It’s no secret that a customer-centric approach yields greater returns for your agency. Repeat customers spend 67% more than new ones, according to marketing tools provider Constant Contact, and they’re more likely to purchase expensive products or services.
When you keep clients happy, you keep your business happy. What may be less obvious, however, is how to rekindle agency-client relationships headed towards the cliff.
Every business will find itself in a delicate situation with a client at one point or another, but the way an agency deals with negative situations sets a precedent for future interactions. In a hyper-competitive digital landscape where clients have seemingly infinite options, keeping clients happy is more important than ever.
Below, we’ve highlighted how you can spot and address common friction areas with clients, so you can rewrite a failing narrative and get your project back on track.
Problem 1: Communication flew off the rails
Solution: Stay persistent and commit to a new process
If your client takes too long to respond to emails or phone calls, start by acknowledging it in a respectful manner. Send an email with a recurring calendar invite so it shows up in their inbox and calendar simultaneously. Follow up the day before if they didn’t respond to the invite, and make them aware of your own deadlines in your communications to instill a sense of urgency.
A word of advice, everyone has a different perspective on what constitutes persistence versus pestering. That’s why tone of voice is critical. Don’t take an accusatory stance, but do express concern that you haven’t heard back. If you continue sending emails and the pattern ensues, take the seven contact rule before cutting your losses. That is, attempt to reach out a total of seven times, but after this, move on. Be prepared to escalate the consequences if you don’t hear back by the fourth time, such as stopping work until communication picks back up. (Read more: Why clients and prospects ghost)
Ultimately, you need to come to an understanding as to why communication ceased to begin with, and work with your client to get back on track. Remind them that you’re on the same team, and you need solid communication to deliver your best work.
Problem 2: You lost the client’s trust
Solution: Establish new feedback loops
Whether your timeliness against deadlines is in question, or your clients simply don’t like the work produced, the worst case scenario for an agency is when a client has lost trust in your ability to deliver.
If you’re sensing client trust beginning to dwindle, apologize sincerely, then ask them how you can do a better job. Collaborate to set appropriate expectations, and send a weekly email that brings visibility to what you've been working on.
After the project’s completion, be sure to schedule a post-mortem discussion to offer a safe space for criticism. Clients will surely appreciate dedicated time to closing comments, which you can use as an opportunity to secure more work, or ask for a reference.
At this time, you might also consider restructuring to a pod model to better cater to that particular client. You don’t want to do this mid-project so as to not interrupt your workflow, but once it’s completed you can take your client’s feedback with you when you begin to form new teams. If deadlines are the issue, here's how to create a realistic client project timeline next time.
Problem 3: Scope creep made everyone unhappy
Solution: Redraw your boundaries
Scope creep is something most creatives come across in their work. It refers to client requests (or demands) to expand the scope of a project over its lifecycle, beyond the agreed upon set of deliverables. This can happen when a single requested deliverable snowballs into multiple, the customer inadvertently asks for the wrong deliverable, or a major change derails the project altogether.
In most cases, change requests aren’t made with malicious intent, rather the customer needs evolve over time. That’s why it's critical to learn how to manage expectations to better navigate the agency-client relationship.
It may seem obvious, but you must define the scope of your project from the start. This should act as the north star for your project, and it gives you something to fall back on when targets shift. Take it a step further by using a Gantt chart to visualize task duration and deadlines in a clear project timeline.
Once completed, get written confirmation of approval for the scope of the project. You can create a standardized change request form that both formalizes the process and gets your clients to acknowledge the scope of work. Before agreeing or vetoing these changes, make sure your team is in the know and aligned, and don’t hesitate to suggest a counter-offer with a request for payment for additional services.
Problem 4: This just isn't a fit
Solution: Sometimes parting ways is the best option
In the unhappy event you can’t seem to get through to your client, it might be time to start considering terminating the relationship. While It’s not advised to head in this direction without first trying to problem solve, if there’s been a serious case of overstepping boundaries or if the client is overly aggressive with you or your employees, this may be a necessary step towards working with clients who value your work.
You’ll have to consult the contract you created, of course, and strictly adhere to any grounds in place for ‘firing your client.’ Always maintain integrity even under fire, and email them the news first (before calling) so you have a digital copy of your communications.
Then, craft a refund policy that maintains your agency’s dignity while still honoring the client relationship that went sour.
Determine time frames for your money-back guarantees, as well as how much of it is fair to give back. Consider the distribution of your refunds - are you refunding the total project, a fraction of the total, or specific aspects like advertising or site design specifically?
There’s no right or wrong answer, but consider this: a 100% guarantee means the agency seems so confident in what they have to offer that they’re not even worried. It’s a surefire way to boost your sales, but you need to be willing to pay back the clients that don’t stick around. Conversely, half-back guarantees exude less confidence, but they surely cover your butt if you can’t afford to pay. Either way, you’ll have to honor whatever refund guidelines you put in place.
Before they leave, be sure to ask them why; not to pester them but to understand their reason for ending the relationship. As Bill Gates once said, “your most unhappy clients are your greatest source of learning,” so be sure to create a follow up form asking for feedback. Finally, give lost clients an incentive to come back, and create win-back campaigns to reach them again.
Remember: Clients who’ve had problems with an agency that have been effectively dealt with will have a greater sense of trust in your relationship. And that’s the main takeaway - just because you might find yourself on the wrong foot with your client doesn’t mean you need to stay there.