Transparency, Trust & Partnership: Cornerstones of Exceptional Agency Service
Over the past 20 years or so, aimClear team members have had the opportunity to be a customer of online marketing agencies large and small. Of course, we’re now a service provider ourselves for companies ranging from hungry startups to huge iconic brands. On both sides as agency services consumer and provider, we’ve been fortunate to observe which client customer service techniques work (and which don’t). The best agencies – and the ones we remember and would rehire today given the opportunity – all shared similar characteristics when it came to providing exceptional client services. The same holds true with clients aimClear has been most successful in services. This post shares characteristics we’ve noted which lead to successful marketing outcomes and great relationships.
Don’t trust your agency? Find a new one. In all our experience, we’ve never seen anything great get built or exceptional results produced without trust. When there’s trust, true partnership can develop and you can move from separate individuals or groups to a unified team, a partnership, focused on a defined set of objectives. When there’s true partnership, the agency feels like and is viewed as an extension of the team or company they are working with. Everyone’s in it together.
At aimClear, we believe in forming deep partnerships with our clients and really getting to know them and their business. We place our trust in them and their business / product and they place their trust in us to help them succeed. We know that we only succeed when our partners do. We’re in this together; it’s a true partnership.
A successful partnership is anchored by effective communication. Effective communication results in everyone being on the same page and removes questions around expectations, dates and deliverables. Meetings are scheduled, agendas are set and impromptu discussions take place as needed. The best client services professionals I’ve personally worked with also picked up on the client’s preferred methods of communication and adopted it as the primary method.
At aimClear, we communicate frequently throughout the week with our clients and formally meet at least once a week to check in on projects and progress. We make ourselves available using whatever method the client we are working with prefers. Our client facing account and client services managers are also supported by our project management team which help take call notes and add additional information to our project management system. All of these pieces work together to improve our ability to communicate effectively with our clients.
In order to deliver exceptional service, full transparency is a must. Agencies can’t communicate effectively without transparency. Transparency, trust and partnership work together. Without transparency, there’s no trust. Without trust, there’s no partnership. Without partnership, the probability of success diminishes greatly—in most cases to the point of near impossibility. Transparency means highlighting wins as well as losses and building confidence among the team that the only unknown in an engagement is the unknown. Everything else is on the table for everyone to see.
At aimClear, we share our cards, beyond what conventional wisdom typically dictates. Depending on what capacity you’re working with us in, you’ll have access to editorial and production calendars, accounts (AdWords, Facebook, Analytics, etc.) and all of the other information we use both for strategy and execution. The more you know, the more effective we can be.
The absence of a plan is a plan…though a poor one. The most successful agency/client relationships are guided by a plan. “Better results” is not a plan. “Doing more” is not a plan. “Working hard” is not a plan. A plan should show what is being done when, by who, and what the expected outcome is. A plan should be fluid and updated to reflect changes as they become known. A plan should be written down…don’t spend 30 minutes verbalizing a plan to a client and expect them to take notes or remember all the details.
We approach planning on multiple levels. Working together with our partners, we create a high-level strategy document. The strategy document outlines the channels and tactics we will use to meet the client’s objectives. We support the strategy with a roadmap that puts a timeline to the next 4 – 6 weeks of activity. Progress against the roadmap is discussed in detail during our regularly scheduled client calls and it’s updated further into the future as time passes and progress is made. The combination of great partnerships and solid strategy coupled with effective and transparent communication result in our teams being able to create effective, tactically sound plans that help our clients achieve their goals.
When providing online marketing plans, making sure agency and client are on the same page, in terms of expected tactical progression, is paramount. For instance, it’s often prudent to start engagements by establishing the cost and performance of direct response “shopping-centric” search PPC. Search PPC is often the most effective DR channel because users turn to search, post research, to make purchases, call via mobile or otherwise become a lead. Search PPC, in many verticals, is often the most expensive way to sell, because there can be more competition. In that case we tell a client that we’re going to “start” with a few months of search PPC, that we expect it to be the more expensive option and we’ll reduce it later with various bottom of the funnel tactics (like psychographic retargeting). WE mean it. Having set the expectation, our clients are not surprised when it takes a few months to make their ROAS.
An agency can have incredible partnerships, great communication, be as transparent as air and have phenomenal plans, but it you can’t produce results it’s all for naught. No one will care how nice agency reports look or how effective meetings are run if the results are missing the mark. The best client service providers know that they have to have the results piece in order before they start worrying about anything else. Failing to generate results will ruin relationships and lose business faster than they can bring it in. If you can’t produce results, you can fake it for a while but your days are numbered.
At aimClear, before we offer a product or service or make a recommendation to a client, we make sure we have the right internal support systems and process in place to produce results. Systems and process = predictability. Once something’s predictable, we can plan for it and have a high level of confidence in our ability to produce successful results for our clients. Knowing that we can consistently produce favorable results allows us to focus on the other key areas that contribute to successful client outcomes.
With hundreds of agencies offering the same services and competing for the same clients, there are few ways to distinguish yourself from the crowd. At the top of that list….exceptional client service.
Choosing Great Clients
Finally, while customer service is the most important value any company can provide, it takes two to tango. Clients also need to communicate and work at the agency relationship as well. There are many attributes to define a great client. From showing up to scheduled meetings and keeping promises to reviewing creative in a timely manner to not blowing smoke, great clients partner back.
True transparency, trust and partnership are the cornerstones of exceptional agency service. Commit to excellence in executing these fundamental principles and you’re on the way to growing customer service.
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