6 Guidelines for Successful Client Relationships

By Citizen, Inc. | Originally Published at pluscitizen.com

At Citizen, we believe clear direction creates better results. When we’re kicking off an engagement, that direction comes from our exceptional client partners and their internal advocates — account directors. Because not every design and technology company tackles this relationship quite the same way, we caught up with Kate Sommers, Director of Account Strategy, to provide insight on how she and her team work with clients.

1. Take the time to build trust

To create a successful partnership, the client has to place their trust in us at multiple points throughout the engagement. From the initial stakeholder interviews through design, testing, and development, we often ask questions that make people uncomfortable; sometimes we may present concepts that push boundaries. For the partnership to work, the client has to decide early on to trust our process — and we have to continue to earn that trust every step of the way by being transparent and collaborative.

We also view clients not just as key stakeholders, but also subject matter experts. Clients appreciate that we aren’t the kind of design company that receives a brief, disappears for a few months, then reappears with designs. Instead, we use a collaborative process that means our client partners invest time creating the best possible product with us.

“Clients appreciate that we aren’t the kind of design company that receives a brief, disappears for a few months, then reappears with designs.”

2. Lead with empathy — follow through with strong communication

While designers direct their empathy towards the user, account directors focus their empathy on the client partner. After empathy, communication is the glue that holds the relationship together. Clients know they’ve been heard when you follow up when you said you were going to follow up, and update regularly even if you don’t yet have all the answers.

3. Be flexible

Part of what Citizen excels at is being flexible with our client partners. A lot of our clients are large companies with a lot of rules, regulations, and processes.

We have the ability to adjust how we work to the needs of each client. Whether that refers to meeting cadence, reporting, preferred software, or communication style — it’s easier for us to adjust rather than force the client to change according to our preference. It’s also just better manners.

4. Use your background to your advantage

Prior to working at Citizen, I spent several years working for non-profit organizations performing many different kinds of roles: communications, program development, grant writing, operations — you name it.
Working for non-profit organizations made me a better listener.

With client relationships, listening can be tricky because not every client knows exactly what they’re after. They might have an idea of where they want to end up, but they don’t always know how to get there.

Figuring out their business needs and translating them into a viable product or engagement is where account management and strategy really comes into play.

5. Advocate for your clients early and often

I find I’m often the voice of the client in internal meetings, helping to define what the objectives and goals are and what makes sense for the client. We always want to build something that tracks back to their business needs and KPIs.

For new clients, I’m usually most involved in the beginning of the relationship, establishing a clear communication process and meeting cadence right from the start that works both for Citizen and the client. If we don’t have that set up at the beginning, it can be very difficult to establish later.

6. Empower your team

We’re not the type of place that only allows certain people to interact with the clients.

As account directors, we don’t ever try to act as gatekeepers between clients and the rest of our team at Citizen — that just creates an unnecessary bottleneck and has the potential to shortchange or misrepresent the work. We view our team as part of a larger team alongside the client and operate accordingly.

Citizen’s process has evolved through the years. What’s stayed the same, though, is our commitment to our clients and each other. Building on each other’s expertise and relying on each other’s strengths is what makes projects run smoothly — and produces amazing work for our clients.


To learn more about Citizen’s approach, get in touch with us.