Clients rarely fire an agency over something big. It’s actually a build up of little things that erode trust and begin to wear on the relationship. Over time, the relationship is so damaged, no one inside the client organization is willing to fight to keep you.
Are your account service teams focusing on the little things, the details, the things that can make it easier to work with you rather than more difficult?
My podcast guest, Chantell Glenville has been on both sides of the agency/client coin and can tell you without a doubt that it is the little things that drive clients nuts and lead to them beginning to shop around for another agency.
Listen in on my conversation with Chantell as we make sure you’re doing everything you can to build relationships that last. Here are some of the things we cover:
- Things agencies do over and over that drive clients crazy
- The small behaviors that break apart relationships
- What agencies don’t know about the world clients live in
- The complexity of the structure of clients’ systems
- How agencies can help clients manage the revision process
- Why you need to know more than one person inside your client’s company (and get to know them face-to-face)
- The working hour differences between agencies and clients
- Why you should never overpromise and underdeliver
- The two things that create great agency-client relationships
- Why attention to detail is so important for agencies
- How to get to the top of a client’s to-do list
- Reasons clients will fire agencies (and why they never want to do that)
- Things agency owners can do right now to help their account executives improve agency-client relationships
Chantell Glenville is the author of “What Clients Really Want (And The Shit That Drives Them Crazy)” the first ever book on how to create great client/agency relationships written by an ex-client. Winner of the WACL Future Leader’s Award 2013, Chantell has worked at some of the UKs top creative communications agencies such as AMV BBDO, VCCP, and Dare as well as client-side at Vodafone, a multinational teleco.
Her experience both client and agency-side has given her a unique insight into the situations and behaviors that can really break client/agency relationships or make them excellent. Chantell has worked with and for agencies with varying specialties and on a broad range of clients; from international blue chips such as Johnson & Johnson, Barclaycard, Molson Coors, and Henkel through to high profile UK and pan-European accounts.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://www.agencymanagementinstitute.com/chantell-glenville/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:
Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)
- The Things that Drive Your Clients Nuts
- Agencies Overpromise and Underdeliver
- What Makes a Great Agency Partner?
- What Clients Really Want from You
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew: Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. This podcast is designed for you, the agency owner and your staff, to help you build bigger, better, stronger agencies, and to have a little more fun along the way. Today’s topic is one that I think is vital to agencies. So, one of the things we’re finding in a lot of the work we’re doing with agencies is that it’s not just agencies you compete with anymore. Nowadays, media companies can do everything that…I’m doing this in air quotes, by the way…”Media companies can do everything agencies do”. Clients are building in-house agencies and trying to be agencies, and so you’ve really got competition nipping at your heels from all directions.
One of the things that makes agencies distinct, and is a value proposition that you offer clients, is the way that we serve our clients through our account service teams. And a lot of you know how vital your account folks are. That literally, they are the ones who are not only helping you keep your clients, but they are the ones who are helping you grow those clients. One of the things we teach in the AMI workshops is that about 70% of an agency’s business, new revenue, should be coming from existing clients. So, your account service team, whether you call them account execs, or account managers, or whatever name you call them, they’re vital to the health of your agency. And them creating lasting, strong, consultative relationships with your clients is really critical to your agency’s long-term health.
So lots of agencies invest in their account service folks. A lot of people have started hiring them young and then growing them into really great account leaders. However you approach account service, there are some things that we know are best practices around that. We teach some of those in our AE bootcamps but today’s guest is coming at it from a very unique perspective.
So Chantell Glenville is an author of a book called What Clients Really Want (And The Shit That Drives Them Crazy): The Essential Insider’s Guide for Advertising Agencies on How Account Management Can Create Great Client/Agency Relationships. And what’s beautiful about that is that she comes at this from the perspective of having been a client. So, she spent seven years agency-side and then she went over to the client side. So she’s seen it from both perspectives and the book is really all about…think of it as what an ex-client, or what a client or an ex-client, would love to say to you and your account team if they knew that they could. So, with that, I am gonna welcome Chantell to the podcast. Chantell, thanks for joining us today.
Chantell: Thank you, Drew. Thank you for the very nice introduction.
The Things that Drive Your Clients Nuts
Drew: Your book is great. So I enjoyed it and I found myself nodding my head. So let’s dig in. What are a couple things that account service folks do that drive clients nuts?
Chantell: So I think that one important point on it is that I don’t think any of the stuff that account service folk do that drives clients nuts is intentional, by any means.
Drew: Nope, absolutely not. You’re right.
Chantell: Yeah. I think it just comes about through essentially a lack of understanding and that’s kind of why I wrote the book in the first place. And my viewpoint on it is that a lot of people in account servicing unfortunately, they don’t work client-side and they’ve never worked client-side. Or they spend years agency-side first and then maybe go client-side later. And so it means that that fundamental understanding of what the client’s world is like, what their pressures at play are, what their day-to-day goings about are, what their internal structures are, just isn’t there. And so, it can lead to a lot of, not even necessarily big things, really small things which make the clients lives harder, and so annoy them over time without even the agency realizing in any way, whatsoever.
For example, one of the big ones that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen this when I worked agency-side and also client-side. It’s the same issues that come up time and time again that break down these relationships. So one of the examples, off the top of my head, is when work is gonna be delayed. And obviously, as you know, at agencies that happens all the time. You know, sometimes files take longer to explore than expected, creative reviews don’t go as you thought they would. And clients understand that, they know the timings move. But what you see frequently when one of the pages that pops up is that when that happens, instead of the agency picking up the phone and talking to the client, giving regular updates as to when the work will be through, they actually disappear. Which might sound like a stretch but it’s true and it happens time and time again, and they properly disappear. And, of course, that’s easier for account management, then they don’t have to deal with the awkward conversation, and in their minds, they wait. I mean, I’ve been guilty of this myself, even agency-side. I’m not pointing the finger by any means.
You kind of wait until you’re like, “Well, I’ll wait ’til I’ve got some good news to tell the client, ’til I can tell them it’s definitely gonna be there then”, rather than actually bringing the client in on the journey and letting them be fully aware of everything that’s going on, so that they can better manage the internal situation. They need that awareness in order to manage their internal situations, in order to manage their boss who’s breathing down their ear or the review they might have coming up with those senior stakeholders. And they can’t do that without those open and honest conversations. So it might seem like a small thing, especially if it’s a half-hour delay or something like that, but it can make a huge difference to the client and it’s not that this situation is going to change, the work is still late, either way. But, that work being late can either be a small thing and can be, “Okay, all right, that’s not ideal. The work was late but, you know, we’re all fine, you managed the situation well”. Or it can turn into a really big issue that starts to build client-side time and time again when these situations are mismanaged.
And so, it’s about trying to stop those small behaviors that build into these big things, and destroy the relationship. And as you said before, you know, there’s lots of competition coming from all sides to take clients from agencies. And the sad truth is that even when agencies are producing great work, they still get fired and it’s usually because of a breakdown in the relationship, when that happens.
Drew: Yeah, you know, one of the things I talk about a lot is clients never object to the $10,000 price on the bill, they object to the $50 FedEx charge or some little thing. And, I think, often times, we forget how surprises and lack of communication feel on the receiving end of that.
Chantell: Absolutely and it is small things. Small things is like a $50 FedEx charge. It is things like that, that if they’re not put up-front and if the client isn’t aware, then it causes problems for them their side. So like a $50 FedEx charge, well if the client only has 10k, and they’ve already budgeted that, and that’s spent, where are they getting the $50 from, you know? It just, it creates an additional hurdle they’ve gotta get over. They’ve gotta get an new PO from their finance department, it’s like an avalanche.
Drew: Right, right, it’s a process all of a sudden that they have to go into, right? Absolutely right, yep.
Chantell: But for something so small that could’ve been avoided if there was the better forward planning in the first place, you know?
Drew: Well, I think, again, I think a lot of this, and I think what your book sort of emphasizes, is the idea that we have to really able to understand, we have to kind of walk in the shoes of our clients to understand what their world is like. What are some things about the client’s world that you think may not be top-of-mind or may not be really clear to agency folks? What don’t we know about their world?
Chantell: There are two things that spring to mind first, in relation to that. So one would be the fact that there are so many different stakeholders that clients have to manage and so many different stakeholders from different departments.
So I mean, if you look at a client’s linear structure, it’s quite similar to an agency where your account manager is reporting into a managing partner or someone like that, who’s reporting into the CEO. You have a similar sort of structure, client-side. However, there’s then about another five or six usually, managing partner equivalents, that your day-to-day client is also gonna have to get sign-up from. Because there’s gonna be the product team, there’s gonna be all the different departments that have their own input, who technically, shouldn’t really control how the marketing communications are formatted and things. However, because they do have approval rights, they will, to some extent, control that. They will feed in changes, they will affect things greatly in their feedback, and they will usually feedback more than they should even as well. And that’s just how a lot of companies are structured and so clients have to go along with it.
So, one thing I’ll say about how they’re very different is the fact that there are so many different people and rungs of approvals that clients have to go through. That one thing changing can derail a project hugely. Because then they’ve gotta start that process all over again, they’ve gotta go through all those different departments again. It’s a more complicated structure in general. Whereas, agencies, because they’re usually quite streamlined and flexible, even the bigger agencies, you create smaller teams within that so you can move things around quicker. Clients aren’t usually set up for that.
Drew: So let me stop you there for a second and then we’ll get to your second one. So this is a really frustrating point for agencies. Is that agencies build into their budget, as you know, a certain amount of revision time and all of that. And it seems like clients can never honor that. There’s always one more revision, or twelve more revisions, and so agencies are struggling. They get that there are a lot of people sort of in the mix. But from the agency’s perspective, how can they help a client move through the approval process, or get things to keep on-course, and on-budget, and on-track timewise? Because it’s not just the money, it’s also the timeline of, “We want our website to go live but there have been so many changes, we can’t do it.” How can the agencies be better about that with clients, recognizing that there all kinds of layers of approval process, some that are really clear in the org chart and some that are probably hidden under politics or dotted lines?
Chantell: Yeah, I mean, that’s a huge problem that so many agencies face. It’s a really good point and you’re right. A lot of the approvals dots are hidden in the org chart and that’s a really key point about it, they’re hidden in the org chart. So the first step I would suggest to any agency to getting around that issue is whoever will be kind of your lead, in terms of doing stuff when you’re getting campaigns out agency-side, get them to shadow your client for a week or two weeks, whatever it is. Get them to go into your client’s company and get them to shadow and sit down with their client, and really talk through literally everything that is involved for them on getting a campaign out.
Because until you properly understand that and live that, you won’t be able to help your client manage that process. Once you know it, you can go, “Okay, all right, so I can see how maybe you could’ve grouped these approvals into this” or “If we supply you the work then, you can do that set of approvals there which means you’ll get feedback from that group.” And you can work out how many rounds there were gonna be because, you know, there are just some client structures where two rounds of amends isn’t going to be possible. But if you know that up-front, you can manage that in one, the cost estimate you build, you can manage that there is more rounds of amends than two. You can manage that in the timings up-front. But you’ve gotta be aware of it at the start and I think that understanding, it just can’t come from an org chart. And so frequently, we rely on these org charts and they just don’t tell the true story for really getting actually inside the client’s organization. Getting to know it as well as you know the process in your agency is the essential key to getting around that situation.
Drew: Yeah. And so I can hear the agency owners now going, “Well, yeah, that’s great. I’m gonna have an account service person in there for a week, I wanna get paid for that.” My argument against that would be, this is part of your new business development investment. Because not only will you understand the politics but now your account service person, and by the way this should not be somebody super junior, this needs to be somebody who can have business conversations, right? But they also now have relationships with five, or six, or eight people inside the organization, as opposed to your one client contact. And that’s always a precarious position for agencies, when they only know and have access to one or two people inside the company. That person moves on or gets let go, now all of a sudden, you’re dangling on the end of a very thin thread.
Chantell: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got to get to know more than one person in the company. And actually, even just getting to know them face-to-face makes a huge difference as well. I’ve worked with agencies before where I’ve worked with team members who I’ve never even met. And it’s so hard to have a good working relationship with someone when you don’t even know what their face looks like, as strange as that may sound. But it’s not as tangible and you need to build that relationship personally. And it is an upfront investment in time, putting someone in there for a week. But, for one, they can still work on other work on their laptop whilst they’re there, you know? They can still do bits, take an hour out or whatever as they need to manage other clients.
But also, it’s an investment to make sure you’re gonna have to spend less time in the future because you’ll be able to better service the client in a more efficient way, because of that understanding. Because that initial investment in time up-front and you’ll have better relationships to better manage any hurdles that come up in things. It will pay off hugely as time goes on in the relationship. But it’s just making sure the foundations are strong at the start by building that understanding.
Drew: Yeah. And I often think that the more tentacles you have inside the organization, the more opportunities there are for work. So it’s not just the marketing department that may need your help, it might be the HR department, or the sales department, or the R&D department, so there’s also opportunity to grow the business while you are hanging out there.
Chantell: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve worked on accounts where we’ve picked up other new products that they’re developing by getting to know the client really well and hanging out at their offices, and things, you know? You can pick up other accounts even, you can pick up other bits of the business just by being there, being involved, offering additional solutions over and above just what your bits are, your reement is on it. Actually, just being a partner to them. And you need to be there to be a partner to them and get to understand them. And yeah, it’s a great new business strategy at the same time.
Drew: Yep. Okay, so that was one of the two things that you think agencies don’t really understand about clients and then I siderailed us for a minute. So come back now and tell us what was the other thing that you had in mind, that agencies really don’t seem to understand about the client-side of the world?
Chantell: Well, so, another one is kind of…it’s a lot more basic than that. Because I think that first one, it’s really fundamental to what clients really want because if you did that first one right it would unlock so many other things as well. Because it’s core to just understanding what it’s like in your client’s company, which links into everything essentially. And another one, which would be also…but it does come up a lot. Clients tend to work different hours to agencies. And, I think, as agencies, we forget that a lot of the time because at agencies, we unfortunately work all hours. And a lot of the time, we work till pretty late each day. And it’s just kind of normal agency-side that you’ll be in the office till like 6:30 – 7:00. And actually when I worked agency-side, if I left at 6:30, I was skipping down the street with joy. I’d left positively early if I got out the door at that time. That was like getting an extra weekend.
It’s not the case for clients. And so, I think, agencies fall down quite a lot by, they send work through to clients 6:30, 7:00 in the evening, and then they get annoyed when they don’t get a response ’til the next morning. And I’ve even heard judgement in agencies, voices before talking to a client and being like, “But we sent it at 6:30, why weren’t you there?” But it’s how a client’s world works. Clients tend to get in early actually, usually. A lot of the time, you’ll find clients in the office from 7 a.m. but bang on 5:30, they’re out the door and they’re on their way home. You know, there’s a time shift. You need to know clients…it’s not the case in all agencies but you need to find out, what are your clients working hours? should be one of the first questions you ask. What are their typical working hours? And then work to them as much as you can but if you’re doing stuff outside of them, as long as you’re aware that those aren’t their normal working hours, you can call them or text them and say, “Hey, would it be okay if you look at this?” or “This is gonna come through outside of those hours.” But otherwise, you’re working at odds with each other. You’re not working on the same page as each other, and so you’re frequently gonna have these miscommunications where agencies think the client’s gonna be reviewing stuff, and they’re not gonna be reviewing anything because they’re at home with their kids by that point. Again, it comes back to communicating and understanding what’s going on with each other, and actually properly spending the time and effort to think through all of that, and get all the answers to those questions, so you can better work with them in a partnership.
Drew: And that’s a really great point. The other thing that I encourage agency account service to understand is, what is the cadence of your client’s meeting schedule? So, for example, if your client has to report in on marketing activities every Thursday at 2:00, then you wanna make sure that you have your weekly update document to them that tells them where everything’s at, and what’s on time, and what’s on-budget, by the end of the day Wednesday, so that they can have time to review it and then make any changes on the progress of those jobs, prior to them having to step up in front of their boss and say, “Here’s where we’re at with things.”
Chantell: Yeah, and that’s it. I mean, I worked with an agency when I was client-side who were excellent at that. Like, they knew we had a meeting same time every week, so they prepped for that every single week. They made sure we had everything ready for that meeting every single week. Because they knew that was our slot, that was when we were presenting to the rest of the business. And it made our lives as clients so much easier, and also stopped any embarrassment. And that’s a key thing, you know. When agencies leave a client without the work in time, or without updates, or without knowing what’s going on, when they’re then talking to their bosses, it leaves them exposed to being embarrassed by not being on top of their job.
Chantell: Yeah, so the agency who does that, who works around what the client’s meetings schedules are, what their timings are and everything, they’re the ones who come out on top because they’re the ones who actually…they formed a partnership. They’ve gone, “Hey, okay, this is how you guys work, so we’ll work like that with you as well.” You know, “We wanna work the same as you.”
Agencies Overpromise and Underdeliver
Drew: Yeah. And that leads right into something else you talk about in your book, the whole idea of agencies who stumble because they overpromise and underdeliver. So talk a little bit about that phenomenon because that’s a pet peeve of mine. I’m stunned at agencies who think deadlines are optional, or that when you tell a client you’re gonna have something to them by end of day Thursday, they get it Friday morning, or whatever it may be. So talk a little bit about that and your solutions for that.
Chantell: Yeah. I mean, it happens a lot. As I mentioned earlier, work gets delayed, these things happen. I mean, any account manager worth their salt should always add in extra time to timing plans, it goes without saying. But these things do still happen at the end of the day. And, as agencies, it can be so tempting, one, to try and, when you’re given tight timings in the first place, to go, “Yeah, all right, we can do it, we can do it,” and crunch every bit of buffer time out of that timing plan because your client really wants it by a certain date.
Or when your clients call up at the last minute and go, “Oh, I need it a day earlier,” to turn around and say, “Yes, you can do it.” Because especially, I think people in account management in general, we kind of tend to like to pull the matchstick out of the bag and kinda save the day, and be a hero, and show we can turn around anything, in any time. But when you overpromise and underdeliver, you’re just setting yourself up for a fall. Because, as a baseline, just as a hygiene factor, clients expect agencies to deliver work on time. That’s not a, “You’ve done a good job, well done,” if you deliver it on time. That’s the baseline, so anything later than that and you’ve messed up essentially. So when you go around overpromising, you’re never gonna come out winning from that situation. Either, you manage to come out and you delivered on time, so well, great, you’ve lived up to the baseline expectation but you haven’t done anything wonderful. Or you’re late on it, and then you’ve messed up and you start this bad relationship, where the client’s then starting to get annoyed with you.
So there’s no benefit to it. And it can be really hard but if your clients are putting you under extreme time pressure, it is more than reasonable to turn around and have an honest conversation with them. It truly is what clients really want from you as their partner. Talk to them about what is feasible, what isn’t, and say, even discuss the things where you can say, “Look, we’ll try everything we possibly can to deliver it by X but we cannot promise it.” And show them the different paths of timing, show them the options. Because if you don’t do that, if you just try to say yes, be the ‘yes’ man, you risk actually doing more harm to the relationship than good, when you don’t manage to deliver on that “yes” that you gave them in the first place.
Drew: Yeah. I think where it gets really complicated is when it’s the client who has delayed the timeline. But again, to your point, I’m a firm believer in rather than giving due dates, it’s X number of days from this point to that point, so that if a client takes five days to do a review process that was allotted for two, you saying to them, “Okay, look, this has pushed us back three days, we will try and make up some of that time.” It’s sort of like the pilot who takes off late, right? “We’re gonna try and make up some time in the air but we’ll get there when we get there. So understand that this delay may push back the actually delivery date”.
Chantell: Yeah, absolutely and that’s a great way to do it, giving, you know, “It’s five days between this point and this point.” So whenever you approve it, it’s still gonna be five days in between and we will do everything we can to get better on that. But giving actual, “These are the timeslots,” for how long those bits of the process take upfront is really helpful.
Drew: Yep, yep. I also think that AE’s tend to, and you alluded to this earlier in our conversation, tend to avoid difficult conversations. And I think one of the skill sets that agency owners need to interview for is the ability and willingness to go into uncomfortable conversations with…and understanding it from the client’s perspective but also being willing to sort of say, “Look, we’re not gonna be able to do this,” or “The budget called for five rounds of revision and you’ve taken eight, and so that’s gonna require a change order,” or whatever it is. When you have those conversations early on and often, A, you train the client to get used to having those conversations but B, you’re helping them understand how to be a better client.
Chantell: Oh yeah, absolutely and it should. Even if the account management are doing their job well, and are properly factoring how things are for the client, and always having those conversations upfront, it should get to the stage where if the client calls up for more rounds of amends than they actually have allowed for in the budget etc, or they’re doing something which will delay the timings, that they should be going in that phone call to the agency, “Okay, I need to change this again, how much extra will it be because I know where we’re out of scope of now?” Like, it should be that much awareness of it, that they know what their scope is and what their scope isn’t. And so it’s not a difficult conversation, there’s nothing surprising. It’s just, “Okay, well we’ve had our scope, this isn’t part of it so we talk about it now.” But that only comes over time and over account management doing it time and time again. So it’s not a, “Oh, they’re trying to rip us off now,” it’s just, “That’s just how the finances will work. That’s just how this situation is”.
What Makes a Great Agency Partner?
Drew: Yeah. So, earlier you talked about an agency that was really on top of things and really helped you stay informed. What makes a great agency partner? From a client’s perspective, what makes an agency an agency you couldn’t imagine ever firing?
Chantell: So I fundamentally think there are two things to creating great client-agency relationships. One is stopping doing the stuff that annoys clients. And the second is doing the stuff that takes it from good to great. I think a lot of agencies assume that they’re at the baseline of, you know, “Everything’s okay.” But actually, agencies frequently do stuff that takes them to minus numbers in that, by doing the stuff that annoys clients. And then, even if you do stuff which makes the relationship great, if you’ve still got that negative going on pulling on away from it, you’re not gonna have a consistently good relationship.
So, I think, as a agency, you need to do both parts of that. You need to stop the behaviors that make client’s life harder essentially, and then work on the things that make the client’s life easier. That’s essentially taking away the bad stuff and get in to the good stuff and taking it to great is when you start actively making the client’s life easier. When everything you’re doing as an agency is just…it’s almost like you’re part of the team for the client, you’re always there, the client doesn’t have to ask you for things. You already know what the client’s gonna need at different times, or whatever gonna be the important business issues coming up for them. You’ve already thought all that stuff through and you’re thinking as if the client’s business was your business. So you’re thinking about what they need in terms of common sense, not what you’ve been told to do. Maybe you’ve been told to write a TV ad or whatever. You’re thinking about everything that might be important to the client at any moment in time. And that’s the stuff that really takes it to great, the stuff where you’re actively thinking for them and helping them in their marketing planning role essentially.
Drew: So in the book, you identify quite a list of things that agencies do that sort of disintegrate the relationship. What’s the biggest offender of that, do you think?
Chantell: It has to be attention to detail. I know a lot of people talk about attention to detail a lot but honestly, it’s gotta be attention to detail. I have never seen anything cause so many difficulties in client-agency relationships as attention to detail does. And it’s amazing because it’s technically such a small thing, and yet the difficulties that arise out of it. And I know agencies always talk about, to their account management teams, “You need to get better at attention to detail” or “Attention to detail is really important.” But what always seems to be missing from that is explaining why it’s so important to clients, that attention to detail is so fundamental and why they care about it so much.
But the second you go client-side, within a minute, you know why it matters so much. And it’s because it takes your time. When agencies present work which has errors in, or typos, or anything like that, it just wastes client’s time because there’s so much more back-and-forth basically. And that’s the key fundamental of it. And clients are hard-pushed for time. They have a lot of meetings, in general. And so, these additional rounds of reviews they have to do because there are typos and things, wears down at them over time and it really does build up a lot of, I guess, underlying resentment towards the agency, that they’re taking all of that time away from them when they could be getting on with their job.
Drew: Yeah, you know, we do research every year talking to CMO’s about their relationships with agencies. And what we did last year, we did one that was all about why agencies get hired and fired, and it was fascinating and sort of horrifying to me how often the idea that typos get agencies fired or get them “removed from the set of agencies I’m going to consider.” That agencies are literally sending proposals and RFP responses with typos in them. And I think agencies understand in the abstract level that typos are bad. But what I think most agencies haven’t done is they haven’t built process and system around making sure that their work is detail-oriented and correct.
Chantell: Exactly. Yeah, it makes an astonishing difference.
Drew: Yeah. You know, you mentioned that clients are in a lot of meetings and one of the things you talked about in the book is how different a client’s day is from somebody on the agency’s side. And that really, clients don’t have a lot of time where they’re actually at their desk. Talk a little bit about that.
Chantell: Yeah. Obviously, it’s different for every client but from my experience and the experience of other people I know working client-side as well, generally your day is full of back-to-back meetings, really. I mean, it’s not as bad if there’s not a campaign going out right at that moment. But if you’re working on a campaign, about three quarters of your day is gonna be filled with meetings as a client, especially the more senior your clients get. Just because there are so many different departments that marketing have to feed into, that marketing have to check everything’s okay with them there, even in a marketing department reliant on those other departments for making sure the product’s in place in time, they’ve done all the quality testing etc. etc., it’s gonna be out in the stores when it needs to be, or on the website, whatever it is. There are so many different bits feeding into it that marketers essentially are kind of managing and have to be completely on top of because otherwise, your agency’s gonna go out with a campaign and you’ve got no product ready to launch, which isn’t going to be great.
Those times you get in between those meetings to review the work from agencies are so important. And it’s so important that your agencies have lined up when they send the work through, for when you’re gonna be out of those meetings, and that they’ve told you if stuff is gonna be urgent coming through that day. So you know what to look for, you know when to look for it, everything like that. Because clients don’t have a lot of time and otherwise, a client couldn’t get out of a meeting where they’ve been in meetings all morning. They get out at lunchtime, they have 200 new emails in their inbox. It could take them hours to get to that one urgent email that the agency has sent through, which is why there needs to be this additional visibility there because otherwise, you’re not gonna get to the top of the client’s to-do-list as an agency, unless you make the client completely aware that you have something urgent. Whether that’s by like calling them, texting them, warning them a day in advance, sending a status email, whatever it is. They need to know these things because they don’t have the time.
Drew: Yeah. One of the things that I recommend that account folks do is that, in the subject line, they, in brackets before whatever the subject title is, they put things like, “Urgent,” or just “FYI,” or “Keeping you updated.” Whatever language they wanna use that I can, as a client, quickly scan the four emails I’ve gotten from the agency and see the one that’s urgent, click on it, open it, and deal with it. And the others I know I can deal with, you know, over the course of the rest of the day, or the week, however that plays out.
Chantell: Yeah, absolutely. It makes a big difference.
What Clients Really Want from You
Drew: So you also talk a little bit about what takes an agency relationship from good to great. What of those recommendations do you think is the most important one for agency owners to have on their radar screen?
Chantell: Well, we talked a little bit already about getting to know the client organization’s as if it’s your own, which I do think is hugely important. But also, as well as that, I’d say always thinking about what it is that is important to the client, in terms of their communications. Rather than focusing on what the client has asked your agency to do, in terms of the communications, actually as an agency, thinking about the client’s business and thinking about all the other things that the client might have to do as part of any campaign. Because it’s really isn’t easy as an agency to get a brief, “Okay, all right, you gotta do some TV scripts and some press.” And maybe hopefully, hopefully, as an agency, you present the idea and then you present the TV execution, and the press execution.
But it’s likely that your client is probably gonna put that idea across some other communications, whether that’s even emails that they send out from an internal team to their customers, whatever it is. And actually, if you are the agency that factors that into your ideas and then, if you’re the ones that are going, “Hmm, okay, what else is important to our clients?,” whatever makes that campaign the most tractable, whether they’re our reement or not. And you show how it might work, you show consideration for it every time. It tells the client that you understand them, that you understand that it’s about more than a TV script. That actually, their business has all of this other stuff going on. You understand what’s important and that any of your ideas have to work across all of it. And also, you might find as an agency, you end up picking up additional work over time just by caring that much about the client’s business. But it needs to be done on the side of, “Okay, all right, this is what we think would be best for you. This is all the stuff we’re thinking about all of it. It may not be ours but we’re still thinking about all of it because we wanna do the most effective work possible for you.”
Drew: Yeah. You know, it always boils back down to doing the right things for the right reasons, whether they are going to guarantee you more income or not, almost always guarantees you more income.
Chantell: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, when you do the right thing, usually the money follows. Let’s focus on doing the right thing for the client in the first place and it will probably have beneficial effects for the agency anyway.
Drew: Yep, absolutely. And it also allows you to ask your folks to think bigger and broader about the client, which if it doesn’t benefit you today, it will benefit you down the road. And as you say, what it shows the client is, every agency says, “Oh, we partner with our agencies and we’re collaborative, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” but this is you actually doing it.
Chantell: Yes, exactly.
Drew: Yeah, yeah.
Chantell: It’s how you become a partner.
Drew: And when you think about the agencies that you worked with when you were on the client-side, talk a little bit about…I think agencies suffer under the perception that their client is always thinking about firing them or looking for somebody new, how high on your priority list was that?
Chantell: Definitely the latter. I mean, clients are busy. They got loads of stuff going on. Taking your business out to get new agencies in, that takes a long time. And that’s a lot of work hours you could spend actually working on growing your business as a client, you know? It’s a big undertaking. So, actually for clients, the default isn’t, “I wanna find another agency.” The default is, “I want this agency to be great and deliver everything I need because then, happy days. My life is so much easier that way.” You know, they’re almost gunning for you to win. They’re gunning for you to do well as an agency because then their life is better.
It’s not a default position of “I wanna find someone else.” Those thoughts start creeping in when agencies do the stuff that annoys clients consistently. When they do stuff that breaks down the relationship, that’s when the thoughts start crawling in. Like, I’d have thoughts like that start to come up when agencies would consistently slap down a bill after the job has been done, which is way overbudget and there’s been no warning of it before. And you start thinking, you know, I can’t work like this constantly because I can’t manage my budget. So if you guys aren’t gonna be upfront about it. Or when they’re constantly late, and they’re not keeping you updated, and you have no idea what’s going on on campaigns, that’s when, as a client, you start to think, “Okay, we might need to rethink this. The relationship isn’t working at this moment in time.” But that’s not where you want your head to be, in terms of being a client. You want your head to be in, “Great, they’re delivering everything I need them to so I can focus on my job properly and they’re helping me out.” That’s the ideal situation.
Drew: Yep, absolutely. I think clients want us to be successful but I think they have a very short tolerance when we miss the mark because they’re at such risk, you know? At the end of the day, if we don’t deliver, we get fired from the client. If we don’t deliver that client person, that person who hired us, literally gets fired and can’t pay their mortgage. So there are great risks, in terms of their trust of us, and if we violate that trust a couple times, then odds are they are going shopping, I think.
Chantell: Yeah. It’s a very different pressure of place. So yeah, it’s much shorter fuse, I guess.
Drew: Yeah. I think so too. Okay, so if folks have been listening to us and they know that their agency needs to get better at this, and they want their account service team to build those great relationships that you talk about, what are a couple things they can do? So imagine that most of our listeners are agency owners, so they may or may not have a role in account service anymore. What can they do inside their shop to elevate the game of their account service people, and to make sure that they really are delivering a great relationship with those clients?
Chantell: The first thing I would say is to focus on stopping doing the stuff that actively causes harm to the relationship. Before even thinking about taking it from good to great, focus on stopping damaging the relationship as a first point of call, which is what a lot of agencies overlook.
And it’s so important to lay that consistent, good foundation in the first place. So my advice, in terms of that would be, if you’re an agency owner, if you’ve worked in account service previously, you probably know all of the elements that do do damage to the client service relationship already because you’ve probably learned them through experience, over the years. So, I would focus on making sure you run some training for your account service teams to impart that knowledge, but make sure when you do impart it, that you don’t just tell the account service teams what they should be doing, but that you take it a stage further and you tell them what they should be doing and why. And it’s the ‘why’ that is so important, in order to motivate action in the teams.
They need to know why the basics essentially matter, in the first place, things like attention to detail, why they should care that this stuff is all related to building a good client service relationship. And then for each point you talk about, why that specific thing is important and what the effects will be for your client if they don’t do it well, if they do do it well. Make them actually understand what it would be like for the client, the result of the things that you’re talking about, rather than just telling people what they should be doing. So, for example, if it is attention to detail you talk about, you should then as part of that, be talking about the negative effects it will have on the client’s time if this isn’t done well. And then also giving specific advice to your account service teams, as to how they can get better at that, actual action. So that they have tangible things they can work towards, going forwards.
Drew: Okay. What else should they do? Anything else besides doing some training?
Chantell: I think the main thing is training in that way but also installing it as an agency thought, for account service people to always be focusing on what it would be like for the client. And encouraging your staff to go and work at the agency’s office more. Go there for a week when they first start an account. Or if they’re already on accounts, spending more face-to-face time with their clients because that is the stuff that will fundamentally change the relationships and will then take it from good to great. That’s where the understanding begins, actually being in there with the clients, getting to partner with them, getting to talk with them all the time, understanding their world.
Drew: Yeah. I think in today’s technologically-driven world, many AE’s, especially younger ones, default to email and don’t even pick up the phone. It’s not just that they don’t see their clients face-to-face, they just never talk to them. And I think that’s a dangerous habit to get into.
Chantell: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You can’t build a relationship with someone over email. You need to talk to people, you need to see them. You need to have that personal contact with them.
Drew: Yep, I agree. Any last thoughts on what your clients really want for our listeners, as we wrap up?
Chantell: I guess, just make sure you don’t assume that you’re starting from a baseline of everything being okay with your clients. Take a realistic look at the situation and check whether your agency is doing stuff that’s actively damaging the relationship. You know, it’s nice to think that we’re all starting from a baseline of everything being okay but more often than not actually, there’s stuff that’s taking us into the minus numbers already, that we need to fix before we go anywhere else.
Drew: Yeah, great advice. This has been an awesome conversation. Thank you so much for spending the time with us today. Thanks so much for taking the time to write the book. It’s filled with insights that account service need to have. If folks want to learn more about your work or track down the book, where should they go to find you?
Chantell: Yep, they can go and find the book on amazon.com. If they just type in ‘what clients really want’ as the search, it will come up. And I’ve also set up a website related to the book called masteringaccountmanagement.com, which provides advice and information on how to excel at account management. So it can be a great resource for agency owner’s staff to go on where people can read advice, they can even chat in a forum and ask any questions that they might be too scared to ask their bosses about and things. It’s a nice, safe space for people. I very much suggest that for their teams, especially junior members just starting out.
Drew: Awesome. Thank you so much. Thank you very much for your time. Thanks for sharing a very unique perspective of having lived on both sides of the fence, so I appreciate it a great deal. Thank you.
Chantell: Thank you, Drew, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Drew: Okay guys. This wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Hopefully, you can take some of this back and implement it immediately in your shop. There is certainly no greater place than where the agency and the client connect, where you can enhance your agency’s performance than that. So be sure that you are sharing this podcast, and particularly with your account service folks, even if you don’t share all the others with them. This is full of good advice for them. It’s common sense stuff but I will tell you, after spending as much time as I do with account service staff in our boot camps, I will tell you that this is stuff that your folks need to hear, it needs to be reinforced by you, and it needs to be part of your agency’s culture, in terms of your commitment to client service.
So with that, I am out of here for a week. I will see you next week with another great guest. If you’re looking for me, best place to find me is [email protected] And I will be back next week with another guest to help you build a bigger, better, stronger agency. Talk to you soon.
That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to midsized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our enewsletter, grab our free ebook, and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.