Fig. 20 A Guide for Project Managers

Natural Client Communication

In which we explore the root causes of why our client-agency communication fails.

Written by Carla Hale July 27, 2017

When we talk about project successes and failures, we rarely discuss the quality of the design and code. Our projects live and die by communication and expectations. More importantly, it is not just what we say, but how we say it.

Repeated lessons have taught me there is really only one good way to interact with clients: treat them like a respected friend. If you aren’t, dig at the core root of what is truly going on. More often than not, our communication gets out of sorts when one of the following causes is at play.

Lack of Empathy

I’m starting to get a little sick of empathy as a buzzword, but it is still a problem I see often in client relationships. No matter how brilliant we think we are, how genius the concept is, rarely is it that “clients just don’t understand.” And if they really do not understand, it is because we haven’t done our job of leading them.

An exercise I highly encourage when managing clients is to take an hour, sit in a quiet room, and put yourself in the shoes of your clients. What business challenges are they facing? What will get them a win with their boss? Are we still bringing value to the relationship? By regularly thinking about our clients and how we can serve them better, we have the great fortune of creating real value in their business and keeping them for a long time to come.


Entering into a client-agency relationship means you’ve selected each other to take on a very significant task together. Our clients trust us with money, time, and the very public and first representation of their business online.

When we act “lesser than” our clients, it can lead to severe mistrust overtime—after all, clients are paying us to be the experts that they chose, even over other firms. We must take this responsibility and hold it in the highest regard.

Lack of Knowledge

There are bound to be a lot of missteps when taking on work from clients that are outside of our core skillset. I certainly understand the appeal of work outside of your niche, but you are already at a disadvantage to serve the client with the same care, thoughtfulness, and thoroughness we do on our niche projects. Better yet, just say no to that work.

Unchecked Pride

While it is absolutely imperative we have the expertise we say we do, we can’t lord it over our clients in condescending ways. Flat-out egotistical behavior jeopardizes relationships. If a project manager can successfully win a client’s work with this approach, it will be difficult to keep. We’re the experts our clients need, but we are not better than them.

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” By putting in the time and effort to become a partner and ally, our clients will instinctively reciprocate. When we see our clients as real people instead of contracts, we can hopefully knock down the barriers that lead to poor client communication and, in turn, serve them better and create relationships that last.