Clients want people-led problem solving, not a list of services
When I speak to clients, I hear that they’re grappling with the same very human challenges we're all facing. So it's no surprise to me that economic and geopolitical issues – such as sustainability, equality and the cost of living crisis – influence client needs. They want to establish collaborative partnerships based on a genuine understanding of the challenge at hand – and they want to be told what they need without having to ask.
The days of securing clients just by offering up a list of services and a snazzy PowerPoint are behind us; business relationships have changed. Now, personality is critical in building rapport and trust. That’s how you compete in this new, more flexible world.
Build an empathetic team
How do businesses instigate this overhaul of the status quo and embrace the new format of client relationships? It is much harder to humanise your organisation than it is to send out a generalised list of services.
The key is being empathetic about the client’s challenges: what they need now and what they might need in the future. To do this, business leaders must build teams that are always open and accessible at all levels, and that are made up of employees with the right levels of experience to meet all client needs.
Leaders should encourage a culture of engagement where people are free to ask questions, challenge perceptions and don’t always settle for the easiest option. This openness will remove any inhibitors for collaboration.
Businesses should market themselves to clients in a way that highlights their people-led ethos. Demonstrating the value you can bring through the people that are a part of your organisation is critical – not only in attracting clients, but also for recruitment too.
Try not to worry about what will happen if employees who have been visible spokespeople leave your organisation. People understand that there are a variety of reasons why employees leave, and the benefits of showing that your organisation is made up of passionate and knowledgeable people outweigh the risks.
People-led problem solving
The secret to building strong client relationships is a genuine passion for the client and its particular challenge; enthusiasm is a great foundation for engaging with complex problems and challenges. It often breeds curiosity and fascination about what could be possible, not just what has been done before.
This level of understanding based on genuine relationships at a human level will create mutual loyalty, which is the basis for a successful long-term relationship.
It’s important to keep the creative process fresh and focused on the unique challenge at hand. Businesses must continually challenge themselves to put people first and respond to business challenges at a human level, using real-life experience and expertise to align to specific client needs. I know from experience that ideas, thoughts and sparks of inspiration can come from anywhere.
Technology is extremely useful for bringing people together to keep the creative process moving, whether they are working in the office or remotely. For our business, collaborative tools like Miro, and focussed design tools like Figma, enable people to be open about what they are working on and where they may need support. These are not replacements for human behaviours; they are facilitators for better collaboration.
For example, during the early stages of hybrid working after Covid, we very quickly found that brainstorming sessions didn’t work with half the team in the office and half the team at home. It was too difficult for everyone to see and contribute. We overcame this by installing cameras to follow the conversation in the room and record the whiteboard. Now everyone feels involved and ideas flow better.
The client is part of the team
At The Frameworks, the biggest change in the way we do businesses has been to view our clients as being part of the team from the beginning. We include them in our processes throughout, rather than presenting updates at set stages. Viewing our projects as a collaborative journey has made the whole process much tighter.
The best work we do is with clients who see our relationship as a partnership and truly understand what that means. The future of how agencies work with their clients and how those clients work with their customers rests on this understanding. It is certainly starting to influence which clients we want to work with.
To gain a competitive advantage in this new environment, and work in a way that is truly fulfilling, businesses need to prioritise building genuine relationships at a human level. We all have these skills already – we use them daily in our personal lives. It is time to treat client relationships more like social relationships and lead with our humanity.
A version of this article previously appeared on Business Chief in September 2022.