By Alvin Hermanto – Principal, Relab
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The love-hate relationship between an agency and its clients is like a badly kept industry secret.
As an agency, you want full creative freedom, but the client may have a fixed mindset which requires revising your work 10,000 times. You’re keen to try a new idea, but the client has a permanent trauma from bombed-out campaigns in the past. You’d love a big budget to take you to the moon and back… but, keep on dreaming, friend.
Inevitably, agencies tend to swallow jobs whole without thinking whether the diet suits them. Nike’s motto, “Just do it” quickly becomes their personal mantra. Except it’s embellished with 4-letter words.
Where did we go wrong?
Creative types tend to get sensitive when it comes to our work and ideas that it becomes a double-edged sword. It’s great to defend your brilliant ideas to the death but not accepting feedback or criticism means you’re not going to produce the best work.
I understand the grievances too.
Sometimes, you may get clients who are difficult to work with, who thinks they are Van Gogh and you’re just a paint-by-number artist. Or the kind who has no idea what they want but shoots down all 100 ideas you have presented.
Although it’s easy for designers, copywriters, coders and marketers to hate a project with every fibre of their being, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Once you start feeling this way, you’ll descend into a downward spiral until it becomes a toxic relationship.
Over time, I’ve learnt how to stop my blood pressure from going up and learnt to love working with clients with these 5 principles.
1. Shift your mindset
The keyword here is empathy — putting yourself in your client’s shoes. Try shifting your mindset to focus on the value that you’re bringing to your clients. Most clients only care about what’s in it for them, and you’d be off to a good start if you start thinking this way.
Personally, I tend to refer my clients as customers instead. A small difference but with a big impact for my agency. I like how customer service is run in retail and hospitality industries, where the customers are (almost) always right, and I try to emulate that with my team.
2. Decide who you want to work with
Take a good hard look at your existing clients. Do they appreciate the hard work, commitment and skills you bring to the table? Or do they make your working life a living hell? I promise you good clients do exist. But first, you must know what your niche in the market is, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. There’s a market for everyone, if you know who you are and what value you can offer.
3. Have the heart for people
This is a black and white thing. Either you love dealing with people or you don’t. If you don’t, there’s no shame in it. I suggest hiring or partnering with a person who has the heart for it because people can smell insincerity a mile away.
Then, you need to build a team that embraces this value. It’s so important to have the right front-of-house team for the business. In a fine dining restaurant, the host, waiters and sommelier work together to ensure your dining experience is worthy of the price you paid. This is what you should aspire to be. Imagine if the agency owner is the host and personally greets you at the door, wouldn’t you feel good?
4. Step away from the artist mindset
There is a fine line between art and commercial and I truly believe there is a point of intersection. The best agencies understand this very well. They are experts at treading the grey area between idealism and pragmatism.
Being practical does not mean that it’s the end of your creative freedom. It means you are willing to listen, empathise, and guide your clients towards a solution that leaves everyone satisfied.
5. Practice eating the humble pie
Being humble gets easier as you grow older. Humility is just another branch of wisdom and like fine wine, it gets better with age. In a healthy relationship, each party knows that they are not perfect, and can comfortably provide each other with constructive feedback.
It helps to remember that you’re providing an experience for your client the moment they contact you or step through the door. They are at the centre of the experience, not you.
Be open to scrutiny. And for the love of God, try to genuinely care about the feedback you get because they’re good for you. I’ve seen several account managers who couldn’t give a hoot about what people say, which never helps their businesses.
I’m a big believer in customer service. As a matter of fact, it’s my biggest challenge as Relab grows its client base because there are many contributing factors to a client’s experience.
Customer service will always remain my number one priority in the agency’s to-do list. I sometimes think we are customer obsessed, because it’s what has worked for us since the day we started business.