Building & Maintaining Client Relations

Danielle Hannan

DaviesMoore began right around the same time as Mac desktops and desktop design software. As this was occurring, a new client of our CEO Edward Moore said, “Dang, you must feel like a buggy whip maker when the Model T came out.” Obviously, this client was implying he thought our services would become obsolete in the near future. Eddie, though at the time thought this yahoo might have a point, is not worried about it now. Why? Because Eddie believes that no kind of software, Artificial Intelligence (AI) or otherwise, can compare to human innovation.

I also share Eddie’s lack of fear in this respect, but for a slightly different reason: basic human interaction. AI should definitely be respected; in fact, I always throw in a “please” or “thank you” when interacting with Siri or Alexa. But AI will not replace creative thinking, nor will it replace humans socializing with other humans (sorry, Joaquin, I never saw HER). Therefore, the time and effort we put into building and maintaining our relationships with clients is paramount to our success as an agency.

Because the relationships we have with our clients are so essential to our model, I sat down with everyone client-facing person at DM to see what they do to ensure our clients’ happiness and success. This group of men and women act as a client’s liaison to the agency; they listen to the client’s needs and relay that information to internal teams. Their titles range from project manager to account executive, director, or coordinator, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll refer to all of them as an AE. Together, they established the 3 most important aspects of building and maintaining great client relationships.

  1.     Communicate Like a Boss

Although I spoke with each AE separately, they all prioritized the same point: communication. And, by communication, I don’t mean they all made the same obvi point about constantly communicating with their clients. They went deeper than that. Each AE explained the importance of figuring out each client’s preferred mode of communication. “Do they respond better to emails or phone calls?” asked Account Director Kallee Mendonca.  Dustin Cook, also an account director, furthered this point: “If you’re on the phone with them, do they want to chat about their weekend? Are they just down to business?”

Sometimes a client’s preferred communication style will differ from your own. Account Coordinator Elia Sherman astutely pointed out that, to communicate successfully, “you have to pivot according to the client’s needs.”

What happens to these communication efforts, though, when clients are remote? Account Coordinator Andrew Greenblatt explained that when you don’t get an opportunity to have those face-to-face, one-on-one meetings with clients as often as you’d like that you “have to pay a lot more attention to the details in emails and spend more time on phone calls.”

Building a relationship with someone over the phone or through email can be difficult, but it is possible.

  1.     Get Personal

Your clients should know you have their back. As Senior Account Executive Megan Roberto explained, “Trust is extremely important. Let them know you are advocating for them within the agency; let them know you will get things done for them.” Roberto went on to say that sometimes pulling back the curtain and explaining internal processes to clients can be extremely beneficial.

It’s also helpful if you go above and beyond in showing your interest in them as a person and in their specific industry. Digital Account Director Emily Del Favero summed this up well: “Remember key things about the client, such as their birthday. Reach out to them, not only when you need something from them or are asking if they want to continue services. For example, if you happen to come across an article that pertains to the client, share it with them.”

Many AEs echoed Del Favero’s sentiment. Mendonca went as far to quote Carolyn Lodge, our COO and a partner, by saying, “Carolyn has always said we should ‘know their business better than anyone else, other than them, of course.’ Knowing a business means doing ongoing research and staying up to date on their industry trends. It’s important to do research on the side and send them relevant information consistently.” Sharing industry insights with your clients who are reluctant to be more personal is a good way to show that you care and provide value.

At the end of the day, you want to express to your clients your relationship with them isn’t just business to you. “We want it to be a symbiotic relationship where both sides value each other and it’s not just an exchange of services for fees,” Greenblatt said. He’s right. In the best circumstances, our relationships with our clients go beyond scopes of work and budgets.

Budgets are relative. As Mendonca pointed out, “No matter what they’re spending, it’s a lot of money to them.” Knowing your clients trust you with their hard-earned money means it’s imperative to treat every client, regardless of budget, the same. If your client doesn’t feel valued by you, or feels that they aren’t a priority, they will likely take their business elsewhere.

  1.     Own Mistakes

All of the groundwork you lay in building a relationship with your client goes a long way when something goes wrong. Try as hard as we might, mistakes still happen. “Clients are more gracious when they know you and consider you a real person,” said Roberto. Best case scenario, as Account Coordinator Nick Kuzio points out, you can do your best at being proactive, thinking ahead to any possible issues, and fixing them before anything goes wrong.  But when mistakes do happen, how you handle them depends on the severity of the mistake.

Roberto said that for some problems, “you may want to have a solution when you present the client with the problem.” Above all else, never shift blame when mistakes happen. Vendors are as susceptible to making mistakes as we are, but what good does it do to throw a vendor under the bus when we as an agency made the decision to work with them?

For worst case scenarios, such as the client finding the issue and bringing it to you, Lodge would advise “acknowledging the concern, assuring them you will research the issue and providing a solution as soon as possible.” She continued by saying that in a business where the human element is paramount, there is also risk. The reality is that sometimes people make mistakes, so the proactive and detailed nature of our agency is critical. Beyond that, having relationships with our clients gives them the perspective that hopefully allows for some grace.

Lodge, the consummate professional she is, opened the conversation with a great summary of client relationships: “Remember that client relationships are no different than any other relationship. Within them, there has to be a level of trust, and a commitment to establishing that trust and continually building on it. A great partnership flourishes when there is give and take, and to reach that point, there has to be an abundance of communication.”

After my conversations with all of the client-facing people at DaviesMoore, I feel validated in not being afraid of our industry losing out to AI. We have to work at building relationships with clients. Though they can remind us of birthdays and other special dates, Siri and Alexa can never replace the human aspect of our relationships with clients—no shade, Siri and Alexa.