Do clients always tell the truth?

Six months ago an agency told me about a new client they were now working with and how they’d won it. It all started when the prospective client had said to this agency that they weren’t happy with their current account team, well actually just one member of their account team. Rather than speak to their senior agency person of their agency they preferred to move the business to another agency. (Now I’m sure the reality was a little more complicated than that. But stay with me…) Why would that happen? What can an agency do to prevent this?

Does the client feel comfortable to give you honest feedback?

Most people avoid confrontational conversations unless something major has gone wrong and there seems little alternative. Ensure your client feels they have your permission to be honest and give real feedback.

Are you having regular face to face conversations with your senior clients? It’s vital to have your finger on the pulse of the relationship. Are you really able to have honest conversations? Are you asking the right questions? There’s a difference between:

“Are you happy with our work/team?” and “How happy are you with our work/team?” I believe the second is likely to get a better more informative answer.

Do you really give permission to clients to give you honest feedback?

Too often we’re as bad as the waiter/waitress who asks “Is everything all right?” “Fine” we reply and then turn to our meal companion and say “I’m not coming here again” Perhaps we need to be more overt such as…. “Your feedback is truly important to me. What needs improving in our work with you?”

Many clients don’t feel comfortable giving potentially negative feedback. So a third party can facilitate the conversation. We’ve interviewed the clients of some agencies and have seen this first hand. Clients told us things they were uncomfortable telling their agency direct. Yet they knew we would relay the feedback to the agency.

Do you have someone not involved in the day to day client business spending time talking to your senior clients? This is a great role for an agency MD or CEO to keep their finger on the pulse of the client relationships. This is not because you don’t trust the team. It simply provides an extra safety layer or early warning system.

Do you really listen? Most of us think we do but the reality is far from the truth. Typically we over-estimate our listening ability substantially compared to the view of our colleagues (and family.) Many people hear what they want to hear. Plus the defence barriers come up if we start to hear any form of criticism. (note to self: lesson for me too!)

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