Why CMOs welcome evolving role of client service

By Niamh NicLiam, Incubeta Director: Growth & Partnerships. When the client service role goes right, it can result in stellar revenue shifts and industry awards; but when it goes wrong it can destroy relationships and damage brands.

By Niamh NicLiam, Incubeta Director: Growth & Partnerships. There is a commonly held belief, especially amongst the more traditional marketing leaders, that the role of client service is nothing more than a layer of bureaucracy that adds to costs and whose main function is administrative housekeeping. This is dangerous because it is stopping brands from getting the most out of their agency relationship and realising meaningful value from their marketing investment.

Niamh NicLiam.

For people who have been working in a digital agency for some time, the role of client service is clear. It is there to help define and manage an effective digital marketing strategy and to ensure the client achieves their digital marketing (and through that their business) goals. They are the bridge between client and agency.

However, as digital marketing has evolved and changed, a disconnect has emerged in the industry. The traditional role of account manager still carries with it the false narrative of someone who simply heads up the admin of the account, with very little strategic value being added. This old school approach of viewing client service as just ‘the suits’ in the team is simply not true.

Advocate on behalf of the client 

As digital marketing becomes more complex the need to have subject matter experts has become more obvious and CMOs are keen to engage directly with them when trying to understand how their accounts are performing. But, by circumventing your key client service contact and going direct to the subject matter expert, marketing leaders are getting deeply siloed information with little or no context to the overall account and its performance. This can result in a skewed view of what is happening and, more often than not, some bad decisions.

Another department which tends to cling to the outdated idea of client service is procurement. Their more analytical approach means they are comfortable to acknowledge the value of the subject experts, but they seem to baulk at the idea of having someone serving as the glue that holds the account together, but who doesn’t have a singular expertise in any one technical aspect of the service offering.

One of the most important roles of the client service professional is to be there to represent the client with the rest of the agency team. They are the conductor of the symphony who brings together and manages all aspects of delivery. What’s more, because they understand the brand inside out, they are best placed to advocate on behalf of the client to ensure their short- and long-term business objectives are always at the heart of agency delivery.

It’s not always easy 

In order to ensure delivery, the client service heads are also required to question clients to ensure they fully understand their briefs. The best client service professionals are those who are insatiably curious, who are happiest getting under the hood and immersing themselves in the client’s business – and who are not afraid to ask probing questions. It is only by understanding exactly what clients need that you can fully unlock the whole potential.

The role of client service teams have morphed over the past few years mirroring how digital marketing itself has become more complex. Now, with so many moving parts and so many digital elements making up the digital offering, the need to have centralised account oversight has grown exponentially. This is especially true in a world where brands are struggling to deal with the many privacy requirements placed on them and just how to maintain performance in a world that will soon lose third party cookies.

Don’t sugarcoat it 

If a CMO is going to get the most out of their client service team the best way to start off the relationship is with a chemistry meeting. This will allow the client lead to immediately set the tone and ensure everyone understands how they intend to orchestrate the vision, strategy and delivery going forward.

Clients must also trust that they can always rely on their client lead to have their back. But it is equally important for CMOs to have very open communications with their client service teams. They can only deliver if they know what they are working with and what pitfalls they need to steer their agencies around.

In future we wouldn’t be surprised if account managers will be referred to as customer success managers as this better reflects their actual role in the client / agency relationship, and should help people better understand their value. Because it is only when CMOs and agencies can agree on what value they are working towards that the benefit of having a team leader to navigate the path to that success becomes so apparent.


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