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Being The Good Client

by: Dærick Gröss, August 2005

In every industry there is a relationship dynamic between client and vendor that must be properly handled in order for there to be full success in the endeavor. Failure to communicate, understand expectations, or deliver on promises leads to a weakening of trust, faith, respect, and ultimately the relationship will die. While this is usually obvious, what should be considered here is the fact this is a two-way street. Clients themselves must be aware of how to be good clients, no matter what industry we are speaking of. There is a general mindset that the 'customer is always right', and this is often becomes confused with the concept that the 'customer must always get their way'.

Clients, whether internal departments within the same company or external businesses outsourcing to an independent firm, must be aware of (and often reminded) that in a relationship there are expectations to be met by both parties. Every client understands the terms of the contract on the day it is signed, but once the ink dries in many cases the boundaries are pushed and expectations change. The drive for quickly delivered success makes for short memories and soon a project can expand into something way beyond the scope of the original agreement. With this in mind, there are several points that clients and client-departments should always consider to maintain a healthy relationship and be the 'good client'.

Learn your contract

Good clients don't "creep". There is often a tendency over time to make requests or have expectations grow for action beyond the limitations of the original agreement. In some cases, projects may outlive the terms of the people who work on them. If you are a client, go back and reread your contract from time to time. If you are newly placed on an existing project, find and read the contract with every vendor and learn what the expectations and deliverables are. This will cut down placing unnecessary or inappropriate pressure to grow the scope of the project.

Know your team

Good clients don't forget their main point of contact. Most service agencies and internal project teams have a lead contact as well as production and support staff in order to organize the communication and work flow. Clients should make the effort to know who is involved and what their roles are. Most importantly, clients should know exactly how the communication should flow and work closely with their liaison to minimize project confusion and misunderstandings.

Don't micro-manage

Good clients give their team space to work. High impact and important projects often breed a micro-managerial environment, and this needs to be avoided. This may be your only project or your highest priority, but you selected and hired a team of experts and they need to be free to do their work. Regular updates are fine and should be expected; schedule them out at the beginning with the project team. After that, keep superfluous contact to a minimum, and then only through the appropriate communication chain. If there are growing concerns over quality or production then bring it to your liaison and address the issue, a professional agency will work to settle the matter to your satisfaction.

Don't disappear

Good clients are available. In many cases a project will need approvals along the way for things to proceed in an appropriate manner. Clients need to be responsive, even if the project is one of several in a chaotic environment. Many projects linger unnecessarily while waiting for proper approval to move forward. There will also be occasions where questions develop about direction or possible pitfalls and you as a client need to be approachable and available as a resource to help your project stay on track and on time.

Pay your fees

Good clients don't miss payment deadlines. Remember, you are hiring a team to put their energy and focus on your project. Be timely in your payments and avoid missing deadlines. If you are experiencing quality or satisfaction issues, then certainly question your team and address the situation appropriately. Again, a professional agency will work with you to settle the matter to your satisfaction. In any event, maintain the relationship where it is often felt first and foremost.

Mind your manners

Good clients behave professionally. Clients sometimes fall into the 'boss' mentality where they take a tone of superiority or authority over the project team. Remember you have hired a team of experts, and they should be treated as such. A professional agency will act in an appropriate manner, and the courtesy should be returned. On the other hand, be careful of becoming too friendly or casual in your relationship. This can be just as detrimental, allowing for the perception of a 'relaxed' pace and possibly a loss in production or quality.

Clients should absolutely have expectations and feel that they are being reasonably met. Recognize that a solid working relationship is the responsibility of everyone involved, and that clients have an enormous amount of influence on the strength and character of that relationship. It is up to clients to understand their responsibility, just as it is up to the team to understand theirs. Next month we'll cover the other side of the equation and look at the responsibility of the project team and what a client should expect.