Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Importance of Client Communication

Sunday's Boston Globe's "On the Hot Seat" column, a question-and-answer column with a local CEO, validated a theory I announced to our monthly all-hands meeting on Thursday: that client communication matters.

We recently stopped using a vendor whose reporting was lackluster. But we told them why we were willing to pay more to one of their competitors -- better reporting, which helped us demonstrate value to our client. The sales rep said they were working on updating their reporting, and that it would take several months, but they'd get back to me.

It actually only took them several weeks, and the reporting is much better than it was. As compared to the competitor, their reporting is better in some areas, equal in others, and perhaps still not there in a others.

But they improved our ability to go with them by listening to and addressing our concerns. I'm not saying they made the changes just for us. I doubt that. But I am saying they listened, and helped a small business address an issue we had with our client.

The client communication lesson is one I learned in another area, as a director of a small export/import business. I know we're a small customer, but something's changed. When we started working with this company, we'd get a response, usually email even if the original contact had been by voicemail, within a day. Now, into our second year with them, I find that we generally hear back from them (always by email now) about a week after the request for information. And when we do hear back from them, the information's always incomplete because they're waiting for information from some third-party. I've seen some email threads, so I know some of the delays are attributable to third-parties. Fine, but I think we still deserve a timely response letting us know they're waiting for third-party information, especially because our requests for information is not unreasonable (we're not asking lots of questions for arcane details, and telling them we need the answers in an hour, or a day). We just want a sense of progreas.

The rest of the directors are upset, partly about the quality of the work but also about the responsiveness. I'm going to let this vendor know about our concerns, and give them a chance to improve. But this time, I don't know if the vendor can make the changes or if they're willing to. It wouldn't take much to repair the relationship, and I'd think in this economy, they would try, but we have told them our concerns earlier this year, and have only seen responsiveness decline.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the Boston Globe article. The entire article doesn't address the point about client communication, but the headline does, Client communication is key in ad industry, and the latter part of the article does.

It's an important point, and one we're constantly reviewing to determine how we can improve communication with our clients.

1 comment:

Norman Birnbach said...

As a follow-up, when I spoke with the vendor about ways to improve reporting and responsiveness to us, my contact said she'd try. And then she also said she was working on things for the business (as part of the retainer) but realized we didn't know about them. So, she had taken the initiative to address some issues we hadn't known about, yet hadn't told us that. With a better communications process, we'd be much happier and better informed.