What does it take to have a great client relationship?

Teaching at University Ramon Llull in Barcelona last week, I asked my Masters students to conduct a piece of research into client agency relationships.  Ten students, six countries represented strong collective experience – many returning to education after several years in the profession.

I asked them each to talk to one client and one agency, to see if we could find some common threads. They talked to a strong representative selection of client and agency businesses from around the world. Here’s what we discovered:

The three most highly held common values across client agency relations are, in order: trust, money and nice people.

From the client’s point of view, having trust in the agency to get on and deliver the job and the results expected is the most critical aspect of the relationship. Compromising that trust is a key reason for the client to walk. The second is money.  Clients need agencies to look after their budget, safeguard it, don’t abuse it. The third is nice people to work with.  This was a higher value than expected but should maybe be rated more highly amongst agencies – is it surprising that clients want to work with nice people?  

For agency people, they trust the client to work with them to deliver what’s needed.  They know it’s their job to deliver but it can’t be done in isolation – clients need to make time for their agencies and treat that time with respect – lack of respect for time is a key reason for relationships turning sour with the client. For most agencies time is money, and many sets of changes are especially draining.  Another frustration for agencies is around budgets, either client being unwilling to give a budget or not considering realistic budgets.  Late payment also came up several times.  Agencies too like to deal with nice people but most appreciate it when they feel valued – it’s rare for clients to say thank you or well done. Having clear shared expectations and regular monitoring against KPIs is seen to keep the relationship on track.

What’s your view on the most important aspects of client/agency relationships? 

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