It’s 3:30 a.m. and my public relations client, an aerobatic air show pilot, is heading out in the black of night onto the air show tarmac to get his plane out for a morning show live shot, the first of 10 media interviews I’ve booked for him today in Portland, Oregon.
My phone rings.
“Hi Elias—Good morning!”
There’s a long pause. He’s a seasoned media pro, a very good interviewee and knows how this all works. But he doesn’t talk.
“Elias? Hello? Can you hear me?”
“Oh yeah, I’m sorry. You surprised the hell out of me. I was just expecting to get a voicemail. But you’re up!”
“Of course, I’m up! You’re working the media tour and when you’re working, I’m working!”
“Audrey, no one does that in PR. Nobody has ever worked outside regular hours with all the other PR people I’ve hired.”
It saddened me that that was his experience up until he worked with me and my independent little PR firm. Why was I up? Because all kinds of things can get changed in real time in a media tour and that morning, that’s exactly what happened. KOIN-TV had breaking news and diverted his live truck crew from our pilot and the morning show to that assignment. I called the TV newsroom’s assignment desk and rebooked a shoot for later that morning to save the interview and re-secure the coverage. Problem solved!
But I learned a valuable lesson about service levels that became my lynchpin of business model and I’m quite certain is the reason why my PR business was all referral for a solid 10 years. I never had to go out and get business. Elias was a CEO-to-CEO referral. He later shared with me that the client who referred him said I gave amazing results with superb service levels and reasonable rates. I love all of that. (Except the reasonable rates part LOL.)
Heed the lesson that if you don’t have an awareness of service levels and aren’t paying attention to them in both your internal and external interactions with colleagues and clients/customers, you’re behind a competitor. Right now, higher service levels are more noticeable, in part because so much automation, technology and less personalization of processes is happening.
Before you start squawking about extra costs of any of this, implementing new processes and policies surrounding it, go back to my story. What did it cost me to surprise and delight my client? Getting out of bed (free) and making myself a cup of coffee ($1.25). What do people sometimes say when delighted in a situation? “Wow, it’s the little things.”
What this level of service accomplishes is not so little. It maximizes your credibility with your client about your business and skills. It takes time to learn each client’s business, KPIs and other important information. You can earn their credibility much more quickly, and lose it just as quickly. This media tour could have been cancelled that day had I not been up managing every detail. I would have left a client stranded in the wee hours sitting there with nothing to do.
What’s the end result? Zero credibility means your client will not be comfortable recommending you to his super successful peer group CEOs, who may also be looking for someone like you. You lose to a competitor.
You should apply this mindset to how you interact with colleagues or other departments, even external vendors in your work life. Go beyond, be agreeable, be cheerful. Understand that helping someone who is asking for your assistance goes a long way, particularly when the shoe is on the other foot. At SalesFuel, there’s a lot of push/pull of materials and content among departments and it’s a pleasure to service my co-workers daily. I basically view them as internal clients, who should be serviced just as much as an external paying client or an end client brought to me by another PR agency who needs more labor on an account. Whether you are delivering a work product or leading a meeting, providing data and results, think about new, higher-level ways of delivering and what is meaningful to that client.
Here are my top takeaways for you so you can apply this to your role as leader, manager, account manager and co-worker. If you’re consistent in applying these, you’ll stand out from the competition.
Anticipate your clients’ and colleagues’ needs. Stay ahead of the curve, send things early, think through scenarios on execution that could cause issues, be mindful and curious about what clients and colleagues may need and ask questions. And maintain internal and external services at the same level always. It’s easier that way anyway!
Match your methods of servicing to mirror the client. If you have a client that is enamored with data, or who is pressured by their own management to support their statements with data, find new ways to give them more data and detail in your reports than they’ve ever had. Other clients have a culture at their organization that is very relaxed and people forward? You could do something as simple as an icebreaker exercise built into your agendas for the meetings you’re leading with them. Be different and thoughtful and they will notice.
Small and Simple is mega powerful. I recently sent a handwritten message in a greeting card snail mail to a stakeholder, and she said, “I so loved getting that. It’s sitting on my desk. I see it every day.” Be present in real time and available when a client calls or messages and answer promptly in real time.
Be Competitive with yourself. Technology gives us new ways to delight and surprise so be a lifelong learner and identify fun ways to reach out to service your clients. I had one client who loved WhatsApp and exclusively preferred to communicate with me on it exclusively.
As new, easier ways emerge to communicate or pass paperwork back and forth, or scan documents – use them. Suggest new apps or portals to your clients they may not be familiar with. It’s also a great touchpoint to speak with them and provide value.
Apply these tips to provide exceptional service that will give your customer a reason to keep coming back.