Like the Cheshire Cat, humans have a cunning ability to smile when they are actually feeling something quite different. You want your client/agency relationship to be strong, so how can you uncover what your client really thinks about your agency and the work you produce?
We often use secondary indicators to convince ourselves that our clients are content, such as:
...but how can you know for sure?
All my young life my mother would say to me, "Just ask me and I'll either say yes or no...but you'll never know unless you ask." My mother was a very wise woman.
If you want to get a straight answer, ask a straight question. The closer you have built a relationship with your client, the easier it will be to ask a candid question, and the more candid an answer you'll receive.
Doing a project or campaign "de-brief" - immediately after your project is complete - is a good opportunity to ask for feedback. That way the details are still fresh in people's minds.
NOTE: MIND HOW YOU ASK...
Questions about client satisfaction should be asked with a sense of humility and caring. If your client senses any hint of defensiveness, or if you become combative, you will lose the opportunity for honest, productive dialogue.
Many clients like to put their agency through an annual review. Although uncomfortable, an agency should welcome this opportunity to talk through the past year and identify areas of strength and weakness in order to solidify your relationship going forward.
A performance review is a great chance to get everything out on the table, clear the air, resolve issues and move forward. A smart agency will request that a section of the review document include questions reviewing the client (e.g. briefing, communication, timeliness, barriers, sytems and processes, etc). [hint: two-way reviews are always easier to conduct!]
If the questions you'd like to ask are quite generic, then a survey (via email, online or social media) is often a way to get feedback en masse.
Surveys can be created so that the participant field is either required or optional. You may not mind receiving anonymous responses, and you may get more (and more honest) feedback that way.
Remember to keep the survey questions short and to the point (your clients probably won't have time to respond to a lengthy survey).
You do them for your clients, so why not do one for agency? Hand pick some of your key clients, ply them with food and drink, and ask them a series of questions about your business and how you could improve. [hint: alcohol really does loosen the tongue]
You've gathered in all your client feedback. Some is positive, some not-so-much. What happens next? What are you going to do with all the information once you receive it?
Firstly it's important to thank your client for their input. Most of the time words of thanks are enough. Sometimes a gift may be in order (especially if they have participated in a focus group).
Secondly, your client will appreciate knowing that their feedback will be fruitful. If you are going to make system, process or personnel changes, then tell them. If something worked so well you are going to roll it out across other projects, your client will be chuffed to know that too.
Whatever method you use, asking for (and actioning) feedback is an important exercise. It's one of the best ways to improve and grow, both individually and as a business. It takes a bit of effort, and may be a little scary, but it will pay dividends...guaranteed!