recognizing client issues

 “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.” – Peter Drucker


“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” –  Charles Darwin balloons


If you have any type of clients in business you have issues.


There are always good relationships but there are never perfect relationships. Trust me on this. Unless you have a bunch of clones doing a mind meld the individuals that make up the whole of a relationship are creating some imperfections.


I say that because in business one of the biggest challenges is not only recognizing real issues but having the kahones to state them and work with them.


In my pea like brain I have two key thoughts on recognizing <and solving> cinet issues:


–          Blame versus responsibility

–          Scared of being imperfect


My thinking.


–          Blame.


Far too often it is always ‘someone else’s fault.’idiots everywhere

They are all idiots. Idiots are all around me.




They aren’t idiots. Let’s just say that the majority of people in business are doing the best they can or at least doing what they think is right.

It may not be what you consider the best or it may not even be what you would do. But most people do not purposefully try to do the wrong thing <or do something idiotic>.



The reality is that many times it is no one’s fault. The issues are simply the issues and are part of a positive healthy relationship which consists of the natural conflicts that occur within a relationship.

Part of a great client relationship is not making natural conflict into some grandiose problem.

Okay. That was verbose.

Let me say that part of managing a business relationship is not making something minor into something major. And that includes blame.


I cannot tell you how many times I have had to sit back in an office with a closed door trying to sift through what is minor versus major. You would think it is easy and common sense but more often than not truth is discerned in the nuances.


It isn’t easy.


Ignore something minor and it takes on a form in and of itself <and much much more major and larger than ever imaginable>.


Ignore something major and it can crush you so fast you may not even see it coming.


And even more challenging … in a relationship it is not just your perspective … it is also the perspective of the client. What is minor and imminently fixable to you may be major and an almost unfixable puzzle to them <THAT is a really bad position to be in>.


I would suggest that, major or minor, 90% of issues can be solved if you change what you do or how you say things.


But blaming doesn’t solve any of these issues. Assuming responsibility for attitude and behavior change is always a good place to start.



Which leads me to ….



–          Scared of being imperfect.perfection is shit


I will admit. I believe the business world was more forgiving when I was starting out in my career.

In today’s business world it sometimes seems like imperfections are like blood in water surrounded by sharks. And the sharks aren’t always peers competing for your responsibility <or salary or promotion> but also management lurking for someone to blame or find fault with as the next sacrificial lamb.



Part of assuming responsibility is recognizing you are imperfect. That you don’t know everything and you may not be prepared for everything and every situation.

And this comes from a guy who believes he can solve any problem or issue.


This is not easy in Life … and may be even more difficult in business.

And … interestingly … there is actually some psychological shit we are battling <so it isn’t just business culture>.


In a book called Mistakes were made but not by me <by social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson> they outline how Cognitive Dissonance makes it difficult for us to admit we are wrong <hence … imperfect>.


“I am rational and that person is disagreeing with me … that person must be irrational”

<even though both of us could be perfectly rational and logical>


And, in fact, we are fairly relentless with regard to disputing our imperfections shoving responsibility for crap onto others in some fairly creative ways <listed in hierarchy of reasoning>:


1. They are idiots <see: stupid>.


2. They have the wrong data. <once you realize they are not really an idiot>


3. They must be ignorant or evil. <because they have the right information and are truly smart enough to not really be an idiot.>


In addition <as if I need to add another thing> we fundamentally attribute issues on errors and successes … well … oddly.

We assume immediately someone fails due to disposition <they are idiots – stupid> and someone succeeds as a situational scenario <they were lucky>.

Conversely we tend to attribute our own success as disposition <i.e., ‘boy … I was smart’> and our failures as situational <i.e., ‘boy … that was frickin’ hard … or i was unlucky’>.


Taking responsibility for our errors or imperfections is difficult.

And scary.


But … well … suck it up.

Over 90% of client issues are either your fault or your solution. So assume it is your fault, your responsibility and your imperfection.




All that said.


I am going to share something I wrote when I was in a senior position in an advertising agency.

Partly to make a point and partly to show that I am not just blowing smoke up your ass in that I am willing to walk the walk <and not just talk>.


problem with meOne of the most frustrating aspects of business is convincing your own people and organization that ‘we are part of the problem.’ Some things which seem obvious are not so obvious.

Sometimes you just fall into a ‘this is the way it has always been done’ mode and sometimes you can say things like ‘why can’t we just make it simple’ type thinking.


And sometimes you just want to scream <at your own people>.


It is an unfortunate truth in business that every organization has their own vibe, rhythm and ‘codes’ <and sometimes their own vocabulary>.

Too often when you manage a variety of clients you want to set up a ‘system.’ Theoretically this sounds good … really good … almost magical. But it is impractical. Impractical because it may not be like shoving a square peg into around hole but it is more likely you are shoving a perfectly round peg <your designed efficient well oiled system> into a slightly non-uniformed round hole <how the client actually works or likes to work>. To complete the metaphor … this means there are gaps and maybe even some rubbing in places.


If you are not careful you ignore the nuanced differences and they become major issues.


I say all this because I came across a document in my files from a situation in which some really minor issues had built up over time and became major.

I must have had 5 meetings with my own company’s most senior leadership in which they mostly said “they are fucked up, always have been, deal with it.”


So I wrote an internal document and distributed it.


That got people going.


Here is the document <I have removed names>.



Some of our issues <of which there are, of course, client side aspects/nuances>:



  1. consensus input upfront


It is always best to have senior management agreement at the project initiation stage. Face to face is best, but even a ‘sign off’/signature approval system is useful. At minimum, there should be a senior level follow-up <agency & client> to discuss the work start and make sure all client expectations/information has been shared.

Suggestion: Institute at the <names removed> level a recurring one on one ‘project expectations/mandatories discussion.



  1. Better recognition at senior level of re-curring day to day issues <and proactively heading them off with senior level discussion>.



choices decisions yes maybe noScanning past conference reports, all issues that have bubbled to the top at the crisis hour have been reflected in some framework of words or another – in a recurring fashion. All clients have a ‘codespeak’ and it is typically the job of account management to crack the code. I have a three time rule and once I recognized the repetition I started the ‘three time rule’ at the project management level.

Anytime something has been brought up/suggested for revision/etc. for the third time we should stop and ask. They either need to go right to a senior person internally, or at the client, and ask for clarification.


Suggestion: This is a tough one because any senior person could actually recognize project ‘struggle’ <agency side or client side>. Maybe we just need to become better at being a team and pointing out/questioning things whenever we feel it is a potential issue.



  1. Better recognition of client expectations/input/mandatories upfront.


I believe this issue <or I speculate> is being driven more by our own past experience ‘fears’ rather than lack of internal account management training.

I believe we are often afraid to ask “what exactly is it you want” or “what your thoughts are now on what should be done” simply because we fear it has an order-taker tone. However, without that questioning we find ourselves trying to guess what it is the client would like to have seen <or at least be able to address why they didn’t see it>.

This questioning ‘fear’ has been compounded by reality in actions. In the past when we have clearly expressed what the client has wanted we have simply delivered just that.


It has become almost a dual conditioning issue.

The client is afraid to tell us exactly what their expectations are because they fear we will simply do that.

The agency is afraid to ask or probe because we believe it places us in an order taker position.

This is an easy doom loop to break.


Suggestion: We just need to take steps to do it and deliver agency recommendations at all times.



  1. The agency does not have a “plug and play” project management system/process internally.



It appears as an agency all account teams design customized project management tools/systems for their individual account. Inherent in such behavior is there is no consistency between account groups. This makes it not only difficult to shift day to day people, but also more difficult to assimilate new people within the system. We need a core ‘best practices’ day to day project management system.


Suggestion: Internal task force to quickly design a core best practices project management process that is dictated, not discussed as an option, to all account teams. Clients can be customized outside the core.



  1. Conference report camouflage.


Issuing many conference reports can oftentimes simply camouflage the lack of organization systems/processes, i.e., prose to deliver timelines.

I believe in this business relationship we may have ‘hidden’ behind a volume of conference reports. We, far too often, use conference reports to ‘cover us’ rather than use them as tools to implement progress.

The client certainly can recognize this as they read them.


Effectively detailed timeline/action plans should eliminate some conference report writing <which would increase time efficiencies> and still effectively communicate actions.


Suggestion: An extranet project management grid that could reflect real time actions.



  1. Internal project team chemistry/communication alignment.


The current situation should be a good reminder to us all the importance of aligning the proper account team on a business.

Particularly from a chemistry standpoint.

<the team leader> disliked working with me so much it certainly affected the effectiveness of the communication between the two of us. And it absolutely affected my style and attitude with regard to implementing what I believed were ‘best practices’ on the business.

I stopped trying to initiate some things I would have liked to have tried on the account mostly because I knew it would ruin the last shreds of any communication between the two of us <and I recognized her value realationshipwise with the client as well as day to day on the client business>. This issue may not have only been with the team leader in that it forced me, rather than the team leader, going directly to other department heads to resolve similar challenges in the other departments. I assume a portion of this is simply “new person challenging old ways” but, having been in this situation many times, it is my job to resolve these kind of issues to the benefit of the overall agency.



Suggestion: Account team realignment.  I am not sure the team leader has the organizational/process experience to design a great client project system, however, I do believe given a tight formal system to work within the team leader could be quite successful. While we would have to be careful how it was positioned internally/externally, I am certainly the sacrificial lamb to satiate the client frustrations. It resolves a lot of issues with the client if everything could be wrapped up in “wrong leader/wrong skill set/wrong results for you” therefore we’ll take him away.  We could then rebuild the team with a stronger detail oriented skill set.





Getting your own management to face the hard decisions is … well … hard.



I will also say this.


I think part of being a good leader or manager is knowing when you are part of the issue.


Part of it is reality based <I know I am not good at everything>.


Part of it is confidence. For example … after this document was shared the owner of the company asked me “so you want us to fire you?” … and I responded by saying something like “well, no, I assume I can help the company in other ways and other places.”

In other words … if you know your shit and are good at it people have a tendency to not want to fire you.

I also imagine a part of the confidence is that I … well … didn’t give a shit if they fired me. I assumed I would just get another job if they did.


Anyway.choices morally right


I imagine part of my point is that recognizing client issues is only one part of the equation. You also have to make your own people recognize the issues.

And sometime you have to take some fairly drastic measures to make them recognize them.



Sometimes you have to take some fairly drastic measures to admit that you may be contributing to the issue.


In the end.

My perspective has always been … first & foremost … if there is an issue I have met the enemy … and it is I.


I may not be the issue in the end but it is surely the best place to start.





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Written by Bruce