Keep your friends close, and your clients closer
Gemma Ballinger, May 2016

In this post our Client Services Director, Gemma Ballinger, talks about how to build better client relationships.

People often compare client relationships to personal ones, and it’s a good analogy to make — both require a bit of effort and, when you find a good one, it can be rich and rewarding for both.

But, unlike a friendship that you might jump headlong into based on shared interests, the client relationship needs time to grow and develop. You need to build trust and mutual respect and find out what they really care about to make it work.


Communicate, more than you’d think

In a client-servicing role, you’re not necessarily across the day-to-day details of a project. It’s easy to stay in the background and appear only when things are going well, or when something’s gone wrong and you’re picking up the pieces.

But flip that approach on its head. Staying in touch with a client should be treated like a weekly catch-up with your mum. Put in a regular call or pop over to see them regardless of what’s going on — it’ll be appreciated and you get all the latest news from their world!


Be interesting and relevant

Just like your friend who’s always in-the-know, be the person who feeds through interesting and relevant information they’ll want to share. We’ve started sharing a roundup of our weekly creative breakfasts with a few contacts we think would find them inspiring. It doesn’t need to be a fancy HTML — just a link will do.

It’s all part of keeping in touch. Often clients don’t have time to scour blogs and creative resources, so sharing a quick link is a non-intrusive way of showing them what we’re thinking about, we know what’s going on in their world, and we’re thinking of them.


Ask — and really listen

It’s easy to go into every conversation thinking about winning more business. To be successful, you need to change that mindset. Think about non-transactional topics and people will be more likely to reciprocate and help you in return. What are their motivations, their real aspirations, their biggest challenges?

Understanding these things will help you create better work. Your client can sell it back into the business and you’ll become known as a trusted partner. If you can offer advice, share an outside perspective, or create work that really solves a problem, you’ll be the first person they call with new opportunities.



Become friends

This is the ultimate cliché, but it really does work. The more natural your relationship with your clients, the better they’ll be. You can’t force friendship with people if it doesn’t fit. Over time, find out what your clients like, what events they’re interested in and what they do outside work.

If you think they’d like to come out for drinks or to a talk, invite them along. A relaxed non-work relationship will always benefit your work. Long lunches may be consigned to history, but clients that drink together invariably work well together!


Stay close

When space allows it, we’ve started embedding ourselves at client’s offices on bigger projects. It’s one of the best things to build relationships and feel part of the client’s team. It means you’re there in the kitchen, joining conversations you’d have missed from the studio.

It also gives you a chance to see the office dynamics, how they spend their time and why they might not always return your call or email immediately! So if possible, spend some time at your client’s office or get them to come and work with you.


Ask for feedback and act on it

Getting feedback for your work and the way you’re dealing with a client is invaluable. We always ask clients how they’d like to work at the start of a project, call them to check in halfway through, then ask for more feedback at the end. We also send out quarterly online surveys rating our performance.

All of this gives us really useful feedback. Some people might not want to hear the things they’ve done less well. But if clients see you’ve taken their thoughts onboard, they’ll always appreciate it — and the work will improve.


Be equal

Relationships only work if you’re both bringing something to the table. We’ve seen it go wrong when the agency becomes submissive and overly directed by the client. They end up not respecting you, and are unable to see how good you can be.

The ideal relationship happens when the client respects your expertise, and you respect the fact they know their business inside out. Then you can really start to learn from each other.


Be honest

If things go wrong — and they sometimes do — just be honest about it. It’s often not as bad as it seems, and if you’ve built a good relationship already they’ll be more responsive. Don’t be afraid to ask for more input if you need it. If the work isn’t good enough for you or the client yet, ask for more time.

If you feel they’re pushing it on rounds of amends, flag it well in advance and — if necessary — ask for more money! If you know the client well enough by that point, you should be able to have tricky conversations, and they’ll respect you for it.



Finally — have some fun!

If you have a positive attitude that comes from having fun with a job, it will shine through. Your client will see you, the work and the company in the best light. Ultimately, we all want to form genuine human connections with people. Being an enthusiastic, passionate listener will help build a better relationship.

It can be easy to forget that the work we do brings a lot of excitement and joy to our clients’ lives. When they’re drowning in a sea of PowerPoint, creative work brings their ideas to life too. Always remember that, and take pride in it.


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