A good client relationship is like building a house.
You design the structure, get all the materials together, build a sturdy
foundation and then slowly craft and add until you have a dream home.
It’s a fluid process, with a lot of elements and plenty of things can go
wrong. Just one misstep or miscalculation can lead to a variety of
non-ideal results, ranging from a creaky door to Grandma falling through
the upstairs guest room floor.
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Plus, as any good architect or engineer will tell you, sometimes even if
you do everything right on paper, the house won’t be sound. Some unknown
variable is off, and while technically everything is right, something is
still very wrong.
Nuance determines the client relationship
The same is true in client service and the resulting client relationship.
In most cases that unknown variable is nuance.
nuance is “sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate
shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value).”
Do you really know your client? Consider these questions:
- Who are they beyond the role they play in the company?
- What do they like?
- What do they dislike?
- What makes them tick?
- How are they motivated?
- What keeps them up at night?
These are the things that create a relationship with your client. While in
many cases, they aren’t directly related to your project or the goals of
your campaign, they are always interconnected.
Your client relationship depends on your understanding of the many nuances
of who they are as human beings.
See the complex picture
The digital world often forces us to look at things in
black and white. We either “like” or we don’t like, make a binary decision based on sound
bites—and unfortunately often refuse to accept that in every opinion or
stance there are many shades of grey.
Client relationship and client service decisions are rarely black and
white. Some things that aren’t so clean cut can be:
- When do you push?
- When do you hold back?
- How do you approach sensitive topics?
- When do you stand firm?
- When do you soften your approach?
Client service vs. project management
A mistake service organizations often make is to see their client service
representatives as similar to project managers.
Sure, they manage “client relationship,” but when project management is the
primary goal, the definition of “relationship” also changes. Project
management is always going to be part of client service, but instead of
being the goal, it should be seen as a conduit for providing the best
experience and results possible.
Most people don’t really listen. They think they listen or they pretend to
listen, but they don’t.
Learn to listen, and not just to the words but also the tone, pauses, interaction and
intent. Paying attention to these things helps you listen to what’s not
said, as well as what is.
Learn to be inquisitive about other people.
You must research your subjects as you would any great mystery. Ask all
sorts of questions and then let those lead to more questions. People always
show you who they are, even if they try not to. You just need to ask,
listen and observe.
Different contexts require different types of communication, even if all
the players remain the same.
For example, you might be able to take one type of tone and positioning
with a client when working with them individually, but need to take a
completely different type of relationship when working with them in front
of their team or boss.
Learning to observe and sum up relational, situational and environmental
context is key.
Keeping an open mind
Until you learn to honestly open up your perspective, you’ll never master
the nuances of client relationships. You’ll be constantly blocked by the
filter you impose on the world. You must challenge your own assumptions.
Practice this skill consistently—even on issues you are deeply passionate
about. If you can’t argue for the other side you actually don’t understand
why you support yours.
Which skills would you add to this list?
Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an
integrated marketing communications firm.
A version of this article originally appeared on
the Spin Sucks blog.