By Nicky Milligan, Managing Director of mcm creative group

Nothing is more important than client relationships. For this reason it's always worth taking the time to make sure you are matching the right teams of people to each client, and equipping them with the skills and tools they need to deliver to the highest level.

Effective execution of this type of approach requires a formal structure. They can have many names, for instance ours is the Relationship Management Protocol programme we launched a few years ago. The aim of programs such as this is to provide dedicated support to client account teams and to encourage the sharing of best practice.

There are of course many different ways to manage client relationships, but I have eight key principles that I believe we should all follow. These make sure you get off on the right foot from the very beginning, manage things effectively as you go along and add value every step of the way:

Send Your New Client a “Client Welcome Kit” - this might include a well-written cover letter from the Managing Director, a client service pledge, a current list of contacts with direct dial phone numbers and email addresses, and a nice gift.

Seek to Understand the Big Picture - take the time to learn about your client’s business (and personal) goals and objectives. Ask smart questions and do lots of listening.

Analyse Their Brief – demonstrate your expertise by ensuring you fully understand their brief and what it will take to meet their requirements. Don’t be afraid to challenge what they have done before, this will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and skill in this area.

Establish Your Client’s Expectations and Then Exceed Them - Walk your client through how you propose to handle their business and what they can expect in terms of results and timelines. Create a reasonable set of expectations and do your best to beat them. If you discover you are unable to meet your commitments, or the results are not likely to be what you anticipated, share that information with the client as soon as possible. In almost all cases, you will be forgiven.

Follow Through on Your Commitments - Set reasonable deadlines and do your best to follow through as promised. If you promise a draft of the contract in three weeks, deliver it in two. Nothing aggravates a client more than a broken promise. It also has a very serious negative consequence when it comes to building trust.

Communicate with Your Client in the Manner They Prefer - I’m one of those people who likes to talk on the phone. After all, I can talk a whole lot faster than I can type. Most clients feel the same way. Ask your new client the method and frequency of communication he or she prefers and deliver your updates and progress reports accordingly. If you can’t be flexible, tell your client up front how you operate.

Introduce Your Client to the Team Working on their Project - Take the time to invite your new client to your offices to meet the team who will be working on their projects. First, it makes your staff feel part of the team and, in many cases, your client is likely to be interacting with them more often than they do with you.

Never Send a Surprise Invoice – It is good practice to discuss estimated fees and costs up front with your new client. Give them a ball park estimate of what your fee will be and discuss any unforeseen developments that may arise. Talk through the options and seek your client’s direction on how to handle them. Never, ever, send your client a surprise bill. Beyond failure to communicate, this is one sure way to lose a new client, and he or she is likely to tell others about the experience. Never worth the risk.

As with all systems measurement is important. Once it's up and running it's vital to keep track of it, we use an independent client feedback programme for this purpose, using it to regularly conduct independent reviews with clients.

Following these steps will lead you on an "added value path" to the positive, successful, long term client relationships that are invaluable to any business.