For the last in this Friday series of agency/client relationships, I've interviewed Carl Smith, owner of nGen Works in Florida. nGen has created a guide for clients to explain how they work. What a great idea!
Q1 Name: Carl Smith
Q2 Location: Florida
Q3 Website: nGen Works
Carl Smith is a founding member of nGen Works, a design and interface development team that has been building some of the world’s finest hand-crafted websites since 2003. Carl has made a name for himself in the web world by always defending the needs and wants of the end user. He has led teams that have been awarded the New York Art Directors Award For Interactive Development, The Hospitality Industry's Best of Show Award, two National C.A.S.E. awards for Educational Web Development and has also been featured in Kelly Goto's best-selling book Web ReDesign 2.0: Workflow that Works. Carl spends most of his free time complaining about sites that say “click here,” chasing his daughters, and praying they never make Spiderman 4.
Q5 Do you work on the agency side or client side?
Q6 What makes a good agency/client relationship?
Complete openness and honesty when the relationship begins. The good, bad and ugly. Like any relationship what you tell someone from the beginning is what they expect from you. That's why it's critical to explain everything about your process and procedures. We actually created a guide for clients so there would be no questions about how we work. It's been brilliant. Also, when things get tense, keep it light and let the client know you are in control of the situation.
Q7 What’s your best tip for building a good agency/client relationship?
Collaborate at every opportunity and realize that while the client may not understand things you do, they know things you don't. Make no assumptions and over communicate. Most importantly communicate in the client's language. Ultimately if clients think you are driving the process and things are progressing they will feel comfortable and things will be smooth.
Q8 Have you ever been in a difficult agency/client relationship? If so, were you able to improve the situation? How?
Absolutely. Ultimately we decided to have a meeting with the client and list all of the issues we saw. A big one was lack of trust. We basically spelled it out that if we couldn't trust each other we couldn't create great work. We offered to package up the work and help transition it to a new team if they thought it was in the best interest of the project. After a few tough hours of reliving some of the moments that led to the distrust we started laughing and realizing there was a series of misunderstandings that had built up to a point that both sides avoided communicating.
Q9 What do you wish clients understood about agencies?
That the agency is as concerned with creating great effective communication as they are. Money is important to the agency, but the opportunity to create great work is generally what led most of us to the profession.
Q10 How can agencies add value for clients?
By continuing to communicate clearly and explain the rationale behind the choices being presented. If the client understands why decisions are being made they can explain it to their stakeholders. That type of empowerment creates a strong bond between the client and agency.
Q11 How can clients get the best out of their agencies?
By understanding their business and communicating it clearly to the agency. If the agency understands the audience they are trying to reach and the triggers to their behaviors then they can make good decisions the first time and save hours and money.
Q12 Have you noticed any recent trends in agency/client relationships?
With interactive agencies there is a big push for more and more transparency. We are very open with how we run our business and when we make mistakes. We're also very up front when we think a client request is going to work against the goals of the project. I think it lets everyone we work with understand we're human and it shows we care about the end result.
Q13 Which past agency or client was the best to work with? (Past relationships only, please.)
Now you're going to get me in trouble. I would say the best past client was actually an agency. We partnered with GSD&M in Austin, Texas on a project for Students of the World called "See Change". We had similar processes and an appreciation for each others approach. Because of the mutual respect, we accomplished more in a shorter time period than any other project I've ever been associated with.