Episode 278

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The reality is, we spend so much time thinking and worrying about business development, and in most cases that exuberance is not really matched with the same level of excitement for our existing clients. Which is crazy because we all know that clients get much more profitable the longer we keep them. Despite knowing that – we keep making the same mistakes and jeopardizing our most important client relationships. What if we could avoid those mistakes?

Stacey Singer has a great love of how agencies combine business, creativity, and psychology. She has worked in agencies large and small and now she devotes her expertise to helping agencies build amazing client relationships that really hold up, even when things get rocky.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Stacey and I discuss why paying attention to existing client relationships is even more important than pursuing new clients. She walks through the need to try to imagine your relationship from the client perspective, as well as specific but seemingly small things she has learned that can sometimes damage that relationship.

We also dive into the need for a client satisfaction analysis, as well as why putting the client first doesn’t automatically mean blindly agreeing with whatever they ask for. Sometimes telling the client “no” leads to a stronger relationship.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Client Experience

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Specific ways agencies mess up the client experience
  • The need to see the client experience from the client’s perspective
  • Simple ways agencies undermine trust with clients
  • How to get a response from challenging clients
  • The importance of explaining the implications for actions
  • The error in interpreting client questions as an indication of a lack of trust
  • The need for clear service standards
  • How an exchange program with a client can be incredibly insightful for both sides of the relationship
  • The danger in letting your agency needs seep through to the clients
  • Why being invested in the client beyond just what your agency can offer can lead to more business actually
  • How to tell the client ‘no’ but have it sound like a ‘yes’
“We often make the mistake of assuming that if a client isn’t complaining, they’re happy. But as consumers, we know that we often only voice our displeasure by walking out the door.” @staceysinger_nj Click To Tweet “For a good client experience, putting the client first doesn’t always mean blindly agreement with what the client wants.” @staceysinger_nj Click To Tweet “While agencies often minimize the process, clients often focus on the bumps in the road.” @staceysinger_nj Click To Tweet “So many agencies are so focused on getting it done that they forget to think about HOW and the WHY it’s getting done.” @staceysinger_nj Click To Tweet “For a great client experience, you start by meeting the clients where they are.” @staceysinger_nj Click To Tweet “If you put the client first, everything else falls into place.” @staceysinger_nj Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Stacey Singer:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build A Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Super glad you’re back and am grateful for your time. I want to make a couple of quick announcements before I tell you about today’s guest because I think she’s going to be someone who captures your interest very quickly. And so, I want to sneak these in before I’ve already lost you to her intelligence and insights. So a couple of things, one, I’m super excited that Sell with Authority, the book that I wrote with Stephen Woessner about a year ago is now out on audible. So you can buy it through Amazon.

Drew McLellan:

You can just go to Audible and buy it. If you have an Audible account you can search for it on the app. And then you can hear Steven and I actually read our book to you, which of course means you can turn me into a munchkin or you can slow me way down, whatever you want to do, whatever makes you happy. But I think you’ll enjoy the book consumed that way as well. I know a lot of you are audio listeners or readers rather than pick up a book and read it. So if you have been patiently waiting for that Audible book to be out, it is finally out. So again, available on both Amazon and audible.com. So there’s that.

Drew McLellan:

Also, I want to remind you that a lot of about the peer group memberships that AMI offers, but we also have what we call associate memberships. And those are for people who want to have a tighter connection to AMI, want to get more insights from us, kind of the insider emails and things like that, but they’re not ready to join a peer group, either the virtual or the live group yet. So we have a silver golden and platinum level membership. And in those memberships, you get member only webinars, you get access to, depending on what level you join at, you might get access to the marketplace where we have tons of vendors who have put together special deals for all of you. You get discounts on our workshops.

Drew McLellan:

You get a free copy of our annual salary survey. You are going to get regular emails for me, probably, I’m going to guess probably on average once a month where I’m just saying, “Hey, here’s what’s on my radar screen. Want you to know about it.” Sometimes I share some resources. You can also participate in AMI’s group health insurance which we now can cover you, agencies in all 50 states. We have a 401(k) program that is spectacular. You can get discounts on coaching and consulting and everything. Pretty much everything we do you can get a discount on, and at the platinum level, you actually get one free seat at one of our workshop.

Drew McLellan:

So if you are interested in aligning tighter with AMI, and you want to get more from us, then the podcast and the newsletter and the things that we do for free, you’re welcome to join at the associate level, and you can find that at the AMI website under membership. So just an FYI that is out there. So, all right, let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. So Stacey Singer, has worked in agencies large and small, and now she devotes her time on what I think is a super important topic. So we spend so much of our time thinking about and worrying about Biz Dev and we just inject so much energy into the pursuit of new clients, and often in many agencies that exuberance for the new clients is not really matched with the same level of exuberance for our existing clients.

Drew McLellan:

And you and I both know that the person who is most likely to give us money is someone who’s already given us money. And that our profitability starts going up in significant ways as we have a client for a year or two years or three years or 10 years, it just gets easier to make money and to be really useful to them and to be embedded in their organization. So I think if anything, if 2020 taught us anything it was, boy, we better have rock solid relationships with our existing clients because when something hits the skids, that relationship allows us to either save the day for them and be their hero.

Drew McLellan:

It allows for them to not just slam the door in our face and say goodbye, but to have a discussion around if they need to ratchet back their spending or whatever, we get to still participate in that conversation and A, help them make good decisions but also B, protect the agency a little bit. And I think one of the things that we all saw in 2020 was, the clients had stuck around, the clients that believed in the agency and that kept spending, even if it was at a reduced rate for a period of time, they kept the agency alive. And so, there’s incredible value for a plethora of reasons in our existing clients.

Drew McLellan:

But most agencies actually don’t have a practice of making sure that they are delighting and exceeding the expectations of their clients. Most agencies don’t do customer satisfaction surveys, most agencies don’t do phone calls where the agency owner is calling the client and checking in on how the team is doing. We just assume that if the client isn’t complaining, they’re happy. And the reality is we know this is consumers, a lot of times we’re unhappy and we just don’t say anything.

Drew McLellan:

And the way we finally signal our displeasure is when we walk out the door. So Stacey’s expertise is in how to create an amazing client experience and to create connections and relationships with clients that really do hold up when things get rocky. And so, I believe this is a super important topic for us to be talking about, and I am excited to introduce you to her and for her to share with you everything she knows. So let’s get to it. Stacey, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Stacey Singer:

Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

So give the listeners a little bit of a sense of how you came to have this depth of knowledge and some pretty strong opinions about the client experience. Where does that come from?

Stacey Singer:

Sure. It comes from about 30 years of working with agencies. So I started my career, 60-person independent agency. The agency was growing quickly and ultimately was bought by WPP, which is a very large holding company. And I always loved agencies. I loved this idea of the combination of business and creativity and psychology. And work my way up through account management, was running larger teams, larger agencies. And what I realized when I was running very large teams and agencies, except the psychology part of the mix, changed from looking at my client’s customers and the psychology of what they did to the psychology of my clients.

Stacey Singer:

Why did they hire agencies, fire agencies, how you built a deep relationship with them. And ultimately, I focused on that and really developed a lot of policies and approaches that were very successful on a lot of theories. And in my final few years at WPP, I helped them develop and I led a global client satisfaction program. And that became very relevant in terms of my thinking because we got feedback from thousands of clients, big and small, all industries, all geographies working with all different types of agencies. And I really got a sense of what mattered most to them. And that really led me to sort of this point of view and thinking that I have now.

Drew McLellan:

So I don’t think there’s an agency on here alive that doesn’t that creating a good client experience is important. So given that their heart is in the right place, how do we mess it up?

Stacey Singer:

Well, I think we mess it up because while the way you stated it is probably true that no one’s trying to create a bad client experience. I think that agencies think that the work is what matters most. And of course the work matters. Clients want work that is on time and on budget and on strategy, but how they get there really matters to clients. And I think agencies tend to underestimate that part. I remember a client of mine saying, “well, then that’s why they call it a creative process. It’s a process. It takes time.”

Stacey Singer:

And they minimize the different bumps in the road that would happen for clients. And clients, in some ways focus on those bumps in the road. The classic client comment in a review was, while the end result was good, getting there was painful. So they see the client experiences having a huge amount of significance. And I think that agencies underestimate the importance and they rationalize and we’ll say, “Well, that was just a bump in the road. But look where we got.” And for clients, it has outsized meeting, in part, because when you think about client experience, it happens all day every day.

Stacey Singer:

I mean, it’s everything, right? It’s every email, every invite, every Zoom, every meeting. No matter how many deliverables and agency has, the amount of client interactions will be 10 times, 100 times the number of deliverables. I’ve done reviews with agencies and a small account made of hundreds of interactions a year, a big account will have literally thousands of interactions. And what I always tell them is, “Every one of those interactions is a chance to impress or distress.” And I think agencies underestimate the importance of those things.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think agencies are so focused on getting it done, right? That they sort of forget about, the how they get it done.

Stacey Singer:

The how and the why. I think that a lot of agency training to your point is on what has to get done and who has to do it. Here’s our process and here’s what the PM does or the account person, and that’s important. I’m not minimizing any of that. But they don’t focus as much on the how or the why. So do we have to tell clients no sometimes? Sure. But how do you tell them no and make it sound more like a yes. How do you have a difficult conversation without coming off as being difficult? And agencies oftentimes don’t train on those things, and they don’t explain that when they go South, what it can mean. Yeah. So that’s really sort of, despite their belief and maybe their desire to have a good experience, there’s lots of things that get in the way

Drew McLellan:

Do you think part of the challenge for agencies is difficult them to see the relationship and the interaction from the client’s point of view?

Stacey Singer:

Completely. Agencies, and I was so guilty of this until I really started looking at the client satisfaction results, we speak to each other and it’s a difficult business. And most agency folks come to work every day and want to do a good job. And they put their complete self into the work. So when they get some negative feedback, they tend to look at it from their point of view. And most agency folks don’t realize that they are a… Sometimes a small part of the client stay. Sometimes they don’t understand the client’s pressures, and why they’re asking for certain things.

Stacey Singer:

So we sort of tell ourselves our own story and we’re the hero of our story. And of course, the client is telling a different story, and they’re hero of their story. And it’s tough. One of the things that I asked folks to do in my training is to tell the story from a client’s perspective. So if they’re coming through with some sort of client issue, I tell them, now tell me from the client’s perspective and only give me the information that they know and what matters to them. And it becomes a completely different situation.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the things I observed, and I’m curious about your opinion about, one of the things I observe is that agency folks expect the client to just trust them, right? So we have this good relationship. We have this good rapport, we’ve been working together for a while. So I don’t understand this, the agency per se. I don’t understand why they need to know every little detail along the way.

Drew McLellan:

Why can’t they just trust that we’ll get it done on time and on budget. And it’s okay for these big gaps of quiet while we’re actually heads down doing the work. I think that agencies think that way because they are juggling so many balls that every time they talk to a client or email a client or whatever, it takes their eye off of the ball. But they think the client should be comfortable with that silence. And I’m always saying to them, “Silence makes everybody uncomfortable.” Right?

Stacey Singer:

Everyone. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. It makes everyone uncomfortable. And for the client, they are putting in some ways their future and their success in the hands of the agency.

Drew McLellan:

Right. If this doesn’t go well, I might get fired.

Stacey Singer:

Right. I might get fired. So I need to know, I need confidence that you have the right people and the right skills. And you’re dedicating the right time, and the work will be good. And part of the communication is giving people comfort and building their own confidence and minimizing risk for them. And it may be over time the clients may build more confidence in an agency or in a team, but people want to know what’s happening.

Stacey Singer:

And even small things, like one of the things that seems almost silly, but I have to train people to say, when you receive an email from the client, if it’s going to take some time to get an answer, respond and say, in so many words, I got your email. It’ll take me 24 hours, 36 hours to get the answer, but I’m going to get back to you. And sometimes the agency folks said, “Well, I didn’t have the answer,” and it’s like, “Well, how do they know that you got the email?” They’re nervous. They sent you this request for some reason. So something as basic as that can undermine trust.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And what I’m anticipating, what I’m hearing in my ear from everybody who’s listening to us, saying, “We try to have more meetings, more touch bases, more whatever with the clients, we can’t get them to give us their time. How do you do that?” If you’re an agency that wants to have more communication, that wants to create a tighter bond and create a better customer or client experience and the client is so busy running from meeting to meeting, doing their thing, that they can’t carve out the time. How does an agency overcome that hurdle?

Stacey Singer:

Well, I think first you have to meet the client where they are. I think a lot of times when agencies say that, it’s about their agenda. We’re inviting them to an all-day meeting and they won’t come or we’re inviting them to a baseball game or whatever it is. I think you have to start with the client’s agenda. What is it they’re trying to do? How is it that they like to work? And then bit by bit you earn trust and it expands. I often find with agencies when they get a new client contact, so it’s an existing client but a new contact, they don’t even ask the person how they like to work.

Drew McLellan:

I’m astonished. Or they don’t even ask them, how is the best way for me to communicate to you? Is it carrier Pigeon, text, phone, call, email, fax, what?

Stacey Singer:

Yeah, how do you like to work? And especially now when people are working from home, do you want to shift the day, do you want… And what happens is when the agency goes in and says, “Well, this is the way we’ve always worked.” Even something as little as that, the person says, “Well, you’re not interested in me.” And they don’t have trust in them. And then from there, it’s hard to build forward. So you have to really meet the client where they are and start with how they want to work. And then I think you can build on from that.

Drew McLellan:

So if a client doesn’t make themselves available, so a lot of agencies want to do a status meeting every so often or something like that, or they need information from the client. If they’re getting ghosted or they are not getting responses in a very reasonable period of time. And let’s face it, agencies are working against a deadline and it’s irritating and frustrating when you’re trying to accomplish what the client asked you to do, and you need something from the client and you can’t get it. How do you recommend, or how do you train or teach people to break through that? What feels like a brick wall to actually get what you need from the client?

Stacey Singer:

Well, sometimes I find that it gets back to, again, the how. So you have an account person or a program person writing email saying, I need to talk to you about the website. And they’re frustrated because they’re not getting a response. And by changing their approach, by saying to the client, I need to talk to you by this date. Here’s what’s due. And then here’s the implications for you, right? That I need this information by Friday so we can release materials on Monday so we can make meet the deadline that we set out for you. And most clients, because they want their work to get done on time.

Stacey Singer:

Because again, it’s their career. If they understand what the implications are and what’s needed, they will give it to you. But when folks write these very broad notes or the opposite, I need this ASAP. And I always say, “If you pull your ASAP in my ASAP you’re not the same thing.” Right? I’m on a podcast with Drew now, I’m not available. But if someone said to me, “No, I need this by 12:30 today.” I might respond differently. So again, I think it’s up to the agency to change their behavior. And I think when you do, the clients change.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things I find sort of fascinating about the way agencies are structured is that, and granted the bigger the client the more seasoned the account service person. But a lot of times we’re asking 24-year-olds to foster a relationship with somebody who’s worth a quarter of a million, a half a million, a million dollars to the agency. And I think of what I was like at 23 or 24, right? And I think, why are we thinking this is going to work?

Stacey Singer:

And they probably won’t.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stacey Singer:

And I think that we assume whether they’re 24 or 34 or 44, that people know how to work with clients. And it’s not. Some people are better at it naturally than others, but there are skills required. And I consider myself blessed that my early managers were folks that really worked with me, and would say to me, “You’re going into a meeting with the client. What’s the agenda look like, how are you going to answer this question? What are you going to do about this?” You need to prepare those things.

Stacey Singer:

And I think not only are we potentially hiring people with not a lot of experience, but we’re not actually helping them be a success. So a lot of the work and the training that I do, is trying to give people some of those skills and help them prepare for those things. But to your point, if you send a 24-year-old in, and there’s nothing wrong with being 24, they probably don’t have all the skills that they need, and it’s really putting them and the client in a difficult situation.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We teach some AE boot camps and I’m always astonished when we start bootcamp by saying, “What do you think the client cares about the most?” And what they don’t answer is, please help me keep my job and maybe even get a raise or a promotion by making me look good. It is about meeting deadlines and getting the work done. They don’t really think about the bigger picture of the risk the client is taking by hiring anyone. Right? That basically, they’re saying, “I’m putting my job in your hands. And if you don’t deliver, yes, you, the agency might get fired, but I might get fired right along with you.”

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. And most people, now that’s where that kind of training is so important because they don’t really understand it. And they don’t understand the impact of some of their actions on the client. And what I do in some of my training, that sounds like we try to accomplish some similar things, is share some examples outside of the