Proving to the Client That You Really “Get” Them – Key Practice #3

(This is the last in a series of three articles on agency client retention.)

Perhaps nothing signals the impending end to the agency-client relationship more than a client’s belief that the agency does not really understand them.  If the agency’s work is not reflecting what the client knows and believes about their brand, then the relationship will not last long.

Since the client’s perception will define the business relationship’s longevity, managing the client’s perception of how your agency understands their brand and its evolution is vital to successful client retention. A proactive agency should never get to the point where a perceived misunderstanding of the brand becomes an engagement-ending event. To stop this from happening to you, focus on these three critical practices – achieving pre-engagement claritymanaging the account management, and regular business check-ins.

Key Practice #3 – Regular business check-ins

Most agencies consider a regular check-in meeting with the client to be an obvious practice. The challenge that we often see is in how these meetings are managed and structured, and towards what end.

Clients are busy. Your staff is busy. No one wants to waste time, and sometimes agency staff can get lulled into a sense of false security by assuming that if the client is not asking for status updates or regular reporting, then everything must be going great. And maybe things are going fine, right up until they aren’t.

Regular business check-ins are how an agency practices “preventative medicine”. They are proactive opportunities to ensure that the client understands what the agency is doing for them, sees how the agency actions are producing correlated business results, and ultimately believes that the agency is delivering real business value for the money they are getting paid. All the data points presented to a client need to speak to these three key elements (actions, results, and value), and they should do so in the client’s vocabulary and context.

A quick aside about context. Often we see agencies that consider reporting to be a nuisance more than an opportunity. They just do the bare minimum with a basic set of canned reports or dashboards – hoping a few dials or graphs tracking “likes” and “shares” and “clicks” will check the box. But reporting that confuses the client, or worse, makes the client feel that the agency is either missing the point or cannot be bothered to find it, can obviously do more harm than good. Context is critical to the client and how they perceive the agency. Delivering credible data to the client within the context of the client’s specific business goals can be the difference between a client that feels strongly that your agency “really gets it”, vs. a client that questions the value of what you are doing with their money. Finding the right tools and processes that allow your agency to deliver real insights within a compelling context is worth investing some time and money to get right.

A weekly, monthly, or quarterly meeting on the health of the engagement with key stakeholders enables the agency to show results and discuss where things stand. This reassures the client that the agency is driving towards their goals and gives them a chance to ask questions or voice concerns about either the goals themselves, or how the tactics are advancing those objectives. These questions or concerns are the most important data the agency can get about the client’s engagement and satisfaction. An absence of data is never a good thing, and staff should see these regular check-ins as key to getting the feedback an agency needs to remain in sync with its clients.

What is the right frequency or length for these check-ins? Those who are the most directly involved should have the most frequent and most “in the weeds” meetings.  Other more senior and more removed stakeholders might only need infrequent reviews, but they should not be ignored as their buy-in at key moments can be critical. The size, complexity, and relative cost of the engagement in the eyes of the client should also dictate the rhythm of these important meetings. A campaign that the client feels is complex and expensive will require more check-ins, even if the agency sees the campaign as relatively modest.

Focusing on these three practices – achieving pre-engagement clarity, managing the account management, and regular business check-ins – will ensure that your agency’s clients are being heard and understood. Building these concepts into your processes and protocols will create an environment where it is very hard for a client to feel underappreciated or misunderstood, while at the same time you are reinforcing your achievements and your worth in ways that matter to them.

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