Should your client services team be timesheeting?

Image for Kate Bastable By Kate Bastable

The role of client services is complex, covering a whole raft of disciplines. But it’s also often misunderstood, by clients and others in the agency alike. Far from just taking briefs and forwarding emails, the role needs talent, experience and expertise. Yet many agencies still don’t know exactly what the role of client services is and don’t charge for these hours.

Which begs the question: should client services be timesheeting?

Ask them and they’ll probably say no. Because everyone hates filling out timesheets. They’re often seen as being intrusive, a sign of lack of trust. Plus they’re boring, another admin job in a busy day. But realistically, timesheets are the best way for agencies to track projects. How much time has been spent, whether this aligns to time estimated/quoted, whether budgets and profits are on track. They can also indicate if certain teams or individuals are being over or underworked.

However, while creative teams might dislike filling out timesheets, it’s relatively straightforward for them. They spend ‘X’ number of hours on a particular project and this is what they log. But for client services, this is much less tangible and their utilisation rates (amount of chargeable hours versus number of hours worked) will inevitably be much lower. If indeed they have any chargeable hours at all, which will depend on your agency’s approach.

So in many agencies, timesheeting is something that’s restricted to creative teams. But think about it. Client services are often highly paid employees. As an agency leader, you need to know you’re getting your money’s worth. And putting some kind of KPI in place makes sense if you’re to make this kind of financial commitment.

Assuming you have a robust recruitment process, you can be fairly sure you’re putting the right people in the right roles. So asking them to timesheet isn’t about trust (you trust your creatives but wouldn’t think twice about making timesheeting a non-negotiable part of their day).

Rather this is about tracking and data

The most successful agencies are those who know exactly what’s going on and where their time is being spent. This helps them make informed decisions about the future: what type of clients to take on/reject, resourcing and capacity, budgeting. All with a view to growing profits.

Client services usually work with clients in a number of ways. Understanding the expectations of a project so they can prepare the right brief, planning resource, timelines and budgeting, communication, quality control, feedback and debriefing. Plus, relationship management is a big part of their role.

Here are some ways your agency could benefit from client services timesheeting:

Better project management

Time being spent by client services on an actual project can be logged against that project. Whether it’s something you choose to charge for is a commercial decision for your agency. Although it’s really worth bearing in mind that these are professional skills which shouldn’t always be assumed are free. If your client services teams are spending hours preparing strategic reports, marketing plans or advertising campaigns this is all serving to improve your client’s business.

On the flip side, if it transpires your clients services people are spending swathes of their time on actual project work, this could ring some alarm bells. If you’re not charging for all or even any of this time, it’s going to dent your profits. Do you need to recruit a dedicated project manager, or reassign some of the workload?

Improved relationship management

This is a harder one to quantify. These are not costs you’d realistically be able to pass onto a client, but if your team is spending a lot of time in this area it’s at least good to know. Are they overdoing it? Or could they be devoting more time here? Clients like working with people they trust and value, so it’s an important part of the client services role.

Identify demanding contacts or ‘vampire’ clients 

Many agencies work on multiple jobs for the same client, albeit with different points of contact for each job. Here, you could open up a job on your system for client services for this client so you can track the time you’re spending on them. Using this method, you can also track how much time you’re spending with specific people in that organisation. Some people are more demanding of time than others, spending longer on the phone or asking for more sets of amends, for example.

Having this kind of granular detail can be invaluable. Not only will you know how much time is being spent on creative project work for the client, you’ll know how much extra time they’re getting. From here, you can adjust your estimates accordingly, building in extra time for the more demanding people. Or you could even identify ‘vampire’ clients, who might seem to be spending a lot of money with your agency but who consistently go beyond the quote and in fact are draining your profits.

Asking your client services team to timesheet makes good sense. The more you understand about where your hours are going, the better decisions you can make. Could you add a percentage of a job to project management, for example? Are your senior people working on things that creatives could be doing during their chargeable hours? Because client services covers such a multitude, being able to break it down into distinguishable data can really help you identify what’s going well… and where there’s room for improvement.

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