The Rolling Stones sang that “time is on my side,” but often in client services it feels like it’s anything but. Driven by key events, market opportunities, competitive responses, or a plethora of other factors, our clients often come to us with ambitious scopes and even more ambitious timelines to achieve them. And we welcome it. Time is just one of the many factors that can layer into a web of problem solving to achieve a client’s goals, and by taking the right approach we can almost always find a way to deliver.
Categorically, not all problems are created equally. Here are some common types of challenges in content creation, in rising complexity:
The Boo-Boo: These are small but significant errors that need swift corrective action. For example, in doing some multimedia work for a client, they realized they needed a critical change in a human resources training video that was already released across their organization. We brainstormed solutions that ranged across various production and pricing options, and ultimately resolved it by creating a simple microsite that housed the correction including an acknowledgement button that ensured all recipients had seen the revised content.
The T-Bone: This is a scenario where things are on a clear, straight path, and then….whack! Out of nowhere a stakeholder jumps in and rattles the core of the work in progress while the due date remains the same. We encountered this situation on a piece of thought leadership where feedback changed much of the data, tenor, and content, though the due date didn’t shift. Behind the scenes, our project manager worked closely with our editorial and production teams to come up with creative timeline options and ways to isolate the affected content so we could keep other parts of the project moving while maintaining tight version control. In collaboration with authors, we derived a new work plan that allowed for the feedback to be properly resolved and the piece to be published on time. Phew.
The Avalanche: Clients have full plates, and sometimes a seemingly low priority initiative quietly snowballs and turns into a campaign they needed yesterday. It manifests in an email asking for many deliverables, a tight timeline, and a call to action of “Can you help!?!” This is what we’re here for. And while it’s not how we want to receive every project, it does allow the most opportunity to flex our problem-solving skills. As every day (sometimes hour!) counts in these situations, each step taken needs to be thoughtful and productive. Solving this problem often demands cross-functional expertise and always requires strong alignment coupled with frequent, clear, and concise communication. In one particular instance, we ended up presenting a set of different scenarios and options for the client to consider based on what their budget and deadline could bear. In such situations, there needs to be some give and take, which is where a strong relationship comes into play. And it’s critical is that all of the scenarios presented keep the client’s goals in mind.
We’ve found that several mindsets and approaches help lead to strong problem solving for any kind of challenge:
Ask questions and listen with intention: A failure to understand ultimately compounds the problem and dissolves trust; give the conversation your full attention and focus on asking relevant questions that will inform how best to triage the situation.
Stay calm and look forward, not back: There’s an inherent tension when problems arise. It’s important that the client feels you understand the stakes, but getting caught up in the pressure cooker can add undue stress and cloud vision. Be a source of reason and rally optimism toward tangible outcomes. There will be a time to reflect, diagnose, and debrief on what caused the problem later.
Don’t overcommit in the moment: A quick yes may make the client happy, but a better outcome comes from taking the request back to your team to brainstorm solutions and shuffle priorities as needed. Then you can promptly follow back with a plan that has full alignment—and your confidence.
Have peripheral vision and stay flexible: Tunnel vision can be a significant barrier to finding solutions. Great problem solvers take a wide perspective to find creative ways to connect ideas, people, and tasks and stay open to different options. While sometimes the first attempt is going to be a fit, more likely there will be some trial and error, adjusting to new information and reworking your plans to fit inside the project lifecycle.
Break it down: Sort the project into its components, and work their timelines backward from delivery to develop a plan that works for everyone. Identifying the key milestones that enable others—such as obtaining or collecting the data needed to develop the content—is critical to your success and can help avoid bottlenecks.
Harness your experience: Shared problems get solved, so talk to your colleagues and leadership, tapping your team’s collective experience to avoid recreating the wheel. Tried and true methods are your best bet and reduce the risk of encountering new problems. Though if you do want to try something new—for example, harnessing a new software, such as GenAI, to automate steps that are currently manual—be open with stakeholders that you’re entering uncharted territory, so all are united in the approach.
There is some muscle memory to problem solving, but it’s also important to treat each situation as unique, finding the best way to achieve the desired outcomes within budget. And while time may not always be on your side, threading together strong client service with sound solutions rooted in their goals can help you harness the time you do have to do the job well.