As a Project Manager at Jackrabbit, I am in constant communication with my clients—whether I am checking in during weekly calls, discussing feedback on deliverables, or managing last-minute requests.
While I have worked at a few firms in my career, there are some best practices that have always risen to the surface when building client relationships. Over time they have become second nature to me, but there are always moments where I need to remind myself that client services is not just a profession—it’s an art.
Here are some of the key lessons I have learned:
- Never end with a “no”; always provide a solution. To your clients, you are more than just someone who manages the project, you are their partner—you should be going above and beyond to meet your clients where they are, understanding their needs, and providing solutions. Responding with just a “no” stunts any progress you could potentially make to build more trust with your clients and to establish yourself as a strategic partner to them.
- Guide the client and the project. Clients are not always black and white with what they want in a project. Let me paint a scenario: a client comes to you for help with a PowerPoint presentation, but collectively you and your team realize that they actually need a video, which will have a much greater reach and allow for a more impactful and engaging story. By making that suggestion, you’re demonstrating the level of strategic thinking that you and your team can bring to a client, which will help you establish a more collaborative and trusting relationship.
- Communicate, and communicate often. Never hesitate to reach out to clients to touch base on schedule, to clarify feedback, or to just check in on how they are. Again, think about the relationship aspect. The best relationships are built on trust, understanding, and communication. Some clients are very on top of communication, and you’ll find yourself emailing them almost every day on a project. However, some clients are more hands-off or focused on other initiatives that leave them short on time. Understand that the project you are working on may not be the only thing happening in their universe—it may not even be the priority. It’s your job as the project manager to stay on top of your clients, ensuring that schedules are moving, milestones are being met, and deliverables are getting approved.
- Know when to push back. Again, like in any relationship, you probably won’t see eye-to-eye on everything. You may have some feedback come in that goes against the original strategy discussed early on in the project. Or, there may be a stylistic request that would take a design from sophisticated to something below our standard. In this scenario, it is important to know when it is appropriate to push back and find a solution that will make everyone happy. Ultimately, true strategic design agencies are not “yes” shops—our job is to bring expertise and strategic thinking to every project so that the end product is something we are all proud of.
- Don’t take feedback too personally. Remember number 4? Think of that in reverse. When a client pushes back on your creative decisions and suggests something different, it’s important to take that feedback seriously, while not letting it affect you personally. It’s easy to misinterpret feedback or read it in a not-so-pleasant tone—which can be distracting and prevent you from working effectively. Remember, every piece of feedback from the client is ultimately for the betterment of the end product—and is completely independent of you and your creative abilities. Take client feedback like a pro, and run with it!
Clients can run the gamut with how they communicate, their receptivity to strategic and creative thinking, and overall personality. That’s why it is critical for you as a project manager to not only practice the tips I’ve outlined above but to also be flexible and adaptable. Think of yourself as the chameleon of client communication—because no matter how on top of things, or down-right sporadic, your clients are, it’s your job to meet them where they are, and to help them to be successful.