What could cause a client to jump ship?

September 24, 2015

In the world of client/agency relationships it's incredibly expensive for a client to change agencies. So much knowledge, time, collateral, files and planning is tied up in an agency relationship that it is a big deal for a client to choose to leave. On top of that is the downtime that will result while a new agency gets up to speed with the account. What, therefore, could possibly push a client to consider other options?

The two fundamental keys to successfully maintain and retain any agency account are "relationship" and "results".

Relationship

Think of the client/agency relationship in exactly the same way as a personal relationship or friendship. In business you are still dealing with people (not a faceless organisation), so the dynamics become much the same.

You need to nurture your client/agency relationship in exactly the same way you would with a friendship. You need to invest a similar level of attention, time, care, interest and empathy.

When your client can sense that you are devoting care and attention beyond the prospect of a completed campaign, expected revenue or repeat business, then you have hit relationship-gold. To get to that point you have to genuinely care. If you and your client never connect at that level, the relationship will remain purely transactional and - therefore - easily broken.

Results

A client will decide to use your agency services because they think you can deliver the results that they need for their business. You probably went to great lengths (during the the woo-ing phase) to convince your prospective client that your agency can do the job and present them with a stunning ROI at the end of each campaign.

Any Marketing Manager worth their salt should be monitoring sales results, website analytics, focus group feedback, brand awareness, anecdotal comments, etc, to gauge the success of each campaign. If your agency deliverables are not up to scratch then harsh fiscal reality could force your client to look for an alternate supplier.

It won't happen overnight, but it might happen

Due to the sheer cost (time, money, energy, stress) of changing agencies, a client's decision to switch will not be made lightly - nor quickly.

It may be that there is one particular issue that crops up time and again, or a series of issues that expose underlying problems (e.g. systemic, administrative or quality) which the agency may be unable or unwilling to fix.

As in any committed relationship there is usually a high level of tolerance, forgiveness and second, third and fourth chances. Issues will be discussed and opportunities to rectify and improve will be given. If the client/agency relationship and results are below par, a long-suffering client will feel they have no choice but to make a change.

Signs the relationship might be in trouble

  • Your client stops complaining. If your client complains, then they are giving you the opportunity to rectify. No complaints may mean they are looking elsewhere.
  • Silence. Haven't heard from your client in a while? There may be a reason for that. It's up to you to keep in regular contact to remain top-of-mind and keep the relationship-fires burning.
  • Broken record. You are hearing the same complaints time and again.
  • Increased volume. Beware if the level of frustration in your client's voice escalates - breaking point may not be too far away!

 

Prevention is better than a cure

The concept of "nurturing" a client relationship can seem somwehat un-businesslike. Be that as it may, it's the key to a long-term relationship - a relationship that will ride out inevitable mistakes and hard times.

If you are close to your client, and truly listening to them, you should catch every concern and every gripe before a situation escalates (or festers). You will regularly ask your client for their feedback, and you will work alongside them to achieve continual improvement. You will invest the time and attention you need to maintain a healthy relationship; and - if done right - you'll all enjoy the journey together. Win-win!

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