The many hats of client service (and how to wear them!)
Account manager, account executive, project manager, and account coordinator are all titles used to describe those in client service. But from the inside, how do the Pete Campbells of the world describe themselves? Hero, villain, juggler, doer, problem-solver, strategist, multi-tasker, chameleon, and listener are all terms I would much rather see used to describe client service, because these are the words that truly describe what we do and the different hats we have to wear every day.
Perhaps the thing that makes this position the most challenging (and sometimes most frustrating), yet also so rewarding, is the fact that you have to be and do all of these things—often at the same time. How is that even possible? Expanding more on the terms I’ve listed above, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that will help answer this question.
Number 1: Hero vs. villain
Ever watched Batman battle it out with Two-Face—the man once deemed Gotham’s “White Knight” turned bad after a life-changing run-in with the Joker? “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
You’re often the one who gets to wear Batman’s cape one day and a Joker mask another. It’s a dichotomous position, where you’re asked to wear a hat with “two faces” every day. Today, in the eyes of your team, you might be wearing a hero’s cape for negotiating a later deadline with the client, but you’ll likely be the villain tomorrow when you’re asking them to do something they don’t agree with. This tug-of-war can easily wear you out, but if you can put trust and honesty on equal pedestals, regardless of which person you have to be today, it will make you more successful in this role.
Trust your team, trust your gut, and above all else, be honest with your team and clients. It’s this trust and honesty that will lay the foundation for mutual respect of the future decisions you’ll be forced to make; both with the client and your team. It’s this mutual respect that lays the foundation for you to wear the hat of hero or villain without risking your relationships.
Number 2: To be a juggler, you must first learn to juggle
Regardless of the industry, this position is a constant juggling act. You’re asked to switch gears on a moment’s notice so often throughout the day that you can’t keep count. Sure you can plan out your day, but you also have to plan for that plan to be shattered. With a handful (to two handfuls) of projects going at any given time, and all of them in different sequence, you have to be good at prioritizing action items for yourself and others without becoming overwhelmed. Being able to identify what is most important, as well as what can be delegated or put off until later, is critical in learning to juggle.
Doing this and doing it well comes with experience, but there is one thing you can remind yourself of on your path there: at the end of the day, we aren’t saving lives. Unless, of course, you’re in a medical field or have a client working on a life-changing campaign. Then maybe you’re helping save lives, but for the most part, stop taking things so seriously and remember when you become overwhelmed to take a step back, clear your head, and evaluate what is in front of you.
Number 3: Do, done, did, doer.
It wasn’t until my third job that I realized how much my first account service job taught me—and not just the job, but my boss. At the time, I would often be frustrated by a common question, but now I realize just how critical it was for me in shaping the way I do business today. What was the question you ask? “Can you find a way to make it happen?” You see, even when I thought I had ran out of all the answers and had scaled through plans A - Z, there was always another way to make it happen and get it done.
This go-getter, find-a-way-no-matter-what attitude is how you get things done in this position. There’s no time to sit on your heels, and certainly not a place for throwing your hands up in exasperation of not having an answer. You’re expected to act quickly and get things done.
Number 4: Problem-solvers at their finest
Finding the balance between your client’s goals and objectives and figuring out what will make your team happy and perform at its best, is a regular fixture at the top of your “to-do list”.
More often than not, your day is a web of yes, no (occasionally hell no!), maybe, and what if, and you’re the person asked to string them together in the most logical way. As with #3 above, problem-solving and being a ‘doer’ go hand-in-hand here, as you search for an answer that may not always be clear. Being able to synthesize situations and information—all while remaining on-point with goals and objectives—is critical in problem-solving in this role.
Number 5: You’re a strategist.
The word strategist may not be in your title, but you are one. And don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.
To be able to find solutions to problems on a daily basis and constantly strive for a balance between team goals, client objectives, and often times differing opinions, there is no other word that can describe this skill other than strategist. You’re in charge of planning and implementing action items based on the understanding of this information and the vision of the bigger picture, and you’re the one bearing responsibility for the success of each project you lead. It is in wearing this hat that you have to employ both sides of your brain—being analytical and logical, while considering intuition and feelings.
These are skills you can’t develop overnight, but are areas you can work to develop, and frankly will continue to develop, throughout your entire career. You certainly won’t always be right and you’ll often have to course-correct to figure things out, but be sure to use these experiences to build on the next thing you do. It will take time to find the balance of sense and skill.
Number 6: Do you really think you can multi-task?
You’re expected to remember dates, deadlines, and deliverables, and then all of the details of phone calls, client feedback, and team discussions for every project, every day.
It’s a pretty big weight to carry, and in my experience, the best way to do this is to find and test personal task-tracking systems that work best for you. (I’ve used the Franklin Covey system for six years now!)
Number 7: Chameleonizing yourself
You work with different clients, brands, and internal team members daily. All of which have differing personalities, agendas and goals. As the one constant amongst them all, it’s important that you can adjust your mindset to meet the different needs of each. This isn’t about changing who you are per se, but more about understanding your environment in order to adjust how you should work within each one. This is important in being able to meet expectations and reach the goals and objectives that have been set. This skill ties directly into #8.
Number 8: Listener. Period.
Be a listener. Charge yourself not only with taking notes about what you’re working on, but take notes about what people are saying, how they’re saying them, their tone of voice and word choice, everything!
Aside from the fact that not listening is just rude, being a good listener will help you understand how best to work within the boundaries of your teammates and client’s personalities. Listening will help you build a sense of empathy for who you work with and will help you solve problems if they arise by improving how you communicate. This may seem like a rudimentary rule, but look around you; you’ll be amazed at how many people don’t do this.
Finally, and most importantly, two hats that aren’t hats at all, but are unwritten practices that you won’t see in any account service job description:
Lead with respect. Respect the talents, skills, qualities, and abilities of those around you. Colleagues and clients alike, everyone has their own special place and role in what you’re striving to achieve together, and by showing a deep understanding of these roles and having compassion and respect for their time, energy, and expertise is the only way to gain a mutual level of respect for what you do.
Never forget how to spell the word team. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned from playing team sports all my life, is the value of using “us”, “we”, “our”, and “team”. There truly is no “I” in team. It doesn’t matter what the news—good or bad—or the circumstance, you will never see me claim “I”. It is always about the team. There is no place in this position for finger-pointing or blame-gaming. If the team was able to pull through in a positive way on a project—we did it. If someone dropped the ball on a project—we dropped the ball. There is one name on your company’s door and you all work for it.
Whether you’re new to the job or a seasoned professional looking to sharpen your skills, each item above will help you wear, or grow into, the many hats of client service.