What Price Service When Adland’s Obsessed With Technology?

What Price Service When Adland’s Obsessed With Technology?
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In his latest attack (see: opinion piece), B&T regular, Robert Strohfeldt, unleashes on adland’s obsession with technology at the expense of customer service. And, he reminds us, the consultancies are coming and they do service better than anyone…

In a recent “survey”, leading figures in advertising from around the world were asked to state, in 60 seconds, their thoughts on the industry. “Ten top industry quotes in just 60 seconds.”.

A great snapshot of the state of play in mid-2017. I am not sure if the quotes were put into any particular order, though the number 1 quote was:

“Transformation. Advertising doesn’t put technology at the core of our business model”.

That an “industry leader” thinks this way says a lot about what has gone wrong with the advertising business. To add further weight, service was not mentioned at all. (The other 9 quotes showed though that, the basics had not changed).

I am guessing most readers subscribe to variety of publications, newsletters, blogs etc – the amount of reading that one has to do now compared to say, 20 years ago, has increased at least 10 -fold. Marketing Week, E Marketer, Social Media Examiner, B&T (a must), Ad News, Mumbrella (no comment), Google Best Practices. I could name another 10 and still not go close to listing them all. But not once have I read an article on service in the past two years.

We are a “service industry”, a service industry under threat from advisory and management consulting firms as well as clients taking business in-house.

There is an old saying “creative wins business, service loses it”. Nothing has changed. You can replace “creative” with “great ideas”, “great technology” or any other term you think more appropriate, but ultimately the client will judge you on the service behind it.

I recently met with a close mate of some 30 years. His nickname is Seppo, so a number of you will know who I am talking about. He is the best suit I have ever encountered. The Poms produced the best creative people, but no one tops the Yanks when it comes to account service and business strategy. A major offering of his very successful business is working with agencies to improve their account service – he even has clients asking him to work with their agencies. (Or agencies worried they are going to lose a major client and asking advice on what to do.)

Seppo says there are three basic foundations of a client – agency relationship.

  • Like
  • Trust
  • Respect

You cannot work with people you do not like, you don’t trust or you don’t respect, no matter how brilliant they may be. A client does not need new earth shattering ideas every week. The real work is in the implementation, making it happen on time, on budget and with the no grief or hassle.

Many great creative agencies of the 90s had clients going out the back door faster than they could bring them in the front. George Patterson use to be the largest agency in the country, particularly in Sydney. (With Clemenger a close second). Patts was run by the legendary Geoff Cousins, followed by Alex Hamill. Clemenger had the Clemenger brothers in Melbourne and Geoff Wild, current chairman of WPP ANZ, as Sydney founder and chairman.

These guys were businessmen, as well known outside the advertising industry as they were in it. Patts did produce some great creative work, but they were renowned for their service rather than creative work. They held clients for 10, 20, 30 years or more. Today, a client of five years standing is rare. (Another “old mate” said he was told something new by a young marketer – lifetime value of a customer. Of course, he had to draw breath in between the laughs).

We have become obsessed with technology, not as a means to the end, but as the end itself. Asking a marketer or agency professional to answer a question without using the word “digital” is similar to asking a teenager not to use “like” in a sentence. Dam near impossible.

Advertising is a service, not a technology business. Like all other industries, technology has had an enormous impact, but technology is not our core product.

Customer experience has become a stand -alone discipline, it seems every second days a paper or opinion piece is penned on winning the loyalty of “today’s empowered customers”.  If consumers are growing ever smarter, what about clients.? So where is the information on winning the loyalty of “today’s empowered clients”?

The best clients are the ones you already have, yet how often do you hear people within an agency bag their clients? The people who pay their salaries, or more precisely their mortgages, cars, holidays, feed their kids and fund their evenings at funky restaurants and nightspots.

Some much time, effort and money goes into understanding customers’ needs and expectations, but bugger all into the same motivations of clients. They are customers as well. And before you can start giving advice on what is best for a client’s customers, you should be looking at your own backyard and applying these principals to them.

Sure, some clients can be very demanding. Funny that. A company spends millions of dollars with you and they have the audacity to be demanding. Yet go to a restaurant, spend a few hundred bucks and if the service is lousy, most become irate.

A successful agency starts and ends with great service. The bit in the middle, the ideas/creative/IT are a given. This may sound like heresy, buy ideas are a dime a dozen. It is how you bring the idea to life and successfully manage it from inception to completion that will determine how a client rates you.

There is always the exception. Clients who change agencies almost on an annual basis. If a client begrudges you making a fair profit, then steer clear. If they don’t value service then they don’t value ideas – they think they can “steal” them and do the implementation themselves. But thankfully this type of client is in the minority.

Great service is the “secret” to success in a service business. (Who would have thought that? The bleeding obvious).

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Robert Strohfeldt

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