“It’s not personal, it’s business.” As the line between personal and professional become even more blurred in our always-on culture, communication skills and empathy are increasingly important. When interacting with clients, it’s critical to prevent an “us vs. them” and recognize that we are all on the same team and have shared goals.
Your client likely won’t tell you these things outright, but that doesn’t make them any less true. Ignoring the reality of your client’s working life can be incredibly detrimental. While some of these “confessions” may seem obvious, agencies often lose sight of them when we’re focused on our own work and deadlines. Keep these in mind to improve the agency / client relationship and ultimately produce better work.
“I HAVE A BOSS, TOO”
Agencies typically have one point of contact with their client’s organization, and thus that person becomes the figurehead in the minds of the team. This is the person who is on every status call, who requests new features and who has final signoff on creative decisions. But this person is often the mouthpiece for an entire group of stakeholders – even if you’re working directly with the CEO, they too are held accountable to shareholders.
When a client requests a complex project to be completed on a tight timeline, it’s easy to become frustrated with that person and their “unreasonable” request. But it’s not fair to blame your client – this timeline was likely handed down to them from someone else. It’s likely related to a sales goal or other key business driver, and the longer it takes to get done, the further behind the company will fall. An agency’s job is to move on from the perceived injustice of the situation, recognize that these things happen, and find a way to get the work done.* Focusing on the negative is a waste of time and casts a shadow on the relationship.
An agency with a single client isn’t an agency – it’s a marketing department. We are used to juggling multiple projects for multiple clients, and our clients are no less experienced in this balancing act. They just do it with internal clients. The requests we get are likely just a small fraction of what’s on our client’s plate. After all, they hired a specialized agency to handle a specific project – who is handling the rest of their sales and marketing tactics?
It’s important to stay mindful of the bigger picture of your client’s day-to-day responsibilities and recognize that we are working with them BECAUSE they have a lot to handle. Strive to get a better understanding of what they have going on and adjust your expectations and processes to support their needs. For example, your project team might want to have daily contact with the client, but their schedule is so full they can’t make it work. Look for ways to fill in the gaps and keep moving forward while they are busy with other things and find processes that support a relationship on their terms.
“I HAVE FEELINGS”
It’s nearly impossible to check your emotions at the door when you step into the office, and it’s important to take this into account when interacting with your clients. Recognize that, at times, emotions will run high instead of expecting people to be emotionless robots. Everyone has experienced a tense or emotional situation at work, and it’s our job to recognize and identify negative emotional states. Frustration and stress are inevitable when taking on a major project, and you may struggle to effectively diffuse these situations if you don’t understand the source.
What you CAN do is try to avoid making it worse by taking it personally. Your client has a lot on their plate and 99% of it has nothing to do with your shared project. If, on a call, you perceive that your client is being short or is in a bad mood, don’t make assumptions – they could have just gotten out of a stressful meeting or could even be going through something in their personal life.
“I HAVE A LOT AT STAKE”
Trust is the foundation of any agency/client relationship, and a successful partnership requires honesty and transparency. This helps us truly understand the stakes associated with a client’s project and what’s at risk when things go wrong. We can’t align our goals with the client’s unless we know what they are. If their website goes down, does that mean visitors simply can’t find their contact information, or is the business losing millions of dollars per minute in lost sales and missed leads? A deep understanding of your client’s business processes will help your agency make the best use of their digital marketing budget and find new solutions to create even greater results for their business.
* IT GOES BOTH WAYS
My advice in this article is aimed at helping agencies understand their clients’ needs, but it’s not so different on our side of the equation. Clients: Your agency team experiences the same feelings and suffers the same stresses. It’s important to recognize this and avoid creating an uncomfortable dynamic.
For example, when a last-minute change is requested and your agency says they’ll make it happen, recognize that more often than not, we drop what we’re doing to do so. Ascedia will do whatever is in our power to help our clients, but this might mean overtime for our team or pushing other client work aside to get it done. Recognize the hard work and energy your agency is putting in for you, and try to have realistic expectations and make reasonable requests. The alternative creates an unhealthy dynamic that impacts the quality of the work and makes a long-term partnership impossible.