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October 29th, 2007

4 Essential Tips for Developing Excellent Client Relationships

Blog Post written by Scott Weisbrod

This blog is meant to give readers an inside look at what we think it takes to build great experiences. It’s easy to point to beautiful sites we’ve designed for clients like Rolex or sexy microsites we’ve built for Mercedes and talk about the experience design methods and processes used there. And for sure, there is tons of value in sharing those stories with our readers.

But one area that we don’t hear a lot about when it comes to building compelling experiences is the art of building excellent and positive client relationships. Arguably, it’s more important than any process or method we use. Without it there is no foundation to do the best work possible.

I recently spent some time thinking about what it takes to deepen and build client relationships. In the end, I settled on four very simple yet often overlooked ideas that, more than anything else, are plain common sense. Here they are:

  1. Get out of your office (and into theirs)
  2. Make yourself available
  3. Go deep, go really deep
  4. Entertain them

 

1. Get Out Of Your Office (And Into Theirs)
This is a way of life for our account service teams at Critical Mass. We operate on a hub and spoke model, which means that we have planning, design and production centralized in three locations – the hubs (Calgary, Toronto and Chicago) – and then we have account managers in the cities where our clients are – the spokes (New York, Austin, Las Vegas, etc.).

Not only are our client service teams based in the cities where our clients are, in some cases they are actually working in the same buildings as our clients – five days a week. But it doesn’t end there. It’s essential to get your project teams – planners, designers, writers, etc. – on-site regularly too. There is no substitution for hearing things first hand, building face-to-face relationships with stakeholders and just being available to troubleshoot and demonstrate value before their eyes.

This goes a long way towards making yourself indispensable.

2. Make Yourself Available
This one is pretty straight-forward. When clients have a problem, try to solve it as quickly as possible. Clients will want to reach you by phone and by e-mail. Whichever method they prefer, be sure to respond as quickly as you can. When they are phoning you, answer immediately – unless you’re in a meeting or on a more important call. When you receive e-mails, reply as soon as possible, or even better, pick up the phone or meet them in-person to expedite the problem solving.

When you’re out of the office, be sure to update your auto-responders and set expectations about how often you’ll be able to check and return messages.

3. Go Deep, Go Really Deep
There is a lot of talk about going horizontal and getting fuzzy these days. I love those conversations and can personally identify myself in them, but there is something to be said for going deep in a vertical and really getting to know your client’s industry and competitive space. We build long-term relationships with our clients and therefore, we build long-term teams around them. Obviously, we shuffle folks around when needed, but we strive to build long-term teams around clients in order to build a competency in their vertical.

Going deep lets you learn the language of your client’s world. The clearer you can speak and understand their language, the faster you’ll be able to move and the easier you’ll be able to identify opportunities.

I can think of a recent example where a colleague and I were on-site (see tip #1) for a few days. A client asked us to jump into a meeting where they were trying to flesh out a high-level framework for a new initiative. It was a truly last minute request but we were available (see tip #2) and – because of our grounding in the vertical – it was easy for us to jump into the meeting without being briefed and still contribute meaningfully.

On another note, if ever you hit a brick wall on a particular topic, find out who the subject matter experts are within your client’s organization and get some guidance.

4. Entertain Them
Taking clients out for dinner or to the ball game when they’re in town is a great way to continue deepening your relationship with them. It’s not about being slick or “sales-y.” It’s about creating opportunities and environments outside of the office where you can get to know your clients better and build a relationship that is deeper than simply the work you do for them.

Find out what their interests are in terms of recreation and dining. Build a night out around that.

Of course, be aware of your client’s policies around entertainment and gifting. Some companies don’t allow this or have limitations. Be sensitive to these differences.

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Those are my four tips for building excellent client relationships. What are yours? What has worked for you and your organizations over the years? Leave a comment and I’ll compile the best into a future post.