Maintaining great client relationships while physically distant

It’s been said in advertising: Great Work Wins Business. A Great Relationship Keeps It.

But that is most business, right? People want to work with people they trust, like and respect. The work is better. More fun is had. Human nature kind of stuff. And we know, and preach, that great relationships grow and foster through time, great communication and spending time together. Like face-to-face time together. In fact, in his book ‘The Art of Client Service’ by Robert Solomon, he dedicates a whole chapter called “You Cannot Lead an Account from Your Desk”. The chapter talks to the importance of spending time walking the halls of your client’s office versus always relying on phone and email communication.

Well, now we’re all in this Covid-19 pickle together. And technology is all we have to rely on. So how do we continue to establish and grow great client relationships when we can’t physically spend time face-to-face? How do we continue to collaborate and create great work while living in our own bubbles, distracted by our own realities?

“You Cannot Lead an Account from Your Desk”. - Robert Solomon


In many ways, the same principles apply. But the delivery of those principles is very different. The following are 5 Tips that we could all use, in any professional service where you are managing clients, to maintain great relationships through this time and beyond:

1. Communications Cadence

Have you ever been in a long-distance relationship? No, me neither. But now, that is exactly what you are in with everyone in your life, including your clients. And while we aren’t exactly Ernest Hemingway penning love letters to Marlene Dietrich, there are principles that we can learn from Hemmingway and other long-distance relationship practices.

Like any new relationship, it starts with a honeymoon phase. The same happened with our transition to working from home (WFH). Donning our sweatpants and our favourite coffee mug, WFH started as a novelty. But here we are 5 weeks in. The novelty has worn off. The honeymoon is over. Now we are settling into the hard work to keep the spark alive.

Get started, like any long-distance relationship, with some planning. Get into a cadence of communications with your clients. Schedule weekly status calls. Check-in once per week just to say hi or follow up on something outstanding. Drop off some (sanitized) baking/wine on your client’s front porch to share during your next status call.

I’ve always preached that interactions with our agency should be the best parts of our client’s day. So, think about how you can maintain this while being physically distant? Be smart. Be prepared. Share new shows, new recipes, new books/articles, new music you’ve discovered. After the honeymoon, the hard work of any relationship begins.

2. Celebrate Success

These days, we all need a reason to celebrate. The sun is shining – break out the champagne. We launched a new campaign – congratulatory emails all around. I’m wearing pants today – well, you get the idea…

With everything being a bit more difficult these days, take the time to celebrate success with your clients. It doesn’t even need to be marketing success. Share a win that is meaningful to both of you. Even if it is just surviving another week of physical isolation. Because sharing success is more than that – it is showing your clients that you understand them, you are thinking about them and you are aligned with what is important to them. In fact, if you aren’t celebrating success and sharing wins, are you sending the opposite message?

3. Manage Expectations

These days, projects seem to have two speeds:

  1. Covid-quick – Projects relating to the fast-paced nature of the constantly changing business environment brought on by Covid-19. Changing website hours. Customer emails about operational disruptions. These changes need to happen fast!
  1. Slow-vid – Projects that have a longer shelf-life. Slow burning projects, like cleaning my closet, that can be picked away at over time.

Be empathetic to the stress your clients are under. Get an understanding of the motivation behind any request coming through. If it is time-sensitive, share your understanding of the urgency. And then, make no commitments without consulting your team first. Know the capacity of your team prior to committing to any deadline, but address it quickly and keep your client informed every step of the way. Executing on these quick turnaround projects, and taking stress off your client’s shoulders now, will pay dividends long into the future.

4. Share Content

It seems like everyone these days is gobbling up content because we do seem to have a bit more capacity currently to read the things. Like the emails you normally just delete. Industry blogs. Webinars and online classes. The gates have largely been lifted. The world is being encouraged to use this time to stay relevant and get ahead.

Find ways to share this content with your clients. This is always good client relations. But often it is hard to find the time to do all the reading, let alone the sharing. Now you have the time. Use it. And don’t just send links over to your clients – contextualize them. Tell them why you think a piece of content is relevant for them and their business. This understanding of your client’s business will further lay the foundation to building trust that you understand them, their business, their industry and the challenges they face. It can’t hurt to ask clients what they are reading too – a shared knowledge base can result in future communications short-hand.

5. Invest in Client Relationships

We just finished presenting a new campaign to our local Distress Centre. A proactive campaign that we surprised them with. On our dime. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. During this time, call volumes are up, and funding is down. This is when our client needs us the most, but their heads are buried in their new reality, and they can’t think of ‘hiring’ the agency when stress is high, and funds are tight. So, we did the thinking for them. We developed a piece of creative that educates Calgarians on the role of the Distress Centre during this time, and lets them know that while the world is closing for business, the Distress Centre remains open and ready to help.

If you can do some proactive thinking on behalf of your clients, do it. They may not be coping as well as you are, so help them out. Use the resources and tools at your disposal to make them indispensable in their organizations. You just might do the same in the process.

The great relationships that stand the test of time are the ones that find new ways to stay relevant and stay engaged when the honeymoon is over. There are opportunities in our new economic and social environment to take advantage of the time and resources at your disposal and invest into your client relationships. Just like you should be doing with your personal relationships too. And, when we all get back to our work desks again, remember these strategies and maintain them to keep the magic alive!

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