Client relationships

Managing client relationships

My observation is that clients want to work with designers (rather than ad agencies) because they feel they are closer to the ‘creative source’. This is a great start for a working relationship; a relationships built on trust.

To build on that trust I think you need to examine all of the touchpoints you will have and then design an experience for each of them. Just like you would for a client’s customers.

Client touch points.

Examine the various ways that you begin working with a client and then develop a touchpoints map like the one below that shows the touchpoints starting from a referral.
Then design the experience for each of those touchpoints so both of you have clear expectations regarding the quality and delivery of the product or service.

These are some of the experiences that could be considered.

Quality of design work

Quality is a given but it also means that it has to be error-free, on brief and well executed. This means everything is spelt correctly and it very obviously meets the brief. If you have to explain how it is on brief then you have failed. This leads to the execution. Clear messaging and a prominent call to action are needed in any piece of good design.

Managing expectations

If you find the client is calling you to set up meetings then you’ve failed to meet their expectations. The graphic below shows all of the touchpoints in a new project and you will note there are many more designer instigated touchpoints than client instigated touchpoints. They also precede the client reactions. This is the model that allows you to keep control of a project.

Explain the value add

Clients may choose to meet with you because they’ve been referred but after the referral you need to show that your design will add value. Look at their business and work out what it is that they think adds the most value. Then show them how design can increase response, get quicker response or more qualified leads.

Make it one-on-one

It’s always preferable to get face-to-face meetings. It’s much easier to build a relationship this way. That said, it’s important to understand your clients’ preferences. Some are overworked and will only want email or phone contact. Analyse the situation, recognise it for what it is and then plan your approach. The key is to be preemptive and contact the client before they contact you.

Recognise and resolve issues

A quick risk analysis before the project begins will help to identify where the problems may occur and then develop a proactive approach. Listen carefully to feedback and look for hints that you could have done it better. Define what it is you will deliver and ask if it meets their expectations.

Match the client’s working style

Some clients are very relaxed and easy going. Others are control freaks. As part of your risk analysis do a quick empathy map to understand your clients’ working style. Then match your approach to their style. If they’re control freaks give them a very detailed action plan with review and sign off points.

Keep it personal

Some studios have a very tightly controlled way of responding to clients. This can rob the personality from the relationship and make it very mechanical. It may increase the risk of miscommunication but it is far better to allow your team to respond with their personal touches. Make sure you are copied into emails so you can coach the team members in the best way to explain things to clients.

Client touch points chart

Client touchpoints chart

You want more?

Empathy mapping is an ideal method to better understand a client.

Greg Branson


Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

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Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.