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5 Things to Never Say to or Do with a Client

5 Things to Never Say to or Do with a Client

I wrote this article on VyneWorld.com earlier this year and thought I'd share it with you all too with some additional information.

One thing I’ve learned through my career is that “common sense” is not common. And if someone hasn’t been explicitly told not to do something, they may not know any better. Looking back on my interactions with clients in my first consulting job (or my entire career in my 20s), I made so many mistakes. And throughout the years I have also observed other people make countless mistakes. So in an effort to prevent workplace facepalm moments, here are my top five things not to do with or say to a client. Though most of these apply to people in client services jobs (e.g., consultancies or agencies), there are certainly some lessons in here that can be applied to almost any type of career  (i.e., you can replace “client” with “boss” or even “coworkers”).

1. Tell them, “This is my first project!” It’s your first job with Accenture, Deloitte, Ogilvy or Leo Burnett and you are ecstatic. You are introduced to the client for the first time and you are beaming with excitement. So you say, “Hi <insert client’s name>, so great to meet you. I’m so excited to be working on this — it’s my first project!” STOP. RIGHT. THERE. Though you may be excited to tell your client this is the first time you’re doing this, that is precisely the last thing you should be telling them. He or she is most certainly paying an hourly rate for your time that’s way over what you may be worth, so don’t give them any reason to question what they’re paying for.

2. Be flashy during a business trip. When you’re out of town on your company’s (or client’s) dime, it’s so tempting to go crazy with spending because you're not paying for it. I remember being on a project where we were required to use a rental company that just so happened to allow you to pick out your own car. Most of the time these were your basic run-of-the-mill mid-sized vehicles. But every so often a sports or luxury car would get in the mix. Since they didn’t cost any more I, and others on the project, thought it was fine to try to get the best car possible each week of our project. At least, until our program manager brought it to our attention that even though we weren’t spending frivolously, we weren’t sending the right message to our client. If this was a girls weekend, it would have been great! But when a client is paying a lot for you to be there, they don’t want to think they’re paying for you to live better than you do at home.

3. Support competitors in front of clients. A good rule of thumb when working with a new client is to understand who their competitors are and try hard to stay away from those competitors’ products (or talking about using those products) in your client’s presence. Here’s an example that I heard once: a major soft drink company had just brought a new ad agency on board. The new team and client were on a flight together. They happened to fly an airline that served competitor’s products. Without thinking, someone from the agency team asked the flight attendant for some bottled water. That bottled water was from the client’s competitor. As a result, the person who asked for the water was fired off of the project by the client.

4. Have too much to drink. My mom used to tell me that a good rule to follow is to have no more than one drink at a company function. In a podcast episode recently, I recommended no more than two if there is a happy hour and dinner. This is especially important when out with clients. If you’re out with clients and they and others are drinking, it’s typically okay to also have a drink, but this is not the time to get all “saucy.” And let’s say you’re out of town on company business and hang out with some friends after work. Don’t go out partying late and walk into a client meeting hung over. Just don’t.

5. Go to the “club” on a client trip…then talk about it. This is one that I have not personally experienced, but I have heard someone who was on a client funded business trip talk about how they and others from their team went to a strip club the night before a big meeting. So many things are wrong with this one. I’ll just keep this one brief: a client business trip (or any business trip, in my opinion)  is not the time for that.

Honorable mentions:

  • Don’t download pirated music on your work computer, especially when your client is a music/entertainment company. They may shut you down.
  • Don’t have a big party in your corporate apartment where the cops need to be called.
  • Don’t get too drunk during training before your first project even starts. You might just get fired. (I saw this happen to someone. Stupid and sad.)
  • Don't post anything on social media about a client, even if you think only your friends will see it.