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The Agency Client’s Bill of Rights

What rights does a client have?

When someone pays you money and agrees to trust you with their brand – or even their career – shouldn’t they automatically get something for it?

Shouldn’t certain things just be givens?

When a marketing director hires us, they risk their job.  Because chances are, the only thing the boss is going to look at is the work that got done on a video.

When an author hires us, they are trusting us with their life’s work.  So, shouldn’t that trust mean that we go beyond the agreement?

I. Every Client Has The Right To On Time Delivery (On Every Milestone)

If the agency causes any part of a project to be delayed – even by one second – the client is must be offered a full refund.

Any agency without this policy in place is guaranteeing you that they are going to be nightmarish to work with.  That they don’t respect your time – a more precious commodity than your money.

Agencies pretend to be artists when in truth, most are simple amateurs.

On-time delivery should be table stakes, and yet we are told again and again it’s ‘refreshing to work with us because we stick to our project plan’.

When Simplifilm struggled it was simply because we took too many jobs.  We’d bet on a client-side delay or a rally.  Or, we’d pawn off the fault of the delay to the client – always possible to do but it’s the hallmark of an amateur.

II. Every Client Has the Right to Regular Automatic Status Updates

If a designer is working on a project, every client has the right to hear from them at periodic and predictable intervals.

“Hey, what’s the status of my project?” is an email that no client should ever need to send out.  Ever.  That’s a straight-up insult to them.

It is a failure of respect so massive that a refund is definitely in order.

If the provider of design work is so disorganized that they aren’t prepared for a simple status update, then it’s certain that the clients are dealing with hacks.

Clients trust us with their most important projects, and to make any client chase us for information shows we don’t care about them.

III. Every Client Has the Right To Complete & Useful Updates

A client’s time is respected when they are given enough specific information to make a decision.

“We’ll get this to you ASAP,” is something that we used to say.  How utterly worthless.

What does ASAP even mean?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  As soon as we feel like it?  What does ASAP mean?  I mean, how soon is now?  (I had to get my Smiths reference in).

What we’re basically saying – to our client – is “go away, we’re doing something else more important right now, and we don’t respect you enough to offer any transparency.”  We can thank the great customer service expert Steve Curtin for leading us to this insight.

Now we send updates like this:

“Hey, we got your request, and we’ll be able to turn it around tomorrow by 3pm, worst case.  We’ll try for sooner, does that work?”

The format we use is what now, what next, and exactly when. The habit takes time to build, but when you make and keep commitments you save the client money.

It’s also more operationally efficient because the client doesn’t have to begin a follow-up cycle that nobody wants.

IV. Every Client Has The Right to a Written Project Plan

“I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”
-Dwight D Eisenhower

With a plan, a client can understand the playing field.  Clients can now grade us.  They know what should happen and when, so they can feel comfortable with the whole process.

Amateurs run from this because it requires thought.  Good agencies run to it because it widens the gap between us and our competitors.

Is our project going well?  Poorly?  What are the steps?  When will feedback be due?  How do we determine success or failure?

A written plan – beyond the proposal – covers the progress.  Redundant respect and reassurance.

V. Every Client Has a Right to Enough Time For Feedback

There must be adequate time for clients to give feedback built into the schedule.  

Agencies are famous for pushing feedback delays onto their clients.

“I would have been on time, but we thought we’d get feedback sooner,” is the amateur’s favorite excuse.  As if feedback is a big surprise.  “Ooooh, you wanted input on our $15,000 project?  Wow!”

The need to collect and respond to feedback has always been a large part of creative projects. Having a plan without that time is simply not liking your client enough to set them up to win. 

“Enough time” can vary and it depends on the client.  Good agencies ask up front.  Sometimes clients have stakeholders they need to touch base with.

VI. Every Client Has the Right To Know the Consequences of A Reschedule

Client delays happen.  It’s part of any business, and it’s as predictable as the need for feedback.

Sometimes the result is minimal on the final delivery, but other times the wrong delay creates a domino effect that’s felt for a long time – and the client would choose something else if given the option.

An example: a 3 word script change may cost a week in production time when it happens at the wrong time.

Let’s say the client requests a script change on a Thursday.  The Voice Artist is out of town and can’t get back to us till Tuesday.

When he does, there’s a routine, but minor, mispronunciation of a technical term.  We get it back late on Tuesday.

Then we can get it into production, if we don’t have to change the shotlist, storyboard, and intended style frames.

That’s a domino effect.  And it could have been that the client didn’t care that much about the script change and it certainly wasn’t worth a delay in the delivery date.  That’s why a client has a right to know in advance what the consequences of changes will be.

VI. Every Client Has the Right to Have Overage Disclosed In Advance

Clients must be warned about overage and change orders before they are incurred even if it’s written up in the agreement.

Sometimes creative work pivots.  This is just a fact of life.  It’s sometimes a great idea to invest more to make good projects better.  What also happens is that agencies famously spring a “surprise bill” on their clients.

After all, the client signed a master agreement, and they knew that this particular change created overage.

Nope.  The lines between an additional revision and a change order can sometimes become blurry.  So when something that’s requested incurs overage, a professional should take the initiative and be straightforward to clarify it.

Overage is often a very good idea.  If you’re making a great video and you come up with something at the end of the process to make it spectacular, well, if it happens to cost a few dollars, who cares.

VII. Every Client Has the Right to Respect

You can’t take their money if you don’t respect them, too.

We see sites like Clients From Hell, we watch videos like this (well done and funny, but fundamentally wrong.  The creative underclass, hacks and beginners take comfort in their failures at places like this).

It’s OK to do business with someone.  It’s OK to not do business with someone.  What’s never OK is to take a project or a client that you can’t get behind.  If you have to take money from someone you don’t respect you are not a good designer, and you’re not doing good work.

VIII.  Every Client Has A Right To A Good Spec

The responsibility for providing a useful and valid spec lies the provider of design.

So many amateurs know that a client wants something else, but they have a sloppy or muddy spec that they hide behind.  A client – without specialized expertise – may trust their developers and designers.

Without a solid spec, we don’t have a target to hit. We don’t understand the goals of design and we can’t comment on if this is – or isn’t – appropriate.

IX. Every Client Has A Right To Know They’ve Been Heard

Every client should get feedback and changes read back to them with proper technical language.

Feedback is part of the process.  And a lot of times agencies “shuffle off” the feedback.  They start to work on what they think the client says.

Why not confirm it?  Reword it into correct design language, show you know it, and confirm that’s the right choice before doing it.

It’s only a little bit of extra work, but it removes so much subjectivity.

Clients are buying design, but they are not trained designers.  To expect them to have perfect design language is absurd, so we have to take that responsibility. 

X. All Clients Have The Right To Only Say Things Once

When something is said to one person in the company, it’s said to everyone in the company.

Once you tell something to one person in a company, you’ve told it to the whole company.  Whenever a client says something – and they are paying a good fee – then you should know.

It’s easier than ever with Slack, Zoom and other tools.  A process should support and confirm a client’s desires.

The Big Challenge

Breaking any of these rules means that the project has failed.  And that the client should get an immediate refund.

Because the provider has stolen money, and more importantly time.

Because the project lacked alignment.

That’s our standard.  So when you’re comparing providers, ask if they provide a service guarantee as tight as ours.

Why We Made This?

Because we have made every mistake you can possibly make.  From making client repeat themselves to giving vague and careless status updates to missing intermediate milestones.

Doing this well has two benefits: we dramatically cut down on revisions.  And our clients became happier.

We also increased our referrals, client satisfaction and everything else.

Just yesterday we got this nice message in our inbox:

screnshot

That’s the result of a well-done process.

Take Action!

When design is sold correctly, packaged correctly and the process is smooth, everyone benefits.

Get our “bill of rights” agreement for use.  Simply put your email in the box below.  When you do, you’ll immediately get the Client Bill of Rights for use with every design contract you ever use.

About the Author Chris Johnson

Christopher Johnson is the founder of Simplifilm, INC., and Flowtility (exit to Telestream in 2015). He's written or produced hundreds of video projects in the 6 years for startups, authors and the likes of Ryan Holiday, Seth Godin, Brad Feld and many more.