Are you at risk of losing your client?

I wrote this article before Covid 19. I think the article is even more relevant.

Were there earlier worrying signs in the client relationship which you ignored? Did you think you were worrying unnecessarily? I reckon there is a period before ‘the point of no return’ when, if we resolved the client’s problem or frustration, we could retain the client’s business within our agency, or do we delude ourselves that we’re imagining the problem? I suspect this is about using our antenna more effectively and picking up on the little clues from clients. Is this a dark art that agencies need to be more skilled in? I suspect that many agencies are quick to celebrate good news whilst turning a blind eye to the ‘passives’ and ‘detractors’ as the NPS (Net Promoter Score) call them.

When I speak to marketing directors of clients and ask them about why they moved agency, the typical conversation I often hear is

“it wasn’t that the previous agency did anything wrong, it’s more that we didn’t feel as loved as in the early days”

How loved is your client feeling?

I reckon this is partly about spending more time thinking about the client’s business and being more proactive. As an agency grows it can get harder for the founders and senior team to show how much they care about a client’s business as the agency seniors get spread thinner. It was easier in the early days of an agency but gets progressively harder as the agency grows. Many clients won’t even tell you about a problem. Instead they will wait for you to approach them about it. If you don’t approach the client about a possible problem there’s a danger their loyalty to the agency will simply slip away. Unresolved complaints weaken agency-client relationships. Don’t assume the complaint will simply go away. That’s why it’s critical for agencies to recognise when clients are dissatisfied and act quickly otherwise the client believes you’re not taking their complaint seriously.

Having a good client relationship may get you over the odd one-off problem but if problems continue unresolved, this will test even the strongest client-agency relationship.

There may be trigger points that lead to a client being more critical than before. Examples of trigger points being if their market takes a major downturn, a competitor leap-frogs your client or a new boss joins the client putting substantially more pressure on our day to day contact.

Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate you’re at risk of losing your client.

  1. Less access to decision makers. This can happen slowly over time, sometimes imperceptibly. They don’t return phone calls and emails so readily as in the past. We slide down the food chain as the senior clients see our work as increasingly reactive and implementational.
  2. New senior clients. The ‘new broom’ can come in wanting to turn things upside down. They can be hyper-critical of the agency’s work and previous campaigns. It’s easy for an agency to become complacent when we’ve had several years of working with a client and feeling really appreciated.
  3. Unwilling to discuss future plans for next year. Whenever you bring up the subject of future plans, the client seems to avoid the topic and doesn’t want to share their plans with you.
  4. More critical of the agency, the agency’s work or agency team. They can become far more critical or have more complaints. Some may keep comparing you to competitors.
  5. Watch their body language carefully. There might be less eye-contact, less rapport, less smiling and more impatience. Look out for signs of reduced rapport or withdrawal.

I saw some stats recently that seem about right.

  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%
  • The probability of selling to a new customer is 5-20%
  • A 2% increase in client retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%.
  • A dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about their experience.

So, let’s really look after our existing clients. (That’s the focus of my Trusted Adviser Selling workshop specifically for agencies)

If there were a Tripadvisor for agencies. What scores would your agency get? (I avoid hotels and restaurants with less than 80-85% excellent/very good scores on Tripadvisor.)

Referrals are one of the most powerful ways for an agency, or pretty much any business, to grow and win new clients. Referrals also indicate how pleased your client is with your work. How much are your clients referring you?

Bill Gates said:
“Your unhappiest customer is your greatest source of learning”

So, should we do online client satisfaction surveys? Your choice. Personally I think it would be better for a senior person, either from the agency or an independent external person, to ideally visit the senior client or talk to the senior client on the phone to really understand “how well are we doing?”.

Losing a client can be painful emotionally and financially. Don’t assume everything is OK because you haven’t heard about any problems or dissatisfaction.

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