Hands up if you know what your client does? Yes it may sound like an obvious question. Of course you know what your client does. You’ve got an inbox full of correspondence and work briefs to attest to the fact. You’ve been working with them for X amount of years and you’ve always got along swimmingly…
Great to hear! However, I will ask the question one more time. This time however, I am going to suggest that you now think beyond the last job you did, the pitch you first wrote or the research you did which won you the business. When was the last time you took another look at what your client does – in work, in life, in general? Every client ‘relationship’ is just that after all – a relationship.
The client relationship
The reality is that every relationship has a rather flirtatious beginning – that time when we are keen to discover everything about someone we’ve just met. This involves finding out about what makes them tick, how they like (or don’t like) things done, and very often an element of comparison.
As the novelty of a new relationship settles into something more long term, we eventually reach a point of co-existence where both sides know how the other works. Very quickly the months turn to years and before you know it you’re wearing that relationship like a favourite jacket; it’s no longer new and may show a few signs of wear and tear, but it still fits well enough and it is the jacket you know after all… So it is this state of comfortability that we should be wary of, because it is also potentially a state of complacency.
In business there are of course numerous additional dynamics in any client relationship; changes taking place within specific industries (the Kodak effect is the most extreme example), new directional courses from the top and revolving personnel on the floor. If we are in the business of providing a service to long term clients we are aware of the need to adjust to these changes. We have our heads down, focused on the task in front of us, but how often are we reactive rather than proactive to circumstances, without really caring about the client themself?
How has your client’s business changed?
How has your business changed over the past two, five, 10 years? There are few businesses which have escaped significant change during the pandemic, but even in ‘normal’ times, businesses are constantly evolving. Clients are too. It’s easy to carry on with the status quo but stopping the clock for a moment to re-engage with the client, to take a renewed interest in what is going on in their lives – personal as well as business – is never a wasted exercise.
This is hardly a reinvention of the wheel. In many ways it is simply returning the wheel back half a rotation. Toss the question of ‘the key to successful client relationships’ into Google and it will provide a clutch of motivational quotes drafted by successful people which reinforce the point; “Assumptions are the termites of relationships,” says Henry Winkler (yes, The Fonz, but also a rather successful entrepreneur to the tune of an estimated $30m fortune), and he has a good point. The common theme is that people, and how you interact with them, are at the heart of every great business relationship.
Make some personal investment
So while investment in hardware, software and all the tools which make modern working lives tick more efficiently may be worthwhile, many businesses would be wise to inject some non-monetary investment into their client relationships. It may not be a priority, it may seem too contrived or unnecessary, but taking the time to be present in your client’s world, to empathise with their pains as well as their successes, builds a healthier relationship all round.
So if you have not enquired how ‘little Johnny’ is since those early days of forging a relationship, then do make a note to ask next time you have a conversation. Just don’t be too surprised to find out that that they have now left university, changed gender and are making far more than you as a globe-trotting Instagram influencer! Yes, time does disappear that quickly!…