Dear Client – Be My Valentine
Despite the obvious differences, client relationships are similar to romantic relationships. The strongest ones are built on mutual respect, admiration and good communication. Knowing what makes a relationship work is easy; actually doing it is the tricky part. I came across an article the other day that contained five practical, actionable tips guaranteed to strengthen any relationship. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve adapted them to the agency world, specifically to the account lead-client relationship.
- Create a contract. Describe in detail how you each want the relationship to work. Talk through your individual expectations. Set goals jointly and be clear about how and when you will communicate when things are good and not so good. Agree in advance on how you will handle disagreements (via email or with a heads-up phone call) and when you will contain or escalate certain issues. Documenting these parameters and updating them regularly is key – they should evolve with the relationship.
- Surprise each other. This doesn’t mean shock your client. It means do the unexpected and go the extra mile to delight each other. For example, as account lead, be aware of personal and professional milestones in your client’s life and acknowledge them. On the client side, invite your account lead to executive interactions or company parties when appropriate.
- Celebrate wins. This is big. In today’s frenetic work environment, most people move on to the next deliverable without ever recognizing the effort that went in to achieving a goal or even meeting a tight deadline. Whenever a team effort leads to success, pen a congratulatory note to everyone involved or send a small gift like cookies or flowers. For extra credit, come up with a mechanism to regularly “merchandise” successes within your organizations.
- Let’s talk. Encourage clients to tell you immediately when something isn’t fantastic. Most issues get worse the longer they go unaddressed. When confronted with an issue, the first thing to do is to say thank you for bringing it to your attention. To further facilitate constructive discussions, set concrete benchmarks that are in the context of the work, not the individual. For example, if a stellar deliverable is a 10, ask the client to give you direct feedback on any deliverable that is under an 8. Create a hotline or code word between you so that whenever your client isn’t happy with something, they have a direct channel to work it out with you.
- Perform rituals. Establish traditions such as quarterly team lunches, Friday afternoon recap calls, new teammate introductions and account milestones to reinforce the camaraderie and sense of cohesion.
As with any relationship, it’s the simple and thoughtful things that make the biggest impact. The investment of time and attention will go a long way to setting you and your client on the road to happily ever after.