“This client just doesn’t get it!” is a refrain repeated countless times a day in agency/service provider/vendor hallways around the world. Meanwhile, across town, the client in question has probably just walked over to his/her boss’s office to complain, “The supplier is driving me crazy!”
As someone who has uttered both of these exclamations (more than once), I know with certainty that a happy world in which client and provider work in perfect harmony is next to impossible. The constantly changing demands and increasing pressures of today’s workplace stand in the way of that utopian vision. However, people on both sides could dramatically improve their current working relationships by modifying just a few behaviors.
If you’re the provider:
Help your clients help themselves.
How quickly we forget that it’s our job to make sure that our clients – and not just ourselves – succeed. This often means running the gauntlet between internal meetings, approvals and politics. For example, an advertising agency and its client should not only map out the launch plan for a new campaign, but should also take some time to figure out how it will be sold at the client company, and what materials and steps will be necessary to do that.
Control the communication.
Ever feel completely overwhelmed with client requests and demands? Only able to react and never able to be pro-active? The answer doesn’t lie in a lengthy status report with constantly shifting due dates that no one wants to read or update. The answer actually lies in more frequent phone or live contact between you and your client. It’s amazing how much more you can cover in two or three quick conversations – conversations that can help you prioritize your tasks and potentially eliminate others.
Email is not your friend.
How many week-long-thread/19-people-cc’d email disasters will it take before we learn that email often does more harm than good? Yes, it serves a purpose, but that purpose is not the passive-aggressive bullying of others. Sure, referencing an email you sent your client two weeks ago with that information they claim to be missing will make you feel good, but couldn’t it have been avoided if you had worked a little bit harder at point #2?
If you’re the client:
Don’t cry wolf . . . unless there really is a wolf.
Yes, we expect our vendors to be able to adjust to our demands. “Flexible and adaptable,” I used to say. However, if every request is made under the threat of the world coming to an end “unless we get that file here by close of business today,” your provider will quickly learn that you are perhaps prone to occasional hyperbole regarding your needs. What happens, then, when there is a real requirement for them to jump through hoops?
Trust the provider; that’s why you hired them.
Client input and feedback are critical to program development. Client nitpicking and complete strategic reversals are not. In the desire to control the process, clients can often confuse the two, particularly when it comes to anything creative. Resist the urge to say that you ran the ideas by your spouse last night and he/she had some changes. (Even if he/she did.)
Email is not your friend, either.
See above. Pick up the phone. Heck, if your account manager does IM, that’s cool, too. If airlines haven’t yet begun to explore the concept of “return on engagement,” they will soon!