I recently watched an excellent documentary called Tokyo Waka. During the film, there was an observation about the rhythm and metabolism of cities. Having just moved to a new city, I loved this way of looking at an urban setting. Each city has its pace, its beat, its metabolism.
This holds true of many jobs, industries and careers as well. Communications is fast, complex, always moving, has short and long term effects and microcosms within its vast landscape.
In my communications career, I have almost solely worked in client service. The rhythm of client service is different than working within communications at an organization. I alluded to this in a previous post.
What are some considerations to remember when working with clients to create a healthy relationship?
This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a start. Many of this also applies to what organizations should consider when selecting a communications firm.
1. Trust your gut
Working with clients is much like dating. Upon your first meeting, trust your gut. It knows if the relationship is going to be positive after the first meeting. This gut feeling goes both ways. In the interview, get to know each other. If you can, meet in person. We do a lot over the phone at Visceral, but it’s harder to dissect chemistry unless you are in person. Can’t meet in person? Try Google hangout. Ask yourself, can you spend months working with these people
2. Be partners
Your clients are your partners. As a client, your firm is your partner. People will disagree with me here but, the relationship is not hierarchical. Establishing the roles and responsibilities early on helps with this. You are experts for the reasons the client hired you. The client is an expert in their organization and likely much more. Feed off of each other. Respect that the client is paying you but don’t start bowing at their feet at every request.
3. Challenge each other
As a firm, your job is to encourage your clients to try new things and view things from a different perspective. Your job is not always to say yes at every request. It is also not to always say no. Challenge your clients and always have a reason for doing so. At Visceral, we believe that often the simplest solution is the best. This does not mean the easiest. It may not be the first solution that comes about, and it may not be the one the client wants immediately. For every recommendation we have, we have the information to back it up. Know when to push. Know when to step back.
4. Listen & Don’t take it personally
Sometimes your recommendation will go forward. Sometimes it won’t. When it doesn’t, you might feel defeated. Let yourself feel that way but don’t take it personally and try not to view your client as a competitor. Partners, remember? Know that you did your job, and it didn’t align with their desires. Make it known to them that their decision to go against your recommendation may have consequences and impact on the viability of the program or product. Then move on and smile.
5. Talk to each other
We are communicators so make sure you talk to your clients and that as a client, you talk to your firm. Is something not working out? Are you not quite getting the information you need to make the project as effective as it could be? Are you displeased with the design that you are seeing? Bring it up. Again, dating/relationship nourishment. If you expect the other half to interpret your discontent, you are going to get into trouble. You won’t get what you want, resentment will build, money will be burned and the relationship will tarnish. Pick up the phone, meet for a coffee. Talk it out. After all, it’s your job to communicate clearly.
Oh, and… Have fun! (Maybe there are 6 tips then!)
You get to work with different groups of people. You get to feed off of each other’s intelligence and creativity. Enjoy the process. If you enter the relationship with any contention, it won’t be fun. Be excited about the group and project that you get to work with.
What do you find makes for a good client – firm relationship? Are their specific things that you look for in a firm? Teamwork, involvement of senior staff?