Client Services: A forgotten art in design?

6 July 2020

People in client services aren’t ‘bag carriers’.

They take control of the project. Most importantly, they know how to ask the right questions to get the information the designers will need, acting as an extension of the creative department. In an agency, a skilled client services professional will have added knowledge of the industry, as well as a natural flair for managing accounts.

They don’t teach you about client services when you study graphic design at university – I didn’t learn about it until my second and third year, when I used to visit and help out at my godfather’s agency in Birmingham. It was a shock – half of the people there weren’t ‘creative’. They were account or project managers, responsible for client services. And this realisation stuck with me when I started my first job.

I secured a placement at design agency, Light and Coley. Rather than a creative role, I worked in the account handling and client services department. You learn so much from the people you work with in the early days. Luckily for me, Light and Coley treated clients with respect and professionalism, but they also just got on with them and didn’t put them on a pedestal. It’s during this time, fresh out of uni, that some people find they’ve started on the wrong career path but for me, my first role sparked the passion that lies at the core of Warbox today.

What happens when you get client services right? As someone once said to me: “you basically take the shit off my plate.” When a client has too much on, they want an agency that is proactive and asks the right questions, rather than too many questions, to get the job done well. They want someone else to do the thinking on their behalf.

It might seem simple, but a lot of agencies forget or undervalue this part.

Half of the commitments in our manifesto are linked to client services. We want to deliver creative that doesn’t hide. To do this, the right people are put to work on the right jobs. Client budget is looked after, rather than spent frivolously, and we’ll always push the client – but not beyond their comfort levels.

A pivotal part of any design graduate’s career is meeting a creative director, or rather, being quizzed by them. One once asked me: “what’s a brand?” and after answering correctly – in his eyes – I was accepted into his creative world for the next three years. Though I was an ‘account handler’, I knew what a brand was, so I was also part of the creative team.

Now when I recruit into Warbox, just like that first creative director, I want people who understand creativity; someone who is passionate about design and ideas, as well as being good at managing relationships with clients. Diversifying like this is great for job satisfaction, but it’s also essential for providing a quality experience.

It’s not all about the creative agency. It’s about listening to your clients and sharing your thoughts, but also working together to refine them. This gives clients more time to do what they do best by making the process as straightforward as possible.

So how would I describe client services?

It’s the sum of all parts. Ringfenced as ‘account handlers’ but still servicing the client. The creative should speak for itself, but there’s a whole backstory to how you got there – that’s what creative client services gives you. It presents the ‘end goal’ in the smoothest, most intelligent, professional way. You need a good commercial understanding, so you don’t only present a creative idea that looks good, you present something that will work in the real world. And you only reach that position by asking the right questions and choosing staff with the right skills to execute a project. I’m pleased I took that first job after university. Without it, I might still be lugging my portfolio around other creative agencies. Now, I run one that I know can offer something that works, with client services at its core.

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