Sometimes we feel like we’re dating our clients. We’re always talking to them and thinking about them, trying to impress them, making sure they’re happy. After going through many, many of these relationships, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to make them work—and it’s not totally different from making a romantic relationship work.
You might’ve heard of the 5 love languages from the eponymous book by Gary Chapman, Ph.D. Basically, according to Chapman, there are 5 primary ways in which people express and experience love. By understanding and appealing to your partner’s love language, you can strengthen your relationship. (Mine is words of affirmation—shower me in compliments in the comments section, please.)
I think The 5 Love Languages has remained so relevant and popular since its release in 1992 because it makes people feel understood. You read a description of one of the languages and think, “that is so me.” And with this basic understanding of yourself and your partner, you can make little tweaks to your behavior that make a big difference. Simple acts like taking on a few chores around the house or having a conversation without distractions are proven to make your partner feel more loved.
The relationship between an agency and its clients, we’ve found, has a very similar framework. Whether clients realize it or not, they have their own set of “love” languages—ways in which they prefer to work and communicate with their agency throughout the length of a project.
You can pinpoint your client’s preferred love language by looking out for a few signs and then tweak your communication and working style accordingly. Speaking in their love language can help them feel supported and appreciated, which will improve communication drastically and increase the success of the project overall.
The 5 Client Love Languages 🧡
This client wants to know what you’ve accomplished and what you’re doing. Things need to be moving towards a goal, always, and they love to see the fruits of everyone’s efforts.
How to recognize it: They want direct, specific communication using numbers, dates, and stats—no bullsh*t.
What to do: Use straightforward language; Aim for phrases like “I did” or “I’m doing;” Be direct; Use specific values and numbers; Show progress; Solve problems as quickly as possible; Outline next steps after interactions.
What not to do: Drown them in emails or Slack messages; Schedule a ton of meetings; Beat around the bush; Use words like “would, should, will” which indicate uncertainty and show what hasn’t been done instead of what has been done.
2. Active Listening
Some clients really just want to be heard and have meaningful conversations. They want to know you’re actively listening to their thoughts and ideas without you interjecting or imposing your own opinions onto them. In the past, they may have worked with colleagues who didn’t value or listen to them.
How to recognize it: If your client feels the need to justify themselves regularly, it could be a sign that they’re not feeling respected or heard.
What to do: Make sure you’re fully present in your interactions (you probably already are, but make sure they feel it!) and show interest; Use the “Yes, and...” approach in conversations to help them express their thoughts and maximize their ideas*; Ask questions like “Any other thoughts?”; Rephrase what they said and repeat it to make them feel understood.
*Using the “Yes, and…” approach means acknowledging what they’re saying with “Yes,” then adding “And…” so they feel inspired to keep talking and develop that thought even further.
What not to do: Insert your own opinions too firmly instead of suggesting; Ask “why” a lot; Drive the conversation.
The client who prefers a hands-on style is a doer. They’re used to being part of the process, and they like to be in the conversation.
How to recognize it: Micromanaging might be one of their tendencies, but that’s because they care and are afraid of something going wrong. They like to participate and be vocal in meetings.
What to do: Take note of the things they say and repeat it back to them to show that you’re listening; Use phrases like “Let’s schedule a meeting to discuss this in more detail” when they unintentionally start hijacking the existing meeting; Make them feel needed and keep them involved by asking for their help with specific tasks. For instance, if you’re designing the UI for their app and they really care about the design, have them research some fonts they might like and present them to you.
What not to do: Let them take over the project too much (it’s important that you maintain a firm hand on the wheel of the project because they hired you to deliver the best results); Allow them to dominate meetings and derail the agenda; Ignore their suggestions or concerns; Make decisions without consulting them.
In the context of an agency-client relationship, the Gifts language translates to special treatment. A client who wants gifts wants to feel like they’re getting extra lucky and they’re being catered to. They don’t just want the standard agency treatment, they’re looking for signs that they’re getting something extra, and they highly appreciate it when they feel like you’re going above and beyond just for them.
How to recognize it: You’ll usually be able to pinpoint this language during the sales process. People who are clearly shopping around for agencies or looking for detailed action plans so they know exactly what they’re getting are usually gift-loving clients. Sometimes they’ll even mention the gift they’re giving to you, mentioning how lucky you are to work with them.
What to do: Do minor things that make them happy, even if they’re not a major priority for you or the project. For example, making a small feature that you don’t think is necessary, but it’s important to them. Give physical gifts—nothing too crazy! A small, thoughtful gift goes a long way; Give a verbal gift by striking up a conversation about stuff outside the project that they’re interested in.
For example, we had one client who was OBSESSED with sumo oranges, so I brought it up in one of our meetings and he told me all about them. A few weeks later I saw sumo oranges at Whole Foods, so I took a selfie with them and posted it in our Slack channel. He was all about it.
What not to do: Let them take advantage of the relationship by asking for too many favors; Tell them they’re getting the same treatment as everyone else.
Not every client needs to know what’s going on. Some like to be loved from a distance, and they don’t need to be hands-on. Once you’ve earned their trust, they feel confident that you can run the show and they’ll check in sparingly.
How to recognize it: They’re not bogged down in the details (and they don’t want you to bog them down) and they don’t need to shoot the sh*t with you in a bunch of meetings. They like memes that say, “This meeting could have been an email.”
What to do: Create a clear roadmap for the project, highlighting budgets and what you can/can’t accomplish; Respect and optimize their time; Cancel meetings that are no longer necessary; End meetings early if there’s nothing left to do; Feel empowered to make minor decisions.
What not to do: Overload them with unnecessary information; Schedule too many meetings that could have been emails.
If you’re a client working with an agency, what do you think your love language is?
If you’re a PM or another agency team member working with clients, can you figure out what your clients’ love languages are?
Should we create a test to give clients before beginning a project so we can all love each other better? 🧡