A few months ago, I was invited by one of our great clients to join him and his team for a dinner during their team retreat in Los Angeles. As a lover of free food (and great conversation), I quickly accepted.
A few days before our dinner, the invitation was paired with a small request: “I want our team to hear from an agency about what being a good client looks like.”
I was a little dumbstruck by the thoughtfulness of the question, and owing to that (and to the fact that I take a free meal very seriously), I conducted an informal poll amongst my fellow OXen to get their perspective.
OX works with good clients every day, but to borrow from Jim Collins, I wanted to hear from my teammates, “What separates the good from the great?”
Some themes emerged, and it just so happened that they (like all worthwhile leadership principles) were alliterative: the 3 Cs of Great Clienthood (client-ship?).
At OX, we do our best to take a mindset of customer-first service. We serve at the pleasure of our clients, and our mission is about advancing yours. Yet doing that well is a relational prospect as much as a strategic or creative one, so I thought these principles merited a wider audience (and if you’ve read this far, apparently, you agree).
Here’s what sets great clients apart, according to our team at OX.
- Great clients are CLEAR
Great clients know that “clarity is kindness,” and they speak directly and proactively to set us up for success. Being direct can feel uncomfortable at times, but that clarity helps us do our job well.
Great clients are clear and upfront when they answer questions like:
- What is the goal of the project?
- Who is the team and what are their roles?
- Who is the decider on the project?
- What are the true boundaries here and is anything (officially or unofficially) off-limits?
- Is the feedback you’re sharing a directional note or a directive, and how open are you to pushback?
- When conflicting notes or comments arise, whose point of view would you like us to prioritize (or should we use our best judgment)?
2. Great clients stay COMMUNICATIVE
Beyond creating proactive clarity, great clients engage in an ongoing conversation that builds transparency and trust both ways.
Confession time: when you’re not talking to your agency… they’re talking about you.
I don’t mean they’re spilling the tea on your new haircut or a joke you told that didn’t land… but they are sitting in meetings together strategizing about how to get you to respond to an email. (Yes, meetings — plural — with multiple people each, dedicated to the subject of your inbox).
Did something come up that’s delaying your feedback? Let us know! Is the team’s response to the work different than you thought it would be? Loop us in — maybe we can help! Is this last round of work frustrating or disappointing? Say something! We’d love to make it right.
Agencies feel the complex tension of wanting to provide a seamless service experience while also honoring timelines and delivering a fantastic result. Going radio silent is pragmatically problematic, but maybe more than that, it’s awkward.A few ways great clients communicate well are by:
- Offering timely feedback (or sharing status updates so their agency knows what to expect)
- Making themselves available and accessible for dialogue and check-ins
- Speaking up when something creatively or functionally isn’t working (and, to the first C, speaking about it clearly)
3. Great clients choose to be COLLABORATIVE
Finally, great clients appreciate that they’ve hired us to make something that is as much art as it is science, and they trust that great work develops over time, by smart people putting their heads together.
In particular, innovative ideas often begin with a period of discomfort. The feeling can be, “This isn’t what I was imagining…” or “I don’t see how that will work…” Great clients recognize (and even voice) that discomfort, but they pair it with a willingness to stay curious and be surprised by what we’re bringing to the table.
Great clients collaborate when they:
- Leave room for surprising solutions
- Stay open to being challenged (and challenge back!)
- Allow our collective ideas to build on each other by offering and hearing “Yes, ands…”
- Help us to understand their culture, their needs and their preferences as we work with them as unique people
In short, what makes a great client? It’s the very same things that make a great friend or partner — the things that make a great human (and a great, human brand): Courage to speak clearly. Consistently showing up and communicating about what you need. And collaborating in a true give-and-take that honors and lifts the best out of everyone.