Discovering your Lifestyle Business

Doctor Who & the Art of Client Management

Regenerating your business.

“This article originally appeared in Business Achievers, Nov 2017”

It is like a staple of life, eventually, Doctor Who will regenerate.

You may, or may not like it, but it will happen.

It is the same with the person you have working on your key client(s).

Your previous account manager. Calm, collected, knows her stuff.

Or perhaps you have a Client Manager in one of your key suppliers who knows your organisation’s needs inside out?

I hate to break it to you, but someday, they will either be promoted, retire, get fired, or move on to another job. It is only a matter of time.

Of course, the person who takes over will never be as good as them. Nor will they ever be able to solve your problems, or help you out the way the other could.

“Who is this loser?” 
“Your new client manager”

But, if you are in business, or even on a personal level where you have built a relationship with the supplier of a service, change can be hard. I bet most people even as they read this may have memories of when a key person left, and everything went to pot afterwards. So, on a less emotive level, allow me to digress.

(Or quite possibly this may be seen as more important that in real life applications, but I will leave it up to the reader to decide.)

When the BBC was faced with a dilemma in the late 1960s, with a widely popular show aimed at children and families, but an aging lead actor, they decided to take at that time, an unprecedented move. Rather than replace the actor, which has happened since the dawn of theatre, they replaced him, and made the process of his replacement an integral part of the story and mythology. Thus, regeneration was born into the world of Doctor Who, and finance bosses could rest easy that contract negotiations would be a bit more one sided for them!

For young audience members, it is a safe way to show that transition and change are part of a natural cycle, and for adult fans, especially in the age of internet and social media, it is a safe way to show how resistant humans naturally are to change!

Cycle of Doctor Who

For those who don’t know, when the character gets a serious injury, instead of dying, he can regenerate. After a regeneration, he is often a bit muddled, confused, takes time to get to know his (or her) new skin. One of the well-used plot points by the writers often has been that other characters will still treat him as if he was the previous incarnation, and get quite a shock when it is apparent that he is a new person, albeit with all the memories and skills of his past selves.

Just remember, people don’t like change, even if it can be for their own good. When is the last time you switched mortgage, bank, or insurance company?

Cycle of Client Managers

There is usually a lot less of the explosions and destruction involved with a client manager changing than with the Doctor changing – although it can also happen. Especially when the previous person is leaving in an unplanned manner, such as suddenly falling ill, they win the lottery, or have a bit too much at the office party and tell the boss EXACTLY what they think of them! However, it is a fact of life that suppliers and clients have team member turnover. How often it happens is not usually as much of an issue in as how it is managed.

Just like the Doctor, the new client manager (should) have the memories [database and client record access], and skills [be trained to the job], that the previous iteration did. Even when this goes swimmingly, clients are still upset, often to the point of leaving or switching purchasing for a while.

The Doctor Who Cycle from the Fans point of view.

  1. Who is this loser?
  2. They will never be as good as…
  3. That was a pretty good episode..
  4. Getting into it now…
  5. Wow – That was Awesome!
  6. What – Regenerating already?

How fans see Doctor Who each regeneration.

There are about 5-6 broad steps viewers go through with each iteration of the Doctor. (It even happened with the first Doctor, back in the 1960s. It was the arrival of homicidal dustbins – the Daleks, which gave the show the kick start to success!)
Some viewers never get past step 1 or 2. They decide either beforehand, or after watching an episode or two through the prism of how the previous actor would have handled it better, that they don’t want to go any further.

These viewers may decide to return and catch up again on missed episodes via OnDemand, or re-runs, and then discover the joy they found in watching it previous. Often it is based on viewing reports or reviews from those who continued to watch it who are now at stage 4 or 5.

Some may decide to remain switched off for good.

Those that keep watching are usually rewarded by getting to embrace a new lease of life on what is probably one of the oldest Science Fiction series in the world.

But what of those who disappear, either for good or an extended period. Well, if you take a quick look at the amazingly accurate benchmark of Twitter or Facebook forums, a lot will cite other reasons beside the change of actor.

Some will say they didn’t like the way the writing was going in the last series or so. Perhaps they dislike the new showrunner based on another series they may have helmed. Maybe it was that they just had got bored with it, as the episodes were no longer ones they could relate to.

The main point being, that there is always some other reason.

Either they don’t want to admit that they don’t like the change, or that there were things bugging them, and this is the catalyst they need to make a switch.

Note: there is a cohort of the ‘Twitterverse’ who blatantly say at any one time that they don’t want to give the new actor a go is quite vocal, so it is safe to assume those who leave for other reasons are genuine.

Most fans watch for the stories and the adventure. Same as most clients buy your product or service – not the individual client manager. Likewise, when you purchase something, unless it is a personal service such as hairdressing, in general the new person should be able to assist you just as well, or better, in time.

Where an individual delivers the service exponentially better than a colleague your role as manager or owner should be to ensure that that person can share as much of their skills as possible with your organisation- and contribute to the organizational knowledge base for future. Obviously, there are caveats, in that a service professional with 25 years’ experience would be expected to perform better, and get up to speed on the role quicker, than someone with 5 years. However, that is often not the case, and it is down to the individual to bring their unique flavour to the role. If the person with 5 years’ experience tries to emulate the gap left by the person with 25 years, they are going to fall short, in front of themselves, and the client.

The Client Manager Cycle

  1. Who is this loser?
  2. They will never be as good as…
  3. That was a pretty good way to solve that problem
  4. We seem to have found what works now.
  5. Phew! – Thank you for doing that. Above and beyond!
  6. What – you’re going already?

“What, you’re moving job already? But you were the best contact we ever had. Even better than whats-her-name?”

When the person embraces what they are, and what they can bring to things, then they shine. Tom Baker took on the role of Doctor Who in the 1970s, and is still remembered in pop culture as the ‘definitive’ Doctor Who. However, the preceding actor, John Pertwee, had a much different style and approach, which Tom Baker ignored and played to his own strengths. Likewise, Peter Davidson when he took over from Tom, etc.

Actors approach the role and character with the view of ‘What can I bring to the role? Where can I shine?’

Some client managers bring the same approach to their job. Possibly you could argue that everyone should try on the actor’s eye view to a new position. While it is certainly a positive that you should learn the specifics of the job as it applies to that organisation, setting out to be a carbon copy of the previous person is usually doomed to failure. It doesn’t help often if your own clients and bosses want to see you as such.

This can be much worse if the preceding one is still around in a supporting, or managerial role.

Biggest mistake that both the client manager, clients, and the respective management and organisations make is expecting the new person to be, and act the same as the other!

How Doctor Who handles regeneration.

How does Doctor Who handle things, especially when in practice, they have tens of millions of ‘clients’ to keep happy? (Or as happy as any fanbase can ever be?)

One of the key items which tends to happen is that scripts are written for ‘The doctor’, not always with a specific actor in mind, though mid-way through a series the writers and producers will know how much longer the specific actor has in mind to continue.

The first episodes for each new Doctor are usually set pieces, tailored to give the new actor a chance to shine. Normally as the character is usually a bit muddled and foggy after regenerating, it allows the writers and actors an opportunity to flex their muscles a bit and try find solid footing.

Each first new outing of a new Doctor Who also sets to establish the legacy of the character by referencing the previous or in some cases, all the previous incarnations. In script terms, it is establishing continuity, a nod to the audience to say ‘I know where we fit in; I know what you are looking for, and you are in safe hands.’

How can a business handle client manager regeneration?

Scripts run serialised television. It all starts with that. They are to Doctor Who as Processes and Procedures are to organizations.

A process sets the ‘ideal’ script for all clients to experience.

It can be anything from ‘Make sure all customers are offered tea or coffee when they walk in’, along to ‘Only mix 25% plutonium with the serum to avoid meltdown!’. The key is to make sure your processes can handle anyone doing that role. Skills training trains people in their core skills, not specifically in how you want to deliver those core skills.

That said, a good script (and a good actor), will find opportunity within that script and stage direction to shine. Where possible, allow flexibility for the new client manager to interpret and add to the process. This should result in the new person not feeling like they have been force-fitted into a slot in a machine to backfill a space. Again, this really depends on the person, the company and the industry. But a good line manager can usually find a way that team members can shine.

As a follow on to this, if possible create situation where new client manager can shine early on. This can be something small that naturally occurs, even if the line manager needs to make the save and lets the new client manager take the credit. A good way is the ‘last guy’ / ‘new guy’ situation where the new person saves the day from something last client manager didn’t complete. This is easier than you may think to arrange. There is always something small left undone. It is good to agree in advance as part of a handover if possible, what will be left for the new person.

Then, new person, you better do it! It is your moment to shine!

Another way to minimise is to try make sure that clients are buying your processes and systems or products/services versus buying the relationship. The phrase ‘People buy People’ is still very much true, however if your organisation relies too much on the front-line relationships then you are always at the mercy of individuals when they inevitably walk.

That said, you will always lose clients when there is a change. Usually the change is the excuse they need to leave. In this case it is rarely about the person changing, and often this will be the first time that you discover what they have been unhappy about. Unfortunately, that discovery often comes via the new person getting an earful, which in turn makes their first experiences of the organisation and role a lot less than ideal. Again, this can be a chance for the new person to shine, especially if it is something genuine, and easily fixable.

It can also be used as an excuse to try get better terms or renegotiate agreements. The change in client manager is usually the catalyst. Treat it as separate to the change in person. Focus on what it is about the product or service mix you offer that is of concern to them. Usually, – like those viewers who cite scripts, or the ‘direction’ a show is going in as a reason to switch off, it can be the same with clients.

On the flip side, if you are receiving a service and there is a change in the person physically providing it to you; if you find you are happy with everything else, and trust the provider as a whole, then the change of person (although disappointing) won’t be such a big issue. It can often be the same for your own clients.

The FIRST Doctor Who – The problem of PRIME.

It was a big risk when William Hartnell passed the role over to Patrick Troughton. It was his show, and the cranky grandfather-esq figure of the Doctor was a staple in many homes on a Saturday night. The script setup the transition, and an accomplished actor such as Troughton was able to take it home, and set the scene for other actors to follow.

If you are an owner-manager, YOU are the FIRST Doctor, of your own show!

If you have been looking after a group of clients for some time, you will always be seen as Prime. The benefit of Doctor Who, is that the existing actor goes away to make room for the incumbent – unless it is some anniversary special which may take palace once the new actor is firmly established. Unless you have sold your business, in which case this will no longer be your problem, it is entirely possible that you will still be hanging around in some shape or other.

Realistically, there will usually be some hard questions and decisions to make at this stage.

  • Which clients or accounts do you personally keep (or need to keep?)
  • Who do you pass over?
  • How is the best way to allocate and split the workload?

Without doubt, some of those who you pass onto the new person may feel ‘put out’, especially if you have a business to consumer service, such as a hairdresser etc. Also, if you have based your current success on any aspect of your own personality, it will give very justifiable concerns to them that they will be getting a lesser service.

If “Honest Joe’s: 30 years knowledge in the Widget business – I’ll help you!” is your business slogan, clients won’t want anyone other than Honest Joe!

You will also need to be sure how and why you pass certain clients, vs. others when all else appears equal. Just because you get on well with ‘Fred’, and ‘Dave’ is a complete pain in the butt, doesn’t mean you automatically keep the one you get along with.

As a rule of thumb, if the average reasonable person knows and understands the reason for the change, and it is transparent and logical, even though someone may not be happy about it, they may be more willing to go along with it. This can be simply you are opening a new shop elsewhere and need to focus on getting that off the ground; or deciding to focus based on geography, or to split the working day into shifts etc. Splitting time by the way, is something which people don’t often naturally think of. If your business is asset or location dependent, why limit opening hours? Sometimes being open till midnight on a couple of days a week may get you new clients who could not make it otherwise. In other industries, such as taxi driving, two or more drivers sharing the asset – the car – means that it is working twice as much during the same 24 hours.

Plan your ‘script’ in advance.

As with the good Doctor, whose showrunners and writers know and plan well in advance that they will need to script in a regeneration as the current actor is making moves to quit – the secret is to do the same. You know your own business, – or at least you should, – KPIs are of the things I talk about a fair bit in the Business Decisions course. You will know when the likelihood is that you will need to restructure, or get additional help – even if it is just for busy times. This planning may need to be done months in advance, sometimes years if you already have built a core business.

The key point to focus on, which can be hard when you have the day to day urgencies of running a business to contend with, is the processes. The scripts! If you have it all in your head, or you just have unstructured notes on how you run things, it will be much harder to hand over.

It is also a great opportunity to revisit what you actually do, vs what you should do. So, if you find yourself planning ahead one Sunday afternoon at your laptop, writing out what the person you will hire to help you out should be doing each day, take a moment and check if it is what you do yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘I don’t need to, but…’.

  • If it needs to be done, and you are doing it as part of the job, put it down.
  • If it doesn’t need to be done – even if, in an ideal world, it should be, then at least put it in as optional.

The reason for this is that once that new person comes on board, and is helping you take the burden, they will quickly identify the areas where they are being asked to do things which you are unwilling to. That does not build trust, or a happy working environment!


When taking over a new position, acknowledge the benefits and positives of the predecessor, learn when and where you can, but don’t try to be a carbon copy. Be the best YOU, you can be at the job.

If you are the customer, when you get a new client manager, remember that they will be trying to fit into their new skin, same as the Doctor. They will also need to live up to your expectations, however, it is also worth remembering that this is a cycle.

People are hard wired to cherry pick out the positives when remembering- unless there have been overwhelming negative experiences. You are not remembering the full picture of the previous person, but one created in your own narrative.

Once you recognise that, it helps you embrace and get the best out of the new client manager who you are dealing with.

Remember you will never get your David Tennant …

…if you keep pining for Christopher Eccleston!

Images from Doctor Who and images are copyright BBC.

Article also appeared in Business Achievers Nov 2017

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