Looking back on my time working in client services across a number of advertising, design and branding agencies, one thing has always been perfectly clear – the importance of a strong client relationship.

Christina Kokkinakis, General Manager of FutureBrand Australia

As a professional service offering advice and solutions to brand challenges, our client relationships are foundational to developing the kind of shared understanding that leads companies to better decision-making.

The essential nature of building good client relationships is a universal truth – one that leads to real growth. Harvard Business Review’s article, Are You Undervaluing Your Customers? affirms that companies at the top of their industries in Net Promoter Scores or satisfaction rankings for three or more years, see their revenue increase roughly 2.5 times faster than their industry peers

As brand experts, we already know the importance of deeply understanding the customer. Of the long-term commercial value this understanding brings organizations. It forms a vital part of our brand analysis when working with our own clients, much like a competitor review and the evaluation of industry dynamics. It’s not likely that we’d give an organization any sort of recommendation or solution that didn’t include any qualitative and/or quantitative input from their customers.

So if we fundamentally recognize that input in how we value a business, why is our industry so hesitant to formally measure these relationships ourselves? Are the relationships with our clients not essentially the same as their relationships with their customers?

One model which has inspired a shift in thinking is David Maister’s Trusted Advisor Model for professional service businesses. Maister believes that your status as a trusted advisor can be defined by measuring four key factors; credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. When you add credibility, reliability and intimacy – then divide it by self-orientation – you end up with that holy grail of great relationships.


Steven M.R. Covey considers character and competence to be trust’s two key components.

Character, meaning both intent and integrity; and competence speaking to your capability and results.

In my experience? Agencies definitely over-index on competence. It’s not surprising to see hype reels of award-winning creative work and pages of detailed case studies showing up in any pitch to build trust. And while they definitely have their place, it seems like we’ve missed the second half of the equation – character.

Perhaps it’s because intent and integrity are harder to quantify?  

Whatever the reason might be, I encourage all leaders and managers to take the risk to care what your clients think about you. From those earliest interactions, you can lay a more solid, almost-structured approach to how the relationship can play out. By listening first, demonstrating respect for what you hear, clarifying expectations and focussing on a mutual process that keeps you accountable to those expectations.

And once you’ve done all of this? Don’t be afraid to ask what others think of you. Or to find some structure and rigour around how that feedback’s measured and quantified. Whether it’s using NPS (in the way your clients might use this to measure what their customers think of them), or another tool or process that gives you a clear picture of how your partnership is progressing.

It’s not always easy – but it will always make for better, more trusted relationships in the long run.


At FutureBrand, we measure the strength of our client relationships to help learn from every experience. We use Net Promoter Score (NPS), asking all our clients to rate our performance on a regular basis. Our current client NPS score is +73.

While we’re proud of the relationships we have with our clients (and how it’s reflected in our NPS), we acknowledge this is a rolling score. Something that needs to be questioned, revisited and re-measured as behaviours and interactions grow and evolve.



David Maister 2001,The Trusted Advisor

Harvard Business Review, Are You Undervaluing Your Customers?

Stephen M.R. Convey 2012, The Speed of Trust