Good client service remains key in the digital age

Service and the lack thereof, is always a hot topic around South Africans' dinner tables. "We often perceive our service levels to be way below those of international service levels, but is this necessarily the case?" questions Hilton Veldsman, Client Service Director NATIVE. "Irrespective of the answer, we should never settle for anything less than the best service, every time."
Good client service remains key in the digital age - NATIVE VMLThe digital age is offering businesses new avenues and channels for improved communications that have the potential to improve service delivery to their clients, "but," says Veldsman, "client service best practice remains the same."

"Just as it was in the pre-digital era, businesses that listen and respond in the appropriate way to clients' requirements will always be rated as exceptional. However, there are specific challenges for businesses in the digital era. Becoming digitally literate, for instance, is a struggle for many marketers," he says.

Veldsman explains that becoming digitally literate is not an easy process. Part of the role digital agencies must play is to educate companies and help marketers to understand and leverage the digital opportunities available. "Many of today's marketing executives grew up in a less-complicated and relatively mature world of TV and print advertising. Not only are they not digital experts, they may not even know enough to ask the right questions that will lead to a successful strategy. To be able to offer great service, agencies need to judge where their clients feature on the digital literacy scale and then build that understanding into their digital strategy and approach," he explains. Understanding the costs involved is also a challenge. "Clients appreciate case studies which demonstrate Return on Investment before they are convinced," he adds. "Saving clients' money is a sure way to score points. Presenting projects in phases so that clients can choose to proceed according to their budget, but still have the overall plan in sight, is a good approach."

So what do clients expect from digital agencies in terms of service? Veldsman believes that having dedicated teams that are focussed on individual clients or a small group of clients is key. "The world of digital moves at an incredible pace so this approach enables a faster turnaround time and increased agility to respond to client requests and adhere to client deadlines. It also affords a single point of contact and simplifies their lives" he says.

Primarily though, clients are still after the basics in terms of service best practice. "Being accessible by answering the phone and being available when clients want to meet face to face; responding promptly; listening to feedback; and communicating clearly and directly are but a few basics that clients expect. Another core element is learning the business. Knowledge of digital marketing is one thing, but understanding the client's business is quite another. Effective client service requires both - we need to add value by ensuring that digital initiatives take the business to another level," says Veldsman.

He also believes that empowering the marketing client is fundamental to good client service. "It's very important to share an understanding of the terrain. Clients then feel more confident to ask for help from the experts without feeling inadequate. We've found that having regular client sharing sessions to explore trends and innovation has had a powerful and positive effect on the way we do business," he explains.

Veldsman also believes that saying no is not an option. "Good service means always looking for an alternate solution. Once again getting to know the clients, cultivating relationships and investing in face time with them will assist in finding these solutions. Lastly client centricity is key to great client service. This means asking questions, understanding what the clients want and then leading them exactly there."

"Despite the rapid and complex way in which the world is changing, with digital leading the change, there is still a need for good basic client service. Digital is but a part of the greater marketing effort and the same high service expectations associated with traditional marketing teams should be demanded of digital agencies too," concludes Veldsman.

12 Sep 2012 10:55

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About the author

Hilton Veldsman is Client Service Director of NATIVE and looks after a portfolio of clients which includes amongst others L'Oreal, Colgate, Liberty, Standard Bank, Pick n Pay, General Motors, Appletiser and Sanofi Aventis.

He holds a Masters in Public and Development Management from Wits University along with marketing and business management qualifications from leading local and international institutions.

He is a member of the DMA Direct Marketing Association of South Africa - and was a judge for the Assegai Awards in 2009, IMM Institute of Marketing Management, IOD Institute of Directors South Africa and the BMF Black Management Forum.




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