The client services role is often misunderstood and sometimes maligned, internally and externally. They’re sometimes seen simply as ‘email forwarders’, a barrier between creatives and clients who create Chinese Whispers in their role as go between.
But it’s actually an invaluable role within an agency, the glue that holds all elements together. Clients, creatives, projects, budgets, deadlines. It’s also a highly collaborative role, making sure all teams are working well together and that everyone gets the best outcome. The client gets great results, creatives are fulfilled in their work, the business profits.
Client services has historically not been even considered a profession. But when you take into account all these roles and responsibilities… it’s time to change perceptions.
The multifaceted role of client services
A client goes to an agency because they don’t have the experience, expertise or time to deliver something specific. For example, creating and building a website. They may only rebuild a website once or twice in their career, so they look to an agency. The client services role is to be the expert in delivering that type of marketing to help the client get the best work, service, output and product.
This often means wearing an awful lot of hats. You can be everything from an account manager and project manager to planner and marketing specialist. Responsible for finances, planning, strategy, stakeholder management, third-party management… you name it. There are a lot of moving parts. Which is why client services managers tend to be super organised, natural problem solvers.
And they have to be. Wearing a lot of hats doesn’t mean spreading yourself thinly across a range of roles. It means immersing yourself, giving each aspect your full focus. Indeed, client services managers need to be ‘experts’ in a whole range of areas, including:
Delivery: Helping the client understand what the project could deliver for their business, so they shape the right brief with the end results in mind. Client services act as the consultant, asking the right things of the right people. They need to understand the client inside out, so the agency can deliver the best outcome for them. It’s about being analytical and questioning, not taking things at face value. The best work comes from boundaries being pushed.
Planning and organisation: Structuring and planning a project in the right way means that the team and the client know what’s expected and what to expect, and when. It means everyone knows their timelines and budgets — and sticks to them.
Problem solving: Successful projects are those which use people’s talents effectively. Client services need to choose the right resource for the job and facilitate the best work from everyone. This isn’t just internal, either — choosing and managing suppliers is equally important.
Communication: Making sure everyone understands the brief and expected outcomes in an objective way is a big part of the role. It also means objectively reviewing work to assess whether it’s meeting the brief — and not offering subjective opinions. You’re taking your teams and clients on a journey from initial brief to project delivery, keeping everyone well informed along the way.
Quality: Mistakes happen, but the client doesn’t need to see them. Double checking all work before presenting it to the client can avoid them seeing any errors.
Managing expectations and feedback: Client services need to know how to keep a project running smoothly. This means pushing back on unrealistic timelines, understanding how to get clients to meet deadlines and getting full engagement from internal teams. It also means understanding how to manage and action any negative feedback from clients.
Relationship management: People buy from people they like, so this is an important part of the client services role. Listen to your clients, make them feel valued. You need them to trust you, to know you’ll deliver on time, with a good outcome.
There are a few other questions which often pop up when we’re talking about client services:
Can’t clients speak directly to creatives?
The answer here is yes, the client should be sharing business, product, and audience insights with creatives. Equally, creatives should be presenting their thinking directly to clients.
But creatives are experts at creative work. They’re not skilled in marketing strategy – and nor should this be expected. Clients use an agency for their collective expertise, and creatives constantly liaising with them means they’re not spending their time on the nitty gritty of the project.
Should client services be charged?
Yes. Absolutely. Client services offer knowledge, expertise and advice, resourcing sourcing and project management. Just like with creatives, you can charge different rates for different levels of responsibility.
What’s the difference between client services, project managers and planners?
Agencies are all different. Some will have client services wearing all these hats. Some will be big enough to have specialists in each role. It often depends on the size of the agency — the bigger they are, the more likely they are to have specialists in place. In the case of client services, this often means they are expert in client management — fully attuned to the needs of the client and their specific business challenges, but also aware of the technical aspects of delivering the project.
So to answer the question we asked right at the start: yes your agency does need client services, and no they don’t just send emails. They’re an integral part of an effective project, offering targeted and strategic expertise to make sure clients are getting the best outcome and creatives are fully and effectively briefed. In essence, they’re the bridge taking the project from its initial conception with the client to its execution at the agency.