In The New Normal, Client Retention Means Playing Above The Rim

basketball_rimDenial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

These are the five stages of grief a PR agency (or any business for that matter) goes through when a good client takes their business to a competitor.  Each of the five stages were detailed in a recent post in which I promised a follow-up with a few ideas on how an agency can beef up its existing client retention program (you have one, right?).

The problem some agencies and other organizations have is this:  a short memory. What often happens once the initial jolt and after shocks of losing a good client subside and everyone gets back to business, or perhaps even begins work on behalf of a “replacement” client, is that they revert to some of the same bad habits that got them in trouble in the first place, like ignoring the obvious signs of a failing business relationship.

While many of the keys to client retention in the “new normal” are second nature to many organizations and are seamlessly rolled into how they conduct business on a day-to-day basis — like proactively managing and measuring client expectations, the overall health of the relationship and the value that is being delivered while saying “no” to non-aligned business — there are above the rim ideas that can help lock in a client for life.

For example, how about setting a new standard for quality performance? Name it whatever you want (TQM = total quality commitment?).  Pull your senior client-facing managers together once a month for a couple of hours to probe and to get to the root of client issues and problem areas.  Don’t talk about staffing or utilization or new business at this meeting.  Just focus on the organization’s top clients and use the time to share best practices. Chances are you or one of your peers is facing a client relations issue another had already experienced and successfully resolved.  It’s amazing how many important war and success stories aren’t shared in real-time due to the hustle and bustle of the average work day in a typical agency.  Set time aside for this.

Secondly, consider retaining an independent auditor — someone familiar enough with your business to add real value —  to call on your clients a couple of times a year to nip little problems in the bud.  Quarterly reviews and a relationship management tool like the balanced scorecard can take care of the bigger business issues.  But a five or ten minute call or email questionnaire every six months from an independent professional will solicit from clients the type of complaints they might not normally share with their account team.

And how about a customer advisory board?  A board can be challenging to assemble (and a bit tricky regarding which clients to leave in and which to leave out)  but  can be well worth the effort.  A customer advisory board can accomplish a few critical goals as part of a broader customer retention program:

  • the board should be composed of execs from your biggest customers (customers who deliver the lion’s share of your organization’s revenue).  Even if they don’t want to commit the time, any client will be flattered you asked and just by doing that you have deepened your relationship with them.
  • board members can provide your organization with early warning shifts in their needs as well as emerging opportunities and feedback on new services your firm is providing (or should be providing). And for board members,  membership gives them an opportunity to share best practices, network and build new relationships with other executives in and outside of their industry.
  • By following through on customer advisory board recommendations, you’re ensuring client satisfaction, building customer loyalty and reducing attrition among your biggest revenue generators.

I’m always on the watch for innovations in customer retention programs so holler back.

Advertisements

Stop Burning Through PR Agencies – Here’s How

Image

Stop wondering about the relationship with your public relations agency and find out exactly what’s working and what’s broken.

If you don’t want to become one of “those clients” known for burning through one PR agency after the other, and if you don’t want to be known as a PR agency that churns through clients — then measure, measure, measure.

The mid-point of each year is always a good time to reflect on one’s business and business relationships.  It’s an opportunity to review goals against accomplishments for the first six months of the year and to consider course corrections for the next six. If you’re in corporate communications and work with a PR agency, this means it’s an optimal time to assess and evaluate this critical relationship.  Whether your agency relationship is a relatively new one (perhaps it started on the first of the year, as many do), or a well-established one, a six-month evaluation is worth every bit of time and effort.  It will nip-in-the bud elements of the relationship that may be heading in the wrong direction.

The mid-year agency assessment can be as big an undertaking as client and agency want and need it to be.  But just because the managers of the relationship “feel” things are going well and everyone is so busy anyway doesn’t mean the assessment should be a gloss over.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  If the relationship is being managed by “feel” vs. by agreed to measurement and evaluation criteria (e.g. strategy, execution/tactics, results/impact, income/investment) and on a regular basis, then plan for a bumpy road ahead.

Here’s a little help.  Consider these questions when you sit down with your agency to discuss the hits and misses of the first half of the year and your expectations for the second half.  And if you work on the agency side, insist that the senior-most client stakeholders participate in the assessment process.  If the client dismisses the process by not making enough time for it or by delegating the process to junior-level people, then a BIG problem is already brewing.

  • Does your agency team know your business, markets and your customers at least as well as you do?
  • Do your agency account team leaders understand your internal pressures or do they only see the world through one lens — theirs?
  • Is your agency team visible and communicating with you enough?
  • If not, why not?
  • Do you think your agency team is too busy working on other accounts or out trying to win new ones?
  • Is your business important enough to them?
  • When do you see or hear from the senior-most agency executives — only when there’s a problem or only when there’s good news to share?
  • Are the agency’s senior client service pros truly engaged with your business, in the trenches with the account team generating ideas and creating insights to propel your communications program forward?
  • Is your agency listening to you or do they insist on doing things only their way and throw a temper tantrum when you insist on an alternative approach?
  • Does your agency hold itself accountable by following through on their commitments or has accountability waned since the early days of engagement?

In the best agency/client relationships, issues that come up during a review shouldn’t be a big surprise to either party.  In the best relationships, communications are open and frequent enough so that major issues are raised and addressed in real-time. However, the “best” agency relationships are far and few between. In too many agency/client relationships issues stay in the parking lot with both parties hoping the issues will disappear on their own.

They won’t.

What’s the relationship with your agency like? It’s the mid-year and a good time to find out.