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Understanding Client Satisfaction: It Depends On Who’s Asking The Questions

client satisfaction

How often have you recommended to a client that they conduct research among their own customers to gauge overall satisfaction and uncover what they value about the relationship to your client’s company or brand? You’re astute enough to know that armed with customer satisfaction data, you can more knowledgeably guide that client in everything from customer acquisition to integration of sales and marketing to customer retention. Now, how often have you thought about the need to understand your own client satisfaction?

The fact is agencies tend to avoid client satisfaction surveys for two reasons: We’re either afraid to ask the big questions for fear we might hear something we don’t like, or we assume everything is good because they are still with us. Both ways of thinking can lead to missing an opportunity to fine-tune your relationship with your clients, or more importantly heading off an impending disaster.

As an agency owner, you shouldn’t be involved in every detail of what’s happening between your clients and your agency. But, that doesn’t mean you should operate within a vacuum either. If you have an established “one-on-one” meeting process in place between you and your direct reports, and those direct reports have the same established with staff members they manage, then you should have a general awareness of what’s happening with clients.

Your responsibility is to ensure that the management of client relationships is carried out in a manner consistent with the agency’s core values and service philosophy. There may be periods of time when that’s not happening, resulting in a slow erosion of confidence between the client and the agency.

Simple Ways to Gauge Client Satisfaction

That’s why it’s smart to periodically engage your clients in “how are we doing?” conversations. A couple of approaches to consider include:

  • Send the client a handwritten note telling them how much you appreciate the relationship and that you’d like to set up a time for a coffee or lunch to check in with them. You could do this once or twice year. Don’t wait until it’s time for a contract renewal, but rather time it for when they wouldn’t expect it.
  • Send a brief client satisfaction survey after you’ve completed a project. Have the email come from you as the owner with a statement about why their comments are important to you. Keep the survey simple, limiting it to no more than five questions, and provide an opportunity for the client to include an additional narrative of their choosing.

Each of those elements has merit and will provide a level of feedback somewhat useful to get a sense of how clients feel about the relationship. However, I should offer a note of caution: your client might not feel comfortable being entirely candid with you.

The Benefits of Using a Third Party to Gauge Client Satisfaction

It’s human nature for someone not to be as forthright as they could be. Most of the time, your clients will speak more freely if they aren’t talking to you directly. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, so providing feedback about your services to a third party offers them the opportunity to be more candid and offer more useful feedback.

When functioning as that third party on behalf of agencies, we’ve been able to talk with their clients with an unbiased, but informed perception. To our advantage, we don’t have a bias about any particular client, but we do understand the agency business and know the questions to ask to get the needed answers.

Hearing and validating what your customers are saying as well as knowing which threads to pull results in them offering up even more useful information about their customer experience. Clients are more comfortable speaking candidly with us because we’re able to speak their language.

Using an outside expert to conduct a client satisfaction survey allows you to merchandise the survey so even your clients who are on the fence about you will be impressed that you’re asking—and with how you handle the results.

Third-party research is an investment in protecting your client base and improving your win/keep ratios. If my years of experience in this field have taught me one thing to pass on to agency owners, it’s that “don’t ask, don’t tell” and rolling the dice is not the way to retain and ensure healthy long-term client relationships. What do you think?

The original version of this article was first published on Agency Management Institute.

Craig Barnes

Craig Barnes

Craig Barnes is an advertising industry veteran having owned and operated an agency for almost 30 years; including three offices across two states. Still operating an agency, his second act (and everyone should have one) brings him to Agency Management Institute (AMI) where he puts his collective experiences to work helping other agency owners improve their people, processes and profitability.
Craig Barnes