Talk the Talk with Top Left Design: Supporting clients through the process and going extra mile builds lifetime relationships
,,We are good at working with clients like this. It’s not because we’re perfect, but it’s because we care,” says one of Top Left Designs’ Instagram posts. Going an extra mile for a client is the key not only to outstanding customer service but also to lifelong relationships. We are so pleased that Keren Lerner, the Top Left Design CEO, took the time to an open Talk the Talk and explained how their unique approach help the company grow.
Top Left Design is a well-established brand in the advertising market. Can you tell us what your unique approach is? What do you stand for as a brand?
We worked on this as a team to clearly define this and distill our unique approach into what we call 3 Uniques – a phrase we know from EOS, which is an entrepreneurial operating system we follow.
Translating your personality and ethos
When we work with an entrepreneur, business, or team, we discover or define the values that align them, and we look at many ways to “humanize” their brand by encouraging them to be real!
We also ask the clients of our clients to talk about their experiences working with the business and gather focused testimonials and case studies that really show the client’s unique abilities, so we get a full 360 picture. This informs our designs and communication for our clients.
Supporting you through the process
One of our values is “caring and helpful” and this is something that we believe deserves a place in the way we conduct our business. We lead the way and act as guides when appropriate, and listen and take time to understand feedback.
Giving you results you are proud of
We really don’t see the point of having a website, brand, or marketing content that you’re not proud of. So this is what we are going for, and that’s why we involve our clients so much in the process of planning, designing, and choosing the right words. What we create is what will speak for them, and they need to be happy with this.
Top Left Design operates in a highly competitive environment. How do you expect the environment to evolve? What trends and threads can affect the way you work in the next year and how are you getting ready for it?
Over the last few years, there have been many strategies employed – lead magnets, popups, vlogging, personalization, clickbait headlines, sponsored ads, squeeze pages. I haven’t followed this and measured it closely enough to pinpoint when the popularity of these methods rises and wanes, but inevitably, the audiences become less enamored with certain practices as they see more and more of it and catch on to what it really is.
What I am noticing more now is long heartfelt messages on LinkedIn and Facebook, telling of the entrepreneurs shocking or sad story and how they came up with whatever solution that they are ready to share. I sound a bit cynical as I write this – I don’t mind it, I like to see the realism. In any case, potential clients/customers of any business need to be taken through many steps or touchpoints before they can know, like, and trust a brand, so usually the first thing on offer after you read the big true revelation is what Daniel Priestley (24 assets) calls a “gift2 – a webinar, a free talk, a video with information, a PDF.
Another trend related point to mention, related to what we do:
I think people are becoming wiser / less understanding when things really look dated. For example, if they see a website that is non-responsive (not working a mobile phone) that definitely stands out as a symptom of severe neglect, the business just does not care enough about their own client’s user experience with their digital collateral.
It’s also more obvious when websites show the “not secure “message at the top, not everyone knows that this means the website hasn’t got an SSL certificate but it’s certainly alarming enough to put people off, data privacy is such a hot topic. In addition, content marketing, another thing we spent a lot of time sharing benefits/how-tos/definitions about, is now more the norm, and people are building it into their business processes.
Getting new customers is a constant competition, especially in the marketing world. Did the pandemic change the way you acquire new customers?
For us, yes. Before, I spent a lot of time going to events, networking, traveling for business and meeting new people in new places, building deeper connections on business travel events, and meeting people for lunches, dinners, drinks, and coffees.
During the pandemic, we adopted Zoom catchups, more “chemistry meetings”, Zoom games nights and Zoom cocktails, and networking events on Zoom. Now things are opening up, networking events are back but are a mixture – with 3 out of 4 meetings being online and a few in-person events coming back.
We’ve luckily had clients returning for new projects and people finding us online, but we’re definitely actively looking for more projects as full-on in-person relationship building isn’t back to the former glory.
Has the pandemic changed something in the way you communicate with your customers and also employees?
Now clients are so used to using video conferencing tools and we schedule many Zooms every week.
I don’t think that was really a thing before – we’d only do video calls when we did a design presentation or a briefing session with a client who wasn’t in the same town as us. The rest was calls and emails. I think now people are getting “Zoom fatigue” and wanting to get “on the blower” instead of having to make sure they’re video conferencing face-ready.
To make up for it, we have 2 “huddles” on Slack each week, as well as a “Friday Takeaway” on Slack, where we share cool things we found or learned or did that week. We have a scheduled team Zoom catchup each week with a clear agenda sharing project updates, challenges, and general moods. We also hop onto “whereby.com” for quick chats and do work sprints in this way to keep each other motivated and on track.
Your brand stands for relationships that matter. How do you deal with difficult customers and turn them into your loyal clients? Can you tell us about a specific challenge you have faced?
Looking at the list of ALL the projects we’ve taken on in the last year – I really feel lucky. I am serious – here’s a list of ALL the clients we’ve been working with regularly this last year and a half – shout out to you lovely people: Dave, Wendy, Krema, Francesca, Sara, Darren, Douglas, Jane, Mark, Richard, Dean, Ran, Victor, Michael, Jacqueline, Bronia, Liz, Charlie, Clare, Ben, Rachel, Stephen, Miguel, Victor, Matt, Cecilia.
So what I do is:
- I am agreeable, keep it short and simple to match his communication style
- I get things done quickly, stepping in myself to sort things out quickly.
In the past, I can think of another client whose communication to us seemed to question/judge us, which hurt our feelings and made us feel upset. It was a little in the tone of “why is it that you’re doing it this way? I heard it’s meant to be done this way, why aren’t you doing that?”
In this case, we did the following:
- Shared between us our frustration but kept it from the client
- Responded politely to explain things, taking extra time to do so
- Kept our heads down getting on with the work, providing excellent service.
Strangely, this client came back over and over since, so maybe she just wanted to be heard!
Oh, there’s one more, a client who didn’t like the work I was doing myself but has since been working with one of my team, and my own stress and offended feelings are ancient histories. This client didn’t seem to notice how affected I was, which is good!
I guess what I did in this case was:
- Kept my frustrations to me
- Responded politely
- Having one of my teamwork with the client and their working chemistry seems to be a success!
The worst behavior I suppose is when clients ignore when we’re asking for payment and they are really really late. It costs us a LOT of time (and therefore money) to keep politely chasing them. We once used a debt collection agency, it worked but that spelled the end of the client relationship and I didn’t ever want it to come to that. It’s hard to not feel it’s unfair if we know that during the project, we did all we could to give them quick answers and great quality work.
Recently this happened, and we finally got an apologetic response and gratitude for our patience, followed by payment. So in this case, I am relieved, as I don’t like to be on bad terms with anyone.
When taking care of your clients, high-quality customer support is what matters. How do you handle your customer service and which KPIs do you focus on?
To me communication is key. Part of this is in reaction – responding quickly to requests and questions. Another is proactive suggestions. We have a regular habit called “Hug a Client” where we write to clients who we haven’t done anything in a while, and suggest things that should be fixed on their websites/social profiles, or give them tips for improvements, or alert them to offers we are doing.
We like to get back to clients within the same day, and I am really fast at responding. Some people think it’s too fast, as it trains clients to think we’re always on and they can take advantage. Most of the time I don’t mind though, and on weekends or when I’m taking time off, I don’t feel too pressured. Sometimes I send a WhatsApp to keep the clients updated or let them know we’ve received their request.
Recently, we have seen that as important as the marketing presentation is the communication to your employees. How do you handle your internal communication, such as employee engagement or feedback?
We have a structured team meeting where we share our team numbers, progress on our goals, and how things are going with them. We also in Slack share the things that are “scary” for us each week, and what challenges we have had in the last few days. By sharing this with each other, we can support and encourage each other, and learn from the experiences of others in the team.
In a highly competitive customer-oriented environment, you always need to come up with new and exciting approaches. What is your inspiration and what drives you forward?
I get inspired when talking to others. I get most enthusiastic if I am hearing the problems and challenges of others, and often clearly see the path they can take. Although of course, this is usually the case with the problems of others versus the problems of your own, which are clearer to those around you. I tend to get more involved in helping others and then frustrated when I haven’t progressed myself.
What is, in your opinion, the biggest success Top Left Design has achieved in the past years?
I think it’s an achievement to still be around over 20 years, without ever having to borrow money from investors/overdrafts/the bank, and without fail to pay our staff and suppliers, no matter how much we’ve struggled behind the scenes.
In addition, I am proud of how good our reputation is, with so many clients being happy with our work and an extremely high number of Google reviews for a business like ours, and over 100 LinkedIn testimonials for me. It’s very much about being reliable, fulfilling our promises, and genuinely caring about our work quality.