5 Tips to Working with Clients

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?

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6 Comments

Filed under Allegra Poggio

6 responses to “5 Tips to Working with Clients

  1. Carly

    Thank you for the advice! I am currently in my first internship that is solely client services, and I am learning a lot. I can see where “trusting your gut” is key. In working with other companies thus far, I have found it also helpful to know the organizational structure of the group you are partnered with. We may only work with a few key account managers, but understanding their company’s “culture” helps me more quickly understand what types of messages/deliverables they want out there.

  2. Susan Allen

    I agree with Carly that these tips are valuable. We should keep the bullet points posted near our desks. What caught my attention was your advice to pick up the phone when the relationship seems tense. Could you give us some advice on how to handle clients or coworkers when we HAVE to work with them even though “our gut” tells us the relationship will be rocky? Best, Susan

    • Hi, Susan –
      Thanks for your comment. To answer your question: It is an excellent point that you don’t always have control over working with certain groups whether it is internal or external to your organization. My advice is to identify what it is about the relationship that makes you feel the way you do. Is it a trust issue, is it a worry that the client or person will misinterpret your communication, create scope creep on a project etc.? Once you identify what it is, you can put processes in place to mitigate it. For example, on projects where I am very concerned about scope creep, I make sure to document all conversations, meetings etc. This can be done through meeting notes, email follow ups etc. but it helps because if there is ever a question down the line of what was decided or agreed to, you have something to refer to. If the issue is a personality conflict, see if you can tweak your communication to alleviate the issue (didn’t you know we are also people managers in this job :-)?!) but if that doesn’t work and there is no way you see a productive relationship moving forward, involve your team and brainstorm a solution. Maybe another member can help you or take over the project. There is always a solution in there some where. Risk mitigation is key though. Make this part of all projects and part of something you go through with the client during a kick off call at the beginning of a project. Outline what you’ll do to mitigate issues (missed deadlines etc.). Good luck and enjoy the process!

  3. You make some excellent points, Allegra. I had the opportunity to interface with clients during my internship at a full-service Public Relations firm and you’re absolutely right that these relationships are not hierarchical. They’re most successful when the two parties work as partners and place value on the other’s expertise and point of view. I also appreciated the dating analogy–it summarized how to achieve a healthy working relationship perfectly.

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