Want to Build Effective Relationships With Clients? Look to User-Centered Design.

Margaret Rogers
Vice President, Washington DC Office

Take a second to think about what an effective client partnership looks like. What can someone do to really hit the mark? You might have come up with a variety of adjectives and examples. No matter what a top-tier partnership entails, however, one element is always present: Trust.

Clients seek firms they can trust to carry out their work and help them perform better.The capabilities of a trusted partner extend beyond simply delivering solutions. Because the work such partners do is inherently difficult (and they're likely afforded a greater level of control), they approach each problem with a higher degree of understanding and open-mindedness. That allows them to get to the heart of an issue and deliver client-centric solutions.

There's another layer to these relationships as well. Given the great work trusted partners carry out, their clients don't hesitate to attach their reputations to tried-and-tested business partners and refer others to their services. 

However, building these robust relationships and gaining a client's trust certainly isn't easy. It takes not just time and effort, but also a fresh perspective on how to nurture that relationship. So how can a partner build highly effective working relationships with clients? The answer lies in user-centricity.

Building Relationships With Clients Through User-Centered Design

In my work in client services, I've focused extensively on user-centered design. When it comes to building effective relationships with clients, I've found that this set of principles can elevate nearly any partnership.

User-centered design involves breaking free of pre-existing assumptions, judgments, biases, and opinions in order to best serve the user. It involves striving to understand a situation as it currently exists. You can apply this approach both internally within an organization and externally in the way you approach building relationships with clients.

In user-centered design, the overarching goal is to question and observe things with a newfound curiosity — even a sense of innocence. This is part of the reason why user-centricity is key for client services companies. It requires understanding a client's problem without judgment and a willingness to test and probe.

After all, clients don't seek out deep partnerships when they need to solve simple problems. They seek those relationships when they need someone to help them explore — to bring different perspectives and point out things they've never considered. This enables the partner to find not just the symptom of an issue, but its root.

Many client services companies fall short when it comes to identifying and solving problems. This is especially true in the technology industry, where just 46% of companies said that their "most strategic" partners were able to uncover issues they didn't mention outright. Strikingly, this ability to anticipate unknown, unmet business challenges is relatively rare. Developing this ability, therefore, should be an even more pressing task for client services companies.

From "Effective Relationships" to "Best Partner Ever"

At Pariveda, empathy is key to building highly valuable relationships. Essentially, we take a critical component of user-centricity — setting clear goals and principles — and use it to spark creative ideas. This inspires better work both for our clients and for the development of our people.

Our goal is always to be the best partner ever in all contexts. If a client needs help with a simple development project, for instance, we map out what it means to be the best possible partner in that context. If a client needs a full-scale digital transformation, we figure out how to be the best partner ever — every step of the way.

This is all part of our problem-solving philosophy at Pariveda. At its heart, it's about creating solutions that no one else can. If corporations aren't already looking for ways to use their partners to find these hidden solutions, they should be — a study by EY found that future growth opportunities will likely come from companies tackling complex global problems beyond the scope of a company's existing services.

In the near future, being valuable to clients will mean being able to solve problems in creative new ways, which is exactly what user-centered design is meant to do. By thinking about situations from a user-centered perspective, we create a kind of halo effect — not only does it help us find more creative solutions, but it helps clients think more creatively, too.

If you can establish a user-centered relationship with a client, those leaders can establish user-centered relationships with employees throughout the organization, unleashing new levels of insight on problems across the board.

Who wouldn't want that kind of partner?

Margaret Rogers

About the Author

Ms. Margaret Rogers has over 20 years of experience in digital consulting services with a passion for coaching organizations through their digital transformation. Margaret appreciates the natural tension between business wants and customer needs. Using business, technical, and user-centered design methods, Margaret creates forward-thinking solutions to evolve and stretch current digital capabilities.

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