Pop Quiz: How to Put Out Client Fires With a Yes or a No

by Kasia Langlois, Account Manager

Can I have these costs today? No problem!

Are we able to make the proposed change? Yes, absolutely!

Can you get this restaurant buyout in a major metropolitan city on a Saturday night for under $10k? Oh, definitely!

Affirmative replies come naturally to those of us in marketing client service. It’s part of our departmental definition: “…the action of helping or doing work for clients.”

Though it may seem like the more you take on, the more you’ll be revered, that’s not always the case. Throwing out ‘yesses’ Oprah-style can put you in quite a bind. If you once considered yourself a great juggler of tasks, I can guarantee you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed. You’ll go from smoothly juggling the normal bean bag trio, quad, or even quartet, to clumsily maneuvering sharp objects, fire sticks, and…oh no! You’ve gone and dropped everything.

 

The Challenge

Taking on or agreeing to too much gets in the way of your productivity, plain and simple. It becomes impossible to deliver on tasks, which puts a strain on your client relationships, as well as those with your colleagues.

Let’s consider the alternative—saying ‘no.’ Delivered solo, it can be off-putting. You don’t want to be known as the ‘no’ person. No one will want to work with you and you’ll end up wearing the unhelpful tag. You’re here to service the client after all.

So what’s the happy medium?

It’s about finding that balance and perfecting the delivery—saying ‘yes’ when you think it’s reasonable and finding solutions and alternatives rather than dropping that singular ‘no.’

Let’s evaluate with three random multiple-choice scenarios where both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ can be used. A-B-C-D is boring, so we’ll use a four-letter affirmation instead: S-U-R-E.
 

Situation #1: Your client asks if they can have an art file tomorrow before NOON. You are working on a few other important items for that client and you know your creative team is busy this week. Based on your timeline, the client doesn’t need the file until end of week. You: 

 

S: Tell them it’s not a problem. Your creative team has time to finish up that logo and you’ll have it to them tomorrow before NOON. 

U: Ask your traffic manager (or creative department contact) if their workload has cleared up at all, and if so, can the file be delivered earlier.

R: Say ‘no’ and remind the client that they need to follow timelines.

E: Convey to the client that you’ll see what you can do on your end. Regardless, you’ll have it to them by [DATE] at the latest, which will still keep you on track for [DEADLINE].
 

Answer: Combination of U and E.

You realize the answer is probably ‘no’ because this specific artwork isn’t a priority. There are bigger fish to fry on that account right now and your efforts should be focused on that. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do your due diligence and keep your client in the loop. A soft reminder of the timeline deadline couldn’t hurt either!

NOTE: Make sure you follow-up with the client again if you indicated you were checking in with someone on expedition.

 

Situation #2: Your client requests an incremental service, but has limited budget. The amount they propose typically costs more. You: 

 

S: Tell them it may be possible, but you’ll need to revisit the budget. You comb through the budget and see if shifting around or eliminating line items can help supplement the cost.

U: You research a few service options to help figure out realistic numbers (low/medium/high) and how they compare with your budget.

R: Remind the client that they have a tight budget and it’s really not possible.

E: Say that you’ll figure out a way to do it for under the budget number.
 

Answer: Combination of S and U.

You want to say ‘yes,’ and you’re almost there with S, but you need to make sure that you’ve done your research as stated in U. It shows the client you’re informed and have their best interests in mind.

Choose your solution based on how it impacts your project. Stick with a low-cost option if you feel the higher-priced choices compromise your budget’s integrity. If they’re set on the higher end solution, they may be willing to revisit other budget buckets as mentioned in S.

 

Situation #3: The client has requested a certain asset to be delivered to their event on [X] date, which you’ve confirmed and are tracking. However, Mother Nature has a new plan, and your ‘yes’ to on-time delivery has evolved into an ‘absolutely not.’ You: 

 

S: Try and cover yourself since already said ‘yes,’ and you don’t want the client to think you’ve failed them. You tell them in person when they get to the event site. 

U: Get frustrated with the delivery company and spend hours on the phone with them trying to get some sort of reimbursement.

R: Let the client know that environmental circumstances have affected the delivery date and you are working on solutions.

E: Brainstorm solutions with your team, even if they may incur extra costs.
 

Answer: Combination of R and E…and then U.

‘Yesses’ can turn to ‘nos,’ even when the ‘yes’ was legitimate. You can’t halt a natural storm, but you can stop one from forming with your client and team. Keeping the client informed is key, and as mentioned above, you should have your solutions ready or be actively searching for them.

It’s also important to prioritize your tasks when the clock is ticking. After you agree on a solution and it’s in motion, you can then focus your efforts on the delivery company and their reimbursement policy.

NOTE: Contingencies are built into budgets to cover these extraneous circumstances. If your phone call isn’t fruitful and you don’t expect to recoup the costs, it can be something you revisit once the project has been completed.

 

Bonus: As I was reading this, Situation #2 happened. What did I do? I chose E!

Take a deep meditative breath. From the mouth of a former manager, “This is PR, not ER,” which I believe applies across the board to client service professions.

Learn from this mistake and take these three precautionary steps:

  • Analyze your overzealous ‘yes’ and assess
  • Come up with at least 2-3 solutions to mitigate
  • Discuss with your appropriate manager or contact before taking action

 

If you handle your accidental ‘yes’ with grace and confidence, you could end up impressing your clients and coworkers with your problem-solving skills.

At the end of the day, remember that your client values your opinion. Giving your informed view—whether a true ‘yes’ or cushioned ‘no’—will only continue to build your reputation. Clients won’t always love your decisions, but they need to trust your decision-making. Hone those skills and you’ll make a great career out of it!