Talking with agencies every day, we sometimes see a singular focus on one particular agency strength over all others. Some agencies focus on the creative product. Others may focus on “big picture” strategic thinking, or perhaps their strong suit is brand development and management. Still others are great at interactive, online and even social marketing. But while agencies often cite “making the client our first priority” as a central tenet, many agencies fail to live up to this claim.
By and large, agencies are simply better at delivering products or services than they are at focusing on client businesses and client satisfaction. Many agencies fail to build strong client relationships. Often, agency claims of strong client relationships mask a real weakness—one that poses a threat to your agency’s health and well-being.
Tracking Client Satisfaction
Agencies should closely examine client satisfaction with regard to agency services and the agency relationship. Some agencies do this with an agency report card (You can download samples from our Forms library.) Others use an online survey tool to conduct client satisfaction surveys. But the really smart agencies set up an appointment: sending their principals and account managers to meet with primary contacts at each client company, review the year’s work and results, and discuss plans for the coming year. This is certainly a best practice typical of a true strategic partnership between agency and client.
However agencies do end-of-year relationship checkups, agency account managers can (and should) easily “take the client’s pulse” at any time, by being alert to some key relationship health indicators.
You know client relationships are healthy if…
The client communicates regularly with your account service team. As long as you actively communicate with the client, exchanging email, phone calls, texts or video-conferencing… you don’t need to worry. If those channels go dead for several days, get your principal on the phone and the AE into the client’s office.
The client acts on agency recommendations, even when the risk factor makes them uncomfortable. If clients trust you to steer them right, and generate the results they crave, you are golden. Trust is the ultimate relationship bonding agent, the Superglue of strategic partnerships. If clients shut down your best recommendations and override your higher-risk proposals, they don’t really believe that you’re guiding them in the correct direction.
The client approves invoices and rarely queries the details. If billing is running smoothly, the agency is operating in the “safe zone” financially. When clients question invoices almost routinely, or stall on paying, they could be expressing a general dissatisfaction with agency work or results.
The client partners with you for more than traditional marketing. Do they call you for internal communications help? Are you assisting with channel marketing? CRM? Social media? Content marketing? Web development? Or are you deemed a “one-trick pony”? If they’re using other providers for a large chunk of their marketing programs, you are a vendor, not a strategic partner.
The client invites your agency team to events and meetings, and brings their own people to agency events. This indicates that the client considers you to be part of their team, and vice versa. This is a very healthy ideal relationship level, because it expands your reach and number of contacts within the client organization. If clients block you from forming these deeper relationships, they don’t want to collaborate—they just want someone to execute marketing chores.
The client recommends the agency to their contacts and refers leads to the agency. Not only do they think you do great work for them—they believe you are good enough that referring you to friends and valued business peers will make them look good. When clients do not send referrals your way, and only grudgingly provide testimonials, they do not hold you or your work in esteem.
If you do not recognize your client relationships in any of these “pulse points,” some of your accounts could be in jeopardy. Be alert to symptoms of friction or dissatisfaction, and ready to intervene in order to restore client relationships to a state of good health.
Do your account service people need to polish their skills. Send them to AE College.