for creative entrepreneurs

Episode 87: The Dangers and Rewards of Service

The creative service business is made up of two main parts. Creativity and service. Yeah, obvious, I know. But the path to bringing these two things together professionally is neither obvious nor simple. Providing any kind of professional service is challenging. Clients can be a touchy bunch. They can sometimes be demanding, demeaning, and down right deceptive. Not all clients of course, but even the best clients can quickly become upset when they’re disappointed by your service. And service failures will always undermine your creative influence. But if you can learn the skills of excellent client service, you will reap the rewards that come from establishing trust and deepening the value of your professional creative services.

Providing excellent customer service is a two-edged sword. Of course, if you provide great service, your clients will love it. But there is a fine line between offering competent service and over-servicing a client, such that your professional insights start to be ignored, and you get cut to the bone financially on every project.

Great service is not a matter of its quantity as much as its quality. When it comes to the quality of your service there is no cap. You should always strive to improve, and there are always aspects of service that you can grow in. But ironically, it is quite possible to give too much quantity of service, and if you do you’ll ultimately end up disappointing them when you burn out and start dropping the ball. And once a client pegs you as essentially an order taker the value of what you deliver will drop also precipitously.

Let’s dive into some tips for cultivating the quality of your professional service. I’m going to offer three areas to explore, but first let me plug my absolutely most favorite book on the subject, Harry Beckwith’s, Selling the Invisible. This classic is chock full of insights that will challenge you to match the quality of your creative product with the same level of client service.

Improving client service starts with the basics. Great client service must include, as a baseline, dependability and clear communication. You have to be clear about what you will do, and then do it on time and on budget. That’s easier said than done. Such dependability starts with self-management. You can’t manage your client’s needs effectively if you’re not managing your own business. So learn to master your inbox, stay on top of your calendar, track and evaluate your time, and adopt other project management or communications systems if you need to get a handle on your basic operations.

The second area to explore in improving your professional service is finding ways to make the invisible parts of what you provide more visible and concrete to your clients. As you may guess Beckwith’s book is full of such ideas. This is so important because while the creative product may be concrete, the profound amount of work that goes into that final product is entirely unseen. And so you have to find ways of clueing your clients in on all that goes into that final deliverable. I don’t mean showing them every sketch or concept. But you do need to find other ways of underscoring the more behind-the-scenes aspects of your process. For example, if you have an intake process, deliver a findings document. The more ways you can quantity and display your process, the more your clients will value and appreciate all that goes into your services.

My last category for service evaluation has to do with money–or more precisely, talking about money. The money conversation can be awkward. But getting price negotiation and establishing payment terms early will smooth the path for great service. Or, when scope issues arise, if you address them quickly and clearly, you’ll build trust in the solutions you provide. But evading money topics is a recipe for service failure. Surprises about money are probably the number one trigger for clients to become resentful of your service rather than respecting it. You’ll be surprised how much most clients are willing to pay, when they understand in advance your value proposition. And you’ll also be surprised how irritated they can become at even small charges, when they didn’t expect them.

There are endless ways you can seek to improve your service, and you should make great service a continual pursuit. If you can master great service, you’ll reap the rewards that come from clients that willingly pay for your value, and respect your creative leadership.

Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?