved and bring those ideas to the attention of organizational leadership.
Improving client service is all about employees developing new behavioral habits. It takes about 66 days, over two months, to develop a new habit. Before new behaviors can become habits they must be practiced, reinforced and rewarded. You must include a strategy for rewarding service excellence if you want it to become part of your firm’s culture.
Training should also be a key component of your plan. Employees must be provided with the tools to get their job done. Client service improvements will not be realized unless you put in a comprehensive and well-executed training program in place. A training program not only enhances the service your clients receive, but also benefits your organization by:
- Increasing teamwork
- Improving the client service skills of team members
- Helping everyone understand their role in making service shine
An ongoing method for gathering client and employee feedback must also be incorporated into the service improvement plan. Without a system for regularly measuring your service effectiveness, you have no way of knowing if you are improving or not.
6. Implementation of the plan
The plan should be designed to foster accountability and implementation. Program launch meetings should be held with all employees and everyone should be provided with copies of the plan. The importance of exceptional client service should be stressed and the strategy for changing the organization to a “client first” culture should be outlined.
Change takes time, so be patient. New skills must be learned and new habits developed. Implementation of your new “way” can take up to one year, but you’ll likely begin seeing positive results within six months.
So get going! What are you waiting for? There’s no better time than the present to create positive change for your business.
Interested in learning more about the Willow Way? You can reach out to me via our contact form here or leave a comment. I’ll respond within 24 hours.