Learning curves: How do we define a successful client relationship?

As part of our ongoing reflections on the recent semester, we’ve been considering what we’ve learnt about successful client relationships. We’ve spent much of our time this semester on external projects. But as we shift our attentions to developing our own brand and projects, we’ll be looking at our clients for the most accurate reflection of our identity and values.

So, who are our clients? The common denominator is that all our clients are firmly rooted in the digital industries. Within that, they might be based in anything from education to cryptocurrencies; information analytics to human resources. Whereas before we worked with a range of clients, now I’d say we work with a range of clients thanks to newly emerging digital industries.

We no longer receive any new contacts via Dribbble . But word of mouth has really exploded. Now that clients have already heard of us from someone else, they tend to reach out to the studio very quickly once they meet the point at which they need support with branding, development or design. A key difference is that we now tend to work with more mature companies: these clients have already proved their concept, and are about to or have already raised funds. Their businesses are on the brink of expansion, so they need support for specific things, such as increasing the number of sales or helping their teams to make better use of their brand.

We’ve recently set aside time as a team to discuss what defines a good client relationship for Muxu.Muxu. The client’s team, and their values, are really important to us. If you strike up a conversation about a sensitive current affairs topic, such as employment laws, or the migration crisis in Calais, you can quickly gain insight into their values and priorities, and therefore whether they are aligned with yours.

For us, a good relationship with a client is also underscored by effective communication, even if it may seem to go beyond what is strictly necessary, for example an email to recap a conversation had by phone. This is useful for all parties involved, to keep everyone aligned an on-track.

We make a concerted effort to bring these same values and processes when collaborating with our freelancers. We’ll try to include them as far as possible in a project, so that they are not merely a cog in the production line, but really a part of the team working on the project in question.

A final key element in a good client relationship is that gut feeling. We learned the hard way this semester what happens when you don’t listen to your gut feeling.

We worked with a client last year on developing their brand identity. At that time, we collaborated with the two co-founders and sole team members. The project was a great success; the clients were happy with the outcome. In the meantime, their team grew, and they soon needed to add some more pages to their site. Before signing for a second project, we had the usual call with them, in order to establish their needs and how the process could work for them. But this time, we felt that something just didn’t quite click with the new team members; there were some internal politics and ego to deal with. Over the course of a few days, Damien and I turned the question of whether we should purse around and around in our heads.

In the end, we launched the project with them. Everything we had predicted came true. The project manager we were working with slowed the project down, because we weren’t able to talk directly with the people who would be putting our work into production. So when it came to the support phase, we had to tell them we didn’t want to work with them again in the future. Usually this support phase would last for 2 months, give or take. With the company in question, we were strict that this would not be the case. We said we would be available for questions by mail but wouldn’t be available for support, and instead gave them a list of freelancers or agencies they could contact if needed.

That left a really bad taste in our mouths, and wasn’t at all how we would ever have imagined having to end a project. And we were partly to blame, because we should have listened to our gut instinct. So for the future, we’ll know that it’s not just because we have completed a first project with a client that any subsequent projects are destined to be a success.

We have recently re-evaluated our processes for evaluating and improving upon client relationships. First of all, we insist on meeting and getting to know the client’s team. Second of all, for the project kick-off we take 2 to 3 hours to re-discuss the project and sprint phases, even if we have already worked with the team in question in the past. At this meeting we listen more than we talk, and it’s an opportunity to pick up on the language of the company. Sometimes things will emerge that will be useful for us in developing a brand and identity. From day 1 of the project, we share what we produce and we ask for feedback. We give a written summary of every call, to ensure that everyone is on the same wavelength. We keep in contact with our progress on the project, whether we are ahead of or behind schedule. Then once we deliver, there is a follow-up support phase of 2 months.

There were a couple of situations this semester that could have ended badly but didn’t, thanks to the way the Muxu.Muxu team handled them. For example, we’ve been working new-era home-insurance provider Luko. We get on really well with the team, but experienced a tense moment during the sprint phase…

We were originally meant to just work on their landing page, and we really pushed ourselves to get it out on time for the Product Hunt launch. They liked the result and decided they’d also like us to also work on their sign-up flow. But they were disappointed when we gave slightly longer deadlines for that than for the first part of the project. So we had to communicate in a tactful manner the fact that, whilst we can put ourselves under pressure for a specific deadline, we won’t work like that all the time, simply because it’s detrimental to the quality of our output and to team morale. We were proud of how we handled the situations: we won back the confidence of both clients, and ultimately saw the projects through.

It would be all to easy to say that our ambitions for the next semester are to have bigger and better clients, and leave it at that. But in terms of our processes, whilst there are things we do well, there is still room for improvement. For example, when we finish a project, we currently send a PDF via a dedicated website. In the future, we’d like to be able to provide a toolkit along with the project so that the client’s marketing and design teams can autonomously make use of our designs. If we had to sum up our aims going forward, we’d like to keep doing what we are doing, with the same kind of client that we have, and use the solid base we’ve built thus far to offer an even better service.

Written by Emily Fiennes for Muxu.Muxu. ✨