Bill Kenney

A Client Relationship is a Two-Way Street

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Understanding communication and navigating relationships is pivotal to our success as service providers. But the buck doesn’t stop with us. At times, clients/customers fail to realize how they play a key role in the success of that communication. What they can sometimes overlook is that a working relationship is just that, a relationship. Two parties, giving equal time and energy for the greater outcome.

“Without any education and expectation setting from us—the hired talent—we cannot expect them to step up in the ways we need them to.”

This is not meant to point the finger in a single direction. Both parties can easily falter in any given working relationship. But it is worth mentioning the client side specifically simply for the educational benefit. As a creative agency we learn year over year how to make our processes, communication, relationships even better. The client likely doesn’t have that advantage. This may be the first time for them in a relationship like this. Without any education and expectation setting from us—the hired talent—we cannot expect them to step up in the ways we need them to. Do they actually know the importance of each feedback loop and what implications it has if those are delayed, misguided, or unclear? The ripple effect of those communications have impacts on the timeline, cost, and quality of the final product.

“If we all shoot for the same outcome and stay open and honest with each other throughout, the chances for success are very high.​​”

There are a few standard circumstances that seem to muddy the relationship-waters in regards to communication and expectation setting:

  1. Fear of the unknown. Intimidation. (But, the easiest to correct.)
    This is when a client is so new to the creative process that they literally don’t even know when to raise their hand for the fear of feeling stupid. They have a belief that we are the experts and therefor should stay tight-lipped. Although we appreciate the trust, we still need the two-way channel of thought. Thought begets more thought, which drives innovation and creativity.
  2. We are so busy. This is your job.
    This one is a killer. Like we discussed above, the idea that the project success falls completely on us, the creatives. Here is the issue with that... Unless you are willing to literally let us do anything we want and ship you a final product at the end, we need your feedback. It is the client's responsibility to carve out time to review the work, gather thoughts, and provide clear feedback. We may be great at what we do but when it comes down to it, the client knows more about their company than we do. Those details are crucial to start the project and are relevant throughout the creative exercise. If you are too busy to commit to your end of the deal, then I would argue you are not taking the project or process seriously enough. You should wait until you can commit the proper time.
  3. Over communicating. (The potential death knell.)
    This one can become doomsday. Here is why. There is a difference between “I have a ton of great thoughts” vs. “Here is what I want you to do.” Micromanaging design is probably the worst-case scenario for any creative agency. It sucks the air out of the project. Our hope is that you hire a creative agency for their knowledge and would look to leverage that. The end goal is not to appeal to all your personal tastes but to confidently put your organization in a position to succeed. It is quite the challenge for a marketing team or owner to give up their power and trust us with a new vision. But! It is indeed why you hired us, let us not forget. And to be clear, we want all your feedback. It’s just counter productive when we get to the position of simply executing your vision, especially when we think you are doing your organization a disservice.

At Focus Lab, we thrive on great relationships, internally and externally. But that is not always in our control. We do our best to educate our clients and set clear expectations. We are aren’t always successful and we are quick to look inward to make changes. Much of that learning spills directly back out to new clients and creates even better relationships as we grow year over year. If we all shoot for the same outcome and stay open and honest with each other throughout, the chances for success are very high.


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