What makes a “good client”?
Two years ago, I was looking to grow my skill set and work on a wider range of projects, which led to transitioning to an Account Manager role within Adviso, a change from working autonomously on highly defined strategic planning projects. An Account Manager’s main duty is to represent their clients internally to ensure that project outputs and outcomes are aligned with client expectations, strategic vision, business objectives and organizational context. This implies guiding and equipping internal teams of multidisciplinary specialists with the information they need to achieve this mission. Basically, I straddle the line between client and agency, and this new reality brought an important change of perspective for me.
One of the main objectives for which I am evaluated is client satisfaction. Looking back on these last couple of years and the 7 different accounts I’ve overseen during that time, I came to reflect on what contributed to a successful relationship, for both clients and their agencies.
Typically, specialists drawn to the agency world are very driven, self-motivated, and passionate about their field of expertise. However, I’ve come to realize that there is a way to push their level of engagement even further.
Being a “Good client” can get you exceptional work from your agency. From my observations, it is evident that “Good clients” stimulate and motivate team members in continuously giving maximum effort, yield strong engagement, foster accountability in regards to business results, create rewarding professional relationships, smoother workflows and a proactive stance on opportunities for growth/innovation.
So I asked myself, what makes a good client? What can clients do to get exceptional work from their agency? Some of the answers came naturally from my experience working on 90 projects over my 6 years at Adviso, and I engaged several of my colleagues for their point-of-view (thanks for your time, guys!).
What may come as a surprise is that being a “good client” has nothing to do with the client’s personality, budget, product or brand. A big brand or a hot product doesn’t necessarily make a good client. Rather, a healthy client/agency relationship founded on transparent communication and respect creates a win/win situation for both parties.
How does one go about ensuring their team is enabling their agency in going over and above?
Understanding of roles and the added value of all experts
If you’re dealing with a supplier, it’s because you do not or cannot accomplish this in-house. It is a decision that was carefully thought out and likely also approved by a committee.
Communicating the motivations to internal teams and external partners ensures expectations are clear, while respecting what each brings to the table. If your team isn’t quite sure what value is expected from the agency (and vice versa), it will be challenging for your agency to ensure the appropriate resources are assigned, that collaboration happens at the right levels, and ensure the output is aligned with expectations – leading to disappointments. As well, if your agency is constantly justifying their place in the mandate, and the value they can bring to your organization, they are taking away focus and energy from reaching your objectives. As an example, you can work with an agency to execute a mandate or to strategize a path towards an objective. These expectations will lead to many decisions, but each should have different factors for success and should therefore be evaluated differently.
Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Fish bring many things to the table: their ability to navigate strong currents, spot shiny objects and breathe under water but they are not expert tree climbers. Instilling such an expectation would be cruel for the fish and set yourself up for disappointment. If you’re expecting your agency team to be able to climb a tree, please be clear about this to internal and external stakeholder to keep everyone focused on attaining the (same) desired outcome.
Be generous with your knowledge of your organization
Your products and their corresponding USPs, your vision, your business context and objectives, your organizational structure, your decision-making processes, your project stakeholders – these are crucial elements that can unfortunately sometimes be unclear or miscommunicated. They can also evolve over time, therefore it’s appropriate to update your agency team on such changes or reiterate the current situation.
Sharing and refining this information can stimulate partners and permit them to be forward-thinking and proactive, looking out for opportunities to lay the foundation to assist you in realizing future goals. Walkthroughs of stores and warehouses, discussions with customer-facing staff, presence at focus groups, access to organizational charts and updated research can further the understanding of your business/customers and turbocharges impactful digital strategies. In fact, in a survey by agency RPA and USA Today, agencies who said they were producing the strongest work were most likely to claim that they understood how to drive sales for their clients and they speak candidly with their clients.
When I worked on strategic planning for DeSerres’ e-commerce redesign, my client and I visited several stores, their warehouse and their customer service centre – in peak holiday shopping season. This experience brought to light so many insights on how users shopped in-store, how items were picked and packaged at the warehouse, and client satisfaction – all of which were taken into account to build a better client experience and reduce strain on personnel. Some of the conclusions were not necessarily revolutionary or “out-of-the-box,” but having the client there noticing these opportunities for improvement made them a priority during development. Experiencing something is not equivalent to reading about it in a report.
Don’t forget about the humans behind the computers
Interpersonal relations are key in creating emotional ties to your account. Collaboration, co-creation, and continuous feedback help align both parties in their operations. In today’s workplaces, we are often inundated with emails and we can easily fall into the trap of plugging away at lowering unread inbox counts. -Resolving complex issues by email is simply tedious: multiple stakeholders, endless replies, hours of back-and-forth for everyone on the receiving end. Even though we all have phones at our desks (and on our person at all times), we’ve forgotten that a quick phone call, or an in-person meeting, can successfully tear down communication barriers and be a more productive and efficient use of our time. When faced with these situations, I always recommend: speak first to find a common understanding, email a confirmation later.
Taking the time to speak with, meet with and interact with stakeholders improves performance. It is proven that bonded groups outperform fragmented groups, therefore it is important to view the relationship as a partnership. Although 77% of clients perceive their agencies as partners rather than vendors, only 54% of agency executives believe their clients view them this way – meaning there is a disconnect between the perception on client and agency side. We need to strive to bridge the distance between both parties so they are equipped to do their best work. This needs to be taken into account across all levels, encouraging opportunities and making the investment in time to build an empathetic relationship.
A healthy client/supplier is a win/win for both parties: it translates to more efficient and effective projects and a happier team. Of course, we as an agency have a responsibility to ensure we are a good partner and contributing to building a winning and profitable relationship. I don’t want to minimize the professionalism and dedication that I expect from the teams assigned to my accounts. Success is intrinsically related to the interactions between both parties, and their willingness to make it work. It is critical to create a feedback loop (formal and informal) to obtain valuable insight, honest feedback and engagement from the client to maximize outcomes.
How you communicate and what information you communicate is key in building strong, performant and profitable client/agency partnerships – otherwise, we’re all just feeling our way around in the dark, hoping not to stumble.