The Business of Relationships

It goes without saying that loyal long-term clients are the lifeblood of any agency and knowing how to retain them is the key differentiator between blinding success and an embarrassingly quick end. Many agencies produce sub-par work but have the biggest names on their roster while others employ the best staff who create mind-bendingly creative work but end up crashing and burning within a couple of years. So what are the key factors of good client retention? How do you establish an unbreakable symbiotic bond with a client that lasts for years? Here are just a few tips from us to help you along, whether you’re a new kid on the block or a pillar of the industry..

Be in the know: Know your client’s business – don’t just go on and on about how important design is and the power of typography (trust me, they couldn’t care less). Try your best to understand their industry, study their customers, and research their competition. Reduce risk, anticipate needs, build their business, establish new revenue lines, focus internally as well as externally. Asking the right questions and actively listening will provide you with excellent insight which you can share based on your own industry’s perspective. This is usually what gets clients to have faith in you and trust you with their brand.

Solve their problems: Don’t just sell your services and endlessly pitch your talents. Instead try to analyze their challenges and bring your own perspective to the table. Any other agency can design but to truly be invaluable to your client you must facilitate their success by solving their problems and removing as many obstacles as you can with your strategic thinking and creative design.

Its not about you: Stop showing off and flexing your design muscles, their feedback is not about you and your design so stop taking it personally. Stop defending, arguing, convincing and post-rationalizing, its annoying. It is and always will be about the client and what they want, not what you think is good design. The moment an agency becomes argumentative and resistant to the client’s requirements they are quickly overlooked in favor of other more compliant agencies. So leave your ego at the door and focus only on the client’s success and happiness.

Get Personal: Know your client’s birthdays, wedding anniversaries, their kids birthdays, know their wife and kids names, know what they like to eat, what their favorite drink is and how they take their coffee, what sport they enjoy and which countries they vacation in. People like to feel known. Be friendly and personal, blur the lines between the professional and personal, be a friend, not just a service provider.

Communicate: Send regular project reports, relevant industry information, business and consumer insight, keep them in the loop with your news, be honest and transparent, never blame your staff and especially not the ones who’ve quit / you’ve fired. Always take responsibility. Clients will forgive much of your mistakes if they are understanding of your situation, but you going radio silent for days or weeks only to return saying the work isn’t ready will only create resentment. Avoid avoidance.

Focus on the right clients: Choosing your clients wisely is everyones dream but we rarely have that luxury. We always have to work with clients we don’t like and when one of those comes along with a ridiculously complex request and an irrational timeframe we tend to put our best clients on the back burner, trusting that they will still be there when we’re done. But your loyal clients will not forgive you for ditching or delaying their work in favor a new, shinier model. Remove those dollar signs in your eyes and instead focus on your best clients, not your highest paying. Your loyalists are the ones who will refer you to their peers, not the ones making you jump through hoops dangling a carrot in front of your face.

Under promise and over deliver: Always strive to prove your added value, don’t get complacent. Try to constantly give a little more than what you’re paid for. Determining whether you’re ‘worth the money’ or not is the only decision the client has to make.

Be fair: Never over-quote (or under-quote for that matter) because likely clients talk and news gets around. If you’ll charge a commission, be transparent about it. Nobody likes being fooled or duped so be as honest and communicative with your clients as you can.

Respect: Never belittle their ideas and don’t argue their requests, however ridiculous. Don’t complain about their staff or lack of information, don’t tell them their logo is ugly and their website is bad. Even if they ask for your analysis, try to be diplomatic. Besides respecting clients, respect yourself above all! Don’t discount and negotiate your rates and proposals. The moment you devalue your service the client devalues it as well.

Play matchmaker: One of the best ways to drum up more business for yourself is by marrying your clients to each other! By that I mean cross–promoting two brands to create a new product – think Gucci-designed Fiat 500, Karl Lagerfeld’s Coca Cola bottle, Stella McCartney’s line for H&M. Co-branding is a great way not only to create a new project for yourself by combining two of your clients, but to also add new layers of association and character to both bands, resulting in a win/win/win situation. The key factor here is their mutual benefit and a truly inspired concept could have global impact – remember GoPro and Red Bull’s Stratos campaign? Not only did it break world records but had over 18 million views on YouTube alone!

Be proactive, initiate, don’t wait! Come up with ideas and propose them to your clients, if you see a problem fix it anyway, if you see an opportunity, present it! Don’t wait for your client to approach you, instead keep the lines of communications open so that you are never forgotten or pushed to the periphery. To become a vital part of their world you must proactively participate in their business.

And finally (and most importantly) keep your staff happy! Happy staff = good work = happy clients. Its not rocket science! You can treat your clients like kings but if your staff are miserable and not giving you their best, then its pointless. Also have respect for your staff and their time, if a client is asking for something to be finished in an unrealistic timeframe or asking you for things that are beyond your desilgners’ skill set, don’t agree to make your client happy (and the detriment of your team). Having your team’s back will not only make the client respect you as a boss and business owner as well as appreciate your time more, but your team will be grateful, loyal and far more generous with their time.