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Dan Mall Teaches

The Crystal Email

Published about 2 months ago • 2 min read

Reading time: around 2 minutes

A few years ago, my former agency SuperFriendly started a new high-stakes project. We were one of a few different vendors handling different parts of a brand new digital product we making together.

Our main project sponsor was the client’s Chief Marketing Officer, and she was used to orchestrating multiple parties that often ran behind schedule and needed specific and clear direction.

She kicked off the project by sending us a 305-word email with some polite instructions about what she would like us to do next. Talk to this person. Set up this meeting. Look into these assets.

There was nothing wrong with this email. On one hand, I appreciated the pointers for our team and some clear next steps on a gigantic project that might have otherwise been ambiguous.

But my Spidey-sense was tingling. An email like this from a client could indicate that they see us as just another party to have to manage. That’s not the kind of project we liked to run at SuperFriendly. We wanted our clients to feel like we were taking care of them, not the other way around. They were paying us to make their work easier, not give them another thing to do.

Luckily, before I could even figure out what I wanted to do about this, our executive producer Crystal Vitelli swung into action. She replied to our client’s 305-word email with a 655-word response of her own.

IT 👏🏽 WAS 👏🏽 MASTERFUL.

In her email, Crystal pleasantly acknowledged that tasks our client sent and excitingly informed her of how we had already completed them. Crystal then added 4 more things we had on our radar that our client wasn’t aware of, our status on each, and when she could expect them to be completed.

What was our client’s reply? A 10-word email that said:

Crystal, what a great email, thank you. Already love ya. ☺️

From that point on, our status changed in our client’s mind. We moved from being “just another vendor to manage” to a preferred partner and advisor, always on the inside track. We ended up doing 4 more large initiatives with this client, growing the original 6-month project into 2-years of work. It was one of our best accounts by every measure.

Since then, I’ve labeled this technique “sending the Crystal email.” It’s particularly effective when you feel like you’re starting to get micro-managed by a client or a manager, so you signal back that you’re more on top of things than they are.

Some may call this a power move, but I don’t look at it that way, even if it is accurate.

To me, it’s not about power.

It’s about service.

It says, “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. You’re in good hands, and we won’t let anything slip through the cracks. Here’s some proof.”

That’s one of the best things you can give to a client—and it’s something clients are always willing to pay a premium for if they’re certain you can deliver it.

Often times, your client or stakeholder is in triage mode. They’re living very much in the chaos of the present, directing traffic and diagnosing issues real-time. A kind way to short-circuit this frenzy is to signal that you’re not only on top of what’s happening in the present but that you’ve already thought about and prepared for what will be happening in the near future.

When you’re ahead, you quietly and naturally emerge as a leader that others are relieved to follow.

—Dan

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Dan Mall Teaches

by Dan Mall

I teach designers how to get the respect they deserve. I share tips, tricks, and tools about design systems, process, and leadership.

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