Episode 278:

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 agency. Because I think when someone’s in it, you’re emotionally invested. So I will often share an example of say you went to a, this actually happened to me, you go to a car mechanic, your car, you’re afraid it needs an expensive repair. I don’t know anything about cars.

Stacey Singer:

And I say to people, “What would make for a good experience besides getting the car fixed?” And they’ll say things like, “Well, you’d want to know the price before they start fixing it. You’d want to know if the price changed when they went under the hood, you want their professional advice, maybe. These are things you must fix. These are things you don’t have to fix.” Right? And I said, “People, all those things are the same things the clients want.” That if you think about it, just in terms of an experience, and an experience when you are putting yourself in someone else’s hands, like I’m not able to fix the car myself.

Stacey Singer:

I have to rely on this professional. The same things that you’d want in that situation, I believe a client want. So when agency folks say to me, “Well, we sent them the estimate and we needed approval in two hours.” I’ll say, “Well, that’s not really what…” A client needs more time than that. So if I can get them to think about it outside of an agency situation, usually they’re a little bit more clear headed than when they’re emotionally involved and in the middle of it because it’s human nature to defend yourself.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think some people take it as a, they don’t trust me, like when a client asks for details or backup or proof points. I think sometimes agency people react as though it’s, they’re calling me a liar or they don’t trust that I know what I’m doing, as opposed to oftentimes the client having to go back to someone else and go, here’s the data I gathered to demonstrate that the choice I made, this agency is doing their best.

Stacey Singer:

It’s a good choice. Yeah. And I think sometimes they’re asking for information in that sort of example because they didn’t need it for their boss. Sometimes they’re really trying to understand for themselves and learn. And sometimes they are asking because deep down they think something’s not right. And they’re trying, and they’re trying to reconcile, “Well, how come this project costs twice as much as the last project?” And trying to sort of figure out what’s going on.

Stacey Singer:

So the questions can have different meanings, but in all cases, it’s important to answer them because it suggests there’s something else that the client needs. But I think that to your point, agency folks tend to think about it, again, from their perspective and their feelings and not quite as much about the client’s feelings.

Drew McLellan:

So in that circumstance and that example, do you recommend that the agency person try and ascertain the why behind the client is asking, or do you think that’s not an appropriate conversation?

Stacey Singer:

In most cases, it makes sense to ask why. And part of it is, I want to make sure I’m giving you what you need. And they may say, to your point, my boss asked me something or I don’t understand. So lots of times if you get questions about staffing, usually those come out of a place where the client is thinking, do I have too few staff or too many, there’s something they can’t quite reconcile. But it’s helpful to find out why they’re asking those kinds of things.

Drew McLellan:

What do you think the biggest mistake we make when it comes to the client experience?

Stacey Singer:

Well, there’s a few things. I think first, as you said, is that most people don’t recognize just how important it is. The second is, most agencies don’t really monitor it. So they may get some feedback in the client satisfaction study, and again, a lot of them sort of rationalize that as being part of the process. I do some things where I work with agencies to audit accounts, to look at what the experience is, there’s different ways you can do that. But to see, what is it like to work with us? If we have to schedule meeting, can it get done in a day or does it take weeks? How long does it take to turn jobs around?

Stacey Singer:

All of those kinds of things, so really auditing it. And I think another mistake is that people don’t, who talked about train people. And then I think the last one is a lot of agencies don’t have very clear service standards. They have clear workflow and policies and procedures, but this idea that every client conversation gets an email the same day, or all emails get answered within 12 hours or you have to have your camera on for Zoom calls, whatever it is, but a clear service standard of this is how we interact with the client. And most agencies don’t have those sorts of things.

Drew McLellan:

So I want to take a quick break, but when we come back, we want to talk about a little bit more about those service standards and how inside the agency you create those. And then how do you sort of monitor and make sure that the team is following them. So let’s take a quick break and we’ll come back and talk about that. Hey there, do you have an up and comer inside your agency who’s become like your right-hand person? How are you investing in them? Who are they surrounding themselves with? And who are they learning from? You might be interested in taking a look at our key executive network, it’s built to help you groom the leaders in your agency.

Drew McLellan:

It’s designed to surround them with other AMI taught agency leaders. And it’s facilitated by one of AMI’s top coaches, Craig Barnes. They meet twice a year and they stay connected in between meetings with calls, Zoom get togethers and email. AMI Agency owners call it one of the best professional development investments they’ve ever made. Head over to agency managementinstitute.com and look under the membership tab for key executive network. All right, let’s get back to the interview. All right. We’re back. And we’re talking about the client experience. And so, before the break, we were talking about that many agencies do not have customer experience or customer care standards.

Drew McLellan:

And you listed a few of them, how quickly you return an email or a phone call, or what I find astonishing, you have your camera on if you’re on Zoom. I don’t get that. Of course you should have your camera on it’s video call, but whatever. So how does an agency begin to think through developing those standards? And then how do you… No agency owner is monitoring their employee’s email to see how quickly they’re responding to employee or declines and things like that, what is the check and balance around that? How do I make sure that everybody’s following the agency way?

Stacey Singer:

Well, I think the places where I’ve seen it done best, it starts sometimes with their culture and values that this idea of how they interact with clients is sort of baked into the company. So that’s the first place it starts, it’s baked into their training. It’s something that the senior folks model, it’s baked into performance reviews, it’s really integrated into all aspects of the agency. Even things like brand reviews. So I worked with a lot of agencies, a brand review was sort of a classic, that’s internally checked to see how we’re doing. And people will review the creative and the big strategic ideas.

Stacey Singer:

So I worked with agencies to add experience into the brand review. How much turnover did we have on that brand? How many open positions did we have? How long were they open? How many jobs did we do? How long did it take us to turn the jobs around? Did they have errors? How many jobs were on budget? How many jobs required to re estimate? So you can also use data and bake those into other parts of the agency management experience, report card, status meetings, brand reviews, to look how you’re doing. So part of it is really integrating it into all aspects of the agency. So I worked, as I said, for a large holding company so financial management was baked into everything. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, of course.

Stacey Singer:

Right, right. So it’s the sort of the same idea is you bake this thing into every part of what you’re doing.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the things that is most challenging for agency folks is a lot of them have never worked on the client side. They don’t know what the client’s day looks like. They don’t understand. One of the things I talked to agency folks about is, the difference in the political climate on, in an agency versus on a client side. And that they just have no idea how vulnerable the client feels at all times inside that environment. And that it’s not the collaborative, let’s all kumbaya work together, like we’re used to in a lot of agencies. So how does an agency help their employees understand that their clients really are pretty vulnerable most of the time and that the client then interprets.

Drew McLellan:

So in something that you wrote that I read, you were talking about the agency shows up a little late for a Zoom meeting because they’re having technical issues, but in the client’s head they’re going, they don’t respect me. I’m not the most important client, maybe they don’t have enough people, they’re spread too thin. They just start making stuff up in their head. How do we as agency folks teach our employees and ourselves as agency owners, how do we teach ourselves to see the world through that filter? How do we make people more sensitive to that?

Stacey Singer:

Well, I think there’s formal and informal things you can do. So again, I think culturally, if you or I are running a team at an agency, we’d be talking about those things all the time. So when I’m running a team and someone comes into my office and they tell me some story of what’s happened, I will try to empathize with them and give them support. But then also completely shift it to the client’s perspective. Here’s what I’m hearing you saying. Here’s what I think the client’s thinking. And usually when we have that discussion, you could see the light bulbs going off.

Stacey Singer:

So I do think part of this is on agency leadership, and there’s other things that people can do. I’ve done exchange programs, which have also been great when you have the client come to the agency. And I could talk about that. Those have been very enlightening in terms of the way things get done. I’ve had clients come to all-hands meetings and present and just talk about what matters to them. And I think anytime you can give that feedback to folks, it helps them understand what’s going on.

Drew McLellan:

So tell me a little bit more about the exchange program because I’m sure that people’s ears perked up when you said that?

Stacey Singer:

Well, I had a client and we had agreed to swap a few people, and we had folks that went over to the client side and they had folks that came over to the agency side, sort of more junior spots. And I think to your point, our folks realized how challenging it can be to get things done at the client, so they were trying to introduce a new workflow and it took 30 meetings. Coming up with the workflow took 30 minutes, but getting it approved took 30 meetings. And just understanding how their day works, they’re booked back to back, they’re triple booked, how many different meetings they have to have. Just understanding all of that was really wonderful for our team.

Stacey Singer:

For the client, the thing that I remember most is they were working on a presentation. And they said it was the first time they tracked their time because of the client, clients don’t attract time. So they said, “Well, it took two hours to write it. And then an hour to review it with my manager and then two hours to revise it. And in the end it took 30 hours to do it.” And he said, “I never thought about things in terms of time.” And things that you think might be easy. You go, “Why does the agency charge me for that? It’s a presentation.” But when they actually looked at all the time that went into getting it from beginning to end, it actually takes a lot of time.

Stacey Singer:

So I think those were probably, again, the way people work and the pressures they’re under were probably the biggest takeaway is for the participants. And then of course, when they go back to their original environment they can present the voice of the other group. So the person who was on our team who went to the client, sometimes we’d get in a meeting and we’d be talking and there’s a, “Wait a minute. I think the client probably thinks this.” So I think anytime you can do those sorts of things it’s really useful.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Even a job shadowing with a client, if you can’t do the actual exchange, even getting to spend a day or two shadowing or hanging out with the client as they go through their day, to me gives an AE an incredible insight into, oh, no wonder it takes so long for them to do this or that because here’s the chain of command or here’s the processor. It took them three days just to get somebody’s attention to look at something. So I do think you’re right. I think it gives a different perspective that you can’t kind of unsee what you’ve seen.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. And it’s funny because, at least in my history, few people go back and forth. It seems to be sort of agency people and client people, and there’s a couple that have switched sides but there’s a certain temperament, and that makes it difficult to understand the other party because you don’t have a lot of folks who are going back and forth.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think people are either wired to be on the agency side or wired to be on the client side. So a lot of times if there’s a switch it’s because they jumped into the wrong side and went, “Oh, I don’t like this at all. I need to go where it’s calmer or where it’s more exciting and energetic and frenetic.” And I do think people are wired a certain way.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. That’s my experience as well. But it does limit understanding.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and in some ways, I mean, they are very different. So it’s almost by default that we would think the way a client thinks because we chose this crazy agency life. And so, we can’t imagine what their world is like because it’s so different.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. Yeah. And I think for me is like, when I was working on the client satisfaction study, one of the ways I was able to get such understanding of the client’s side is because I wasn’t emotionally connected to the feedback. So when you’re at an agency and someone says something about you or the work, your first response is an emotional one, a human one. But when I was running that program, I was reading information in fact about other teams. So I could look at it and really read what the client was saying and really understand it. And I didn’t have a response about me or my work because it wasn’t about me, but it actually was very helpful in terms of understanding things.

Drew McLellan:

Are there certain things we do that get under client’s skin more than others?

Stacey Singer:

There’s so many things we do that get under client’s skin. And I had created, based on my discussions with clients and agencies, this list of behaviors that the clients hate. And I have a list of 20, there’s probably 20,000, but I was trying to pick the top ones. And I think the things that we do the clients dislike, they dislike the action and what’s more important is what it means to them. So some of the behaviors are around things like staffing. So clients will often talk about bait and switch.

Stacey Singer:

They thought they were going to get a certain team, they get a different team, and that’s understandably annoying. But it also undermines their trust in the agency. I thought you were going to do this. Other things with staffing, and this is interesting, is if there are too many people or too few people on an assignment. So the too many people, I call it, takes a village. But it’s the classic example, is a client walks into a meeting room when we used to have meetings and there’s 17 people there. It’s like, “How can there be 17 people working on this?” Right? And-

Drew McLellan:

Well, and you know they’re going $150 an hour, $150 an hour. I’m multiplying by 17 whatever your billable rate is and thinking, surely you could have passed the information on to somebody.

Stacey Singer:

Right. And then if a few people in that room don’t say anything in the meeting, oh my God. So too many people is a problem, but the other side of it, too few people is also a problem. Because again, their future depends on the agency doing there job well. So if I was supposed to have five people and I have two, the same person is on every phone call, that’s concerning. So a lots of things with staffing are upsetting to clients. And then like we talked about being on Zoom, if you’re on Zoom or you’re on no camera, you’re on mute, you’re basically telling the client I’m multitasking. You are so unimportant to me that-

Drew McLellan:

That I’m checking email right now.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah, I’m checking email and every now and then I’ll go uh-huh, uh-huh. So it says to the client, I’m not a priority.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Same thing that happens when employees are checking their phone or doing things like that when you’re in a physical meeting with each other, right?

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. So all of those things, everything sends a signal. And I think when agencies overstate their capabilities, so when an agency says, “Oh, I can do that and I can do that.” And they really don’t have resources or capabilities in an area. That’s obviously a problem for clients. And lots of things having to do with putting what the client perceives as the agency’s business ahead of the client’s business. So the agency that’s always trying to sell something, regardless if that’s what the client needs or not. Understandably it makes clients suspect as it would in any circumstance. Right. Again, if you think about it outside of an agency experience, that will be upsetting to you.

Stacey Singer:

I was reading reviews and I called the agency and I said to them, “Do you have by any chance have something going on where you’re really pushing people to hit a revenue target for the fourth quarter?” And they said, “Yeah. As a matter of fact, we’re a little behind so we’ve been writing folks notes that we need X amount of money for the fourth quarter to hit our target.” And I said, “Because it’s seeping through.” Right? Because what your folks must be saying to clients, is they must be trying to sell things that clients don’t believe they need. And in your review,

Drew McLellan:

Or putting down pressure to buy it now.

Stacey Singer:

Yes, yes. Right. So it’s like a car salesman for the end of the month. And in the reviews, the clients are literally saying, I feel like the agency is putting their business ahead of mine. So sometimes you can see that these things happen in the agency may be innocently. Maybe the CFO said, “Hey, people should know we’re close to our target,” but then it translates another way. And the way the client interprets that behavior is you’re putting your business ahead of mine.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the things I talked to AEs about all the time is that, a great AE understands the client’s business enough that they can make suggestions and recommendations and have nothing to do with the agency. Just a, “Hey, I noticed something something on the end cap, have you ever thought about doing something, whatever.” But if we’re actually invested in the client, everything we suggest shouldn’t be about lining our own pocket.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. And one it’s the right thing to do. And I was always trying to do what’s right, and everything else falls into place. But in terms of client psychology, if you are the solution to every problem, that doesn’t sound believable. So again, you undermine trust because it is not possible for a single agency to be the solution to all problems.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and all problems aren’t marketing or communications related either, right? But I think it demonstrates that you’re actually paying attention and thinking bigger picture about their business if all of a sudden you ask them a question about their distribution model or something else or their packaging, that allows them to go, “Oh, I never saw it that way.”

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. And that you understand the business. Because one of the things, again, a behavior the clients don’t like it, particularly if it’s a longer term agency, that people really don’t understand the business. That they’re churning out the work, but they don’t really know what drives the business. So again, that shows sort of a lack of commitment. And if you’re the client, it puts the agency in a very dangerous situation because it says, “Well, why do I need an agency? I could have a bunch of freelancers do these things because there’s no history or knowledge of what we are as a business.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think sometimes agencies get into the mode of it’s all about the deliverables, whatever the stuff is that we make, as opposed to the strategy. I think one of the things agencies don’t understand oftentimes is, that there’s no one inside the client’s organization where your client safe brainstorming or coming up with crazy ideas or talking about things that aren’t going well.

Drew McLellan:

That’s discouraged in many client organizations, but if you the agency person, can be the thinking partner, the sounding board for that client, no work’s going to come out of it. They just need to talk out loud and they’re looking for somebody to do that with. That on the flip side, that’s a way for us to build trust and equity with that client.

Stacey Singer:

Right. And ultimately getting back to earlier discussion, that’s the client who will make time for you. Right. Because you’re really filling a need for them in terms of, as you said, sharing their perspective, share and crazy ideas. And sometimes those things do create work. Right. The idea of brainstorming and solving a problem often does create an idea. Yeah. And it’s funny because agencies will often pitch something. They’ll say, “Well, we need to get social media business,” and they’re selling it whether the client needs them to do it or not. Whereas if they sort of change their perspective and are very focused on the client and the client’s business and the client’s needs, the right word comes.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. I can remember early in my career I was with YNR, and we would get emails every once in a while about a department that was slow. So it would be, the video department super slow, so push video. Right. And I always would think, “Well, what if my clients don’t need video?” Right. But I think that is the mindset of have many agencies are, we’ve got to make sure everybody’s busy and deployed. So how can we keep them busy with client work? Well, then we have to sell whatever it is that they do.

Stacey Singer:

And while that’s understandable. As I said, it sort of seeps through, so you were smart enough to ignore those notes. But if someone goes in and tries to sell video and the client doesn’t need it, you undermine your entire relationship with. Whereas the agents that you can say, you don’t need this or I’m not the right solution. Or we can do it with three of these instead of six, they’re going to be a partner for life because they trust them.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So if now, I mean, I’m now… Let’s assume that we’re talking about the AE. And I when I talk to AE is I say, “You’re in the center of the storm. You serve three masters every day. You serve the agency owner, you serve your internal team who needs stuff from you and you serve the client.” So I think it’s a very challenging position. So how, if I’m the AE that is in the middle of that sort of storm, because sometimes the interests are in direct conflict with one another. How do I determine whose interest wins?

Stacey Singer:

I would generally say that if you put the client first, everything else falls into place. So if the client asks you to do something, that say the agency doesn’t know how to do or it’s not the client’s best interest. If you’re honest about that, then ultimately, as I said, you build trust and the right things happen. You know if on the other hand, and I’ve had situations like this, say, well, we get to sell seven of these meetings or 10 of these campaigns, when the client realizes later on that they didn’t need it.

Stacey Singer:

And they always will. Long-term, you’ve undermined your entire relationship. So I say that always go with the client first. And that doesn’t mean always saying yes to the client. Often it means, redirecting or saying no or bringing a different idea. So when I say client first, it doesn’t mean blindly agreeing to everything that they want, but putting their interest first and really thinking about what helps them grow their business.

Drew McLellan:

So a lot of agencies will say that clients, that the speed of the work keeps getting faster for… Clients need things faster and they also want them less expensively. So they do end up having to either stay late, work weekends. A lot of times agencies don’t do a great job of letting a client know that what they’re asking for is out of scope. So when an agency has to say no to a client, which I don’t think they do all that often, I think they do need to, I just don’t think they do it. When an agency has to say no to a client, how do you recommend that you do that in a way that protects and maintains the relationship?

Stacey Singer:

Well, I think first, again, starting this idea of client first, I think people should always understand what the client wants to do and why they want to do it, what their objective is. Because sometimes you really shouldn’t be saying no, depending on what it is, or sometimes you can say no or redirect. But it’s helpful to understand what the real objective is so you’re not just saying no blindly. And then I think it’s best to offer people suggestions and recommendations that also meet their objective, but they may be a different way of approaching something.

Stacey Singer:

And usually people are, usually pretty rational in saying, if you have other ideas for something or a way to do something that saves time or money or just a better idea, people will usually gravitate to that. And I also think you can talk to the client about implications of certain things. So if the client is, and this would depend on your relationship with the client, but if the client is always making everything an emergency that’s really not. I’ve had discussions with the client that say, “Look, we have a good team and this team can work on other accounts in the agency.” And this idea that every Friday night we get some emergency and they stay, and they’ve done it the last five Friday nights, ultimately, they may ask to come off.

Stacey Singer:

So I want to leave emergencies for real emergencies. And here’s how I can handle this situation. And again, that depends on your relationship with the client, but a combination of sometimes you need to say yes, and sometimes you can redirect with other options that make more sense. And sometimes you can talk about, again, the implications for them or for the team. Because ultimately, as we’ve been talking about throughout this time, they want their own success. So if they have people who are… If they have a team where they’re constantly losing people because they’re difficult to work with, that won’t help with their success.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think sometimes are some clients who are so busy and moving so fast that their emergencies, basically whatever they forgot becomes the agency’s emergency. So is there a point in time where the agency just says, no, we can’t do with that. It just can’t be done that fast or we’ve got too much other work for other clients. How do you handle that situation? Because I think many agencies are in that situation on a pretty consistent basis.

Stacey Singer:

Well, I think there’s a few things. One is I think you can over time, help collect better or train clients. So you start to see certain client patterns and you can get ahead of them on certain things, and you don’t have to always be the victim to those things. So again, you figure out how the client likes to work and you can start earlier and start to anticipate some of these sort of things. And I think sometimes it’s always this balance because you don’t want to leave a client hanging, if you’re saying no. But sometimes you can put a certain amount of responsibility back on them, and that ends up changing the balance of things.

Stacey Singer:

So I’ve had things where clients wanted, what I thought were very unreasonable deadlines and I’ve said to them, “Okay, we’re going to produce something in one week instead of two. But we still need time to produce it. But if you want to meet your deadline, you’re going to have to ask your legal review for a special review that’s off the calendar because we still need a certain amount of time to produce this.” And sometimes the client will do that. And sometimes they don’t want to use up their capital doing those kinds of things. And because you’ve shown that you’re willing to meet them sort of halfway, that’s efficient.

Stacey Singer:

And then sometimes if in that case, if they’re not going to ask for this special date, and the date is going to be three weeks out, then you actually have more time to produce it. But again, it’s this idea of giving people, I think, options and making clear what you can do and what you can’t do and what you need them to do. So it’s really about… Some of it is about just showing that you’re willing to meet someone halfway, but you’re not necessarily willing to turn the world upside down because doing that will ultimately harm that

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That may be the piece that’s missing is that yes, we could do it in a day or two, but that means that we’re eliminating quality checks and other things that put you at risk.

Stacey Singer:

Right. And I think the implications are always about the client. Yeah. It’s either the work is at risk, the team is at risk, budget is at risk. Something that’s important to them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. At the end of the day, I guess really what you’re saying is, that if we’re client centric and if we do our best to understand the client, to genuinely care about the client, which that part I don’t think, I think most agencies do genuinely care about their clients. But if we keep their experience and their side of the equation, their reality in mind, we can forge a better experience for them and a better relationship

Stacey Singer:

Without a doubt. And I think what they want from us is that empathy and also our expertise. So again, it’s not just saying yes, a good agency person can say, “I understand your objective and I understand what you’re asking for. And I think there’s another way we can do that that would also give you your objective.” And then they’re feeling heard, but they’re also feel like they’re benefiting from our expertise.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. It really does boil down to actually investing in the other person inside the relationship and caring as much about their success as your own inside the agency.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. And if they are successful, the agency’s always successful. So it’s really, if you put the client first, the agency will do well. And a lot of my career and success was when the agency was doing well then I did well because when the agency was growing, I got opportunities.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. And when you think about it, the clients that get promoted, get advanced, leave one company to go to another company when there are champion inside those organizations. Most agencies, that’s what they love. They love a client that takes them with them on the journey. But to do that, we have to be a valued partner.

Stacey Singer:

Yeah. But that’s why a lot of my focus is on keeping growing business on organic growth because the situation that you just outlined is the best new business situation. Right? So it picks up the phone and calls you, there’s no pitch, it doesn’t cost you anything. You have a certain level of trust and understanding. And as you said, you have to have done things in the past to earn that. But if you act in that way and you earn it, you find that the new business is just happening and that’s a much easier way to grow your business then participating in endless pitches.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. This has been a great conversation, Stacey. Thanks for spending time with us today. If folks want to learn more about you, about your services, what’s the best way for them to track you down and learn more?

Stacey Singer:

I’d say, go to my website staceysinger.com and I have lots of articles that talk about client experience.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you for being with us.

Stacey Singer:

Thank you. I enjoyed it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, me too. I think this is a conversation that we could have for hours and hours. I think there are endless ways for us to improve our relationship with clients, which I honestly think also improves relationships inside the organization. I just think it is there at that the heart of what we do. And then when we do it well, everything benefits.

Stacey Singer:

It all falls into place.

Drew McLellan:

Yap. I agree. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Stacey gave you a lot of things to think about, and I would encourage you, whether you encourage your entire account service team to listen to this podcast or if you distill down some of the big takeaways for you, this is a great conversation for you to have. Is I think your people are very dedicated to doing the technical work properly, but investing in the relationship, creating that bond of trust, that I think sometimes we take for granted.

Drew McLellan:

We assume that it’s assigned to us when a client hires us. We don’t understand that A, it’s something we have to earn. And by the way, something we have to keep returning over and over again. So I think this would be a great conversation for you to take into your organization and really decide, do your values and sort of character of the agency reflect this. And if so, how are you talking about it? I think one of the big mistakes agencies make is they don’t identify and celebrate when somebody is doing this really well.

Drew McLellan:

And I think as Stacey said, whether it’s you or somebody on your team leading by example is probably the best way for people to go, “Oh, I can do that, too.” So please take action on some of this, I know it was a great listen, but I want you to actually put it into play inside your shop. So I look forward to hearing from you about how you did that. All right. I will be back next week with another guest. Quick shout out and thank you to our friends at White Label IQ, as you know, they’re the presenting sponsor of the podcast and they provide a lot of agencies with a White Label PPC dev and design.

Drew McLellan:

So if you’re looking to get more information on them, you can go to whitelabeliq.com/ami, and read about how they are serving agencies all over the land and giving them an extra set of hands or two. So I will be back next week with another guest, in the meantime, you know how to track me down. Thank you very much for listening and I’ll talk to you next week. That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build a Better Agency podcast. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t forget to subscribe today so don’t miss an episode.