The Client Relationship Mistake We All Make

By Matt Umbro | @Matt_Umbro | Senior Account Manager, Community

Many of us make a mistake on a daily basis that we don’t even realize we’re making, including myself. This mistake isn’t seen outwardly in day-to-day PPC management, but it most definitely impacts client relations. In a results-driven business, paid search professionals need to not only understand their clients’ businesses, but also listen to what they are saying. Too often, we interrupt our clients when we should be listening.


The Problem


In our attempt to process what the client is saying and show our understanding, we interrupt the narrative. We think we know what the client is going to say, and even if we are correct, we are disrupting the communication process.


Take the below sample interaction between client and account manager.


Account Manager: How were sales this weekend?
Client: They were great. We really benefited from the 20% offer.
Account Manager: That’s good to hear.
Client: We also saw a nice lift because of the –
Account Manager: Good weather. People must have been searching for your product.
Client: Well yes, but I was going to say that we sent out an additional email newsletter this weekend.


The conversation starts out fine, but as the client is explaining in more detail, the account manager interrupts. The client still explains the additional reason for good sales, but not at her pace. Rather than a potentially longer winded answer that might shed more light on the email newsletter, the client answers hastily and doesn’t get to frame the response.


You may say that I’m being too dramatic and that interactions like these are no big deal. In a vacuum, you’re probably right, but over an extended period of time, these interruptions lead to a deterioration of the relationship in three main ways.


  1. Key pieces of information won’t be discussed.
  2. Account managers aren’t fully listening.
  3. The client will be less forthcoming.


Let’s look at each issue in more detail.


Key Pieces of Information Won’t Be Discussed


In the example above, the client’s thunder was taken away. She was about to explain the reason and potentially details about the email newsletter, but was interrupted. It’s possible that when she did mention the reason soon after, the account manager would have asked follow-up questions, but we don’t know for sure. The account manager’s perceived notion of being proactive quite possibly negated the totality of what the client wanted to say.


Let’s look at this argument in another way. I’m sure we all know people who relate everything you say back to themselves. If you tell someone about your trip, instead of showing interest, they will tell you a similar story about their own trip. How does that make you feel when there is little to no recognition of what you are saying? Most likely, not great. Over time that leads you to share less with this person because the interaction seems one-sided.


If you, the account manager, are constantly interrupting, even with the best of intentions, how do you think the client feels? Is she going to want to share more information, but won’t in fear of getting interrupted? You may see your interruptions as proof of being invested in the account, but the client may believe otherwise.


Account Managers Aren’t Fully Listening


Even if we aren’t interrupting, we tend to latch on to one piece of information and formulate our response around that topic. By having a singular focus, we don’t allow for what else is being said. Going back to the above example, the account manager interrupted with the response of good weather. At that moment, email wasn’t a consideration because the idea of weather being responsible for the increased sales was the singular focus.


If the account manager had continued to listen, not only would the email newsletter have potentially been discussed, but also the weather comment would bear more weight. There wouldn’t have been an interruption and the client would’ve shared her idea first. The account manager could then have presented the thought as another idea to ponder. Like many things, the way a thought or idea is framed is often as important as the result. In this case, listening and then presenting the idea would have been better than interrupting and then listening.


The Client Will Be Less Forthcoming


The best client relationships are those that can withstand dips in performance. The primary reason is that there is a strong foundation of trust in the relationship. Trust allows clients to speak up when something isn’t right and enables better feedback. Trust is earned through solid performance, honest communication, meeting deadlines, and a healthy rapport. Ongoing interrupting does not lend itself to a relationship built on trust.


What Does It All Mean?


At the end of the day, interruptions will still happen. That’s part of the reality of how we communicate. The biggest takeaway I want to stress is to be more cognizant during your client interactions. Make sure that you are letting your client fully respond. Make sure that you allow yourself to interpret and respond to your client’s total answer, not just a piece of it. Finally, make sure you recognize the bigger picture. By listening and then reacting you are working toward a stronger relationship built on trust.