Do you ever feel like your clients don’t trust you enough? Chances are that they want to but insufficient or ineffective communication is getting in the way. You see, when a client hasn’t heard from you in a while, they may begin to wonder if something’s gone wrong with their projects, or worse, they might question your level of commitment to them. Are they really a priority to you or are they just a paycheck? These types of questions are the enemy of trust and the main reason why so many agencies end up with purely transactional client relationships.
Consider this: The relationship between agency and client is in a state of decline across the board. After an upswing a couple of years ago, notes the Digital Marketing Outlook 2016-17 report from SoDA, only 53 percent of agencies now say that the agency-client relationship is improving, compared with 70 percent who said the same in 2015.
There can be many reasons for the decline, as this article on why social media agencies lose clients points out, including the inability for an agency to prove the value of their work to clients, lack of knowledge about the client’s industry, inefficient project management and lack of communication due to managing the needs of multiple clients. Underlying all of these factors is the one element no relationship can survive without trust.
Agencies can infuse trust into their client relationships in a variety of ways, such as setting clear guidelines and expectations, consistently delivering high-quality work and always treating clients with respect. In this article, we’ll focus on how agencies can build trust through effective communication.
Stages of the Agency-Client Relationship
As with any relationship, levels of communication and trust change over time, hopefully creating stronger bonds and a better working environment for everyone involved. Here are a few stages of the agency-client relationship we’ve observed that help both agencies and clients progress to a higher level of trust.
When just beginning a working relationship, it’s important that clients and agencies build confidence in each other, as well as ensure that everyone is aligned around goals, metrics, strategies, roles and other expectations whether engaging in social media content planning or developing other types of marketing campaigns. At this stage, both partners will lay the groundwork for the relationship, and begin to understand one another’s processes and preferred ways of communicating.
They may choose to work closely together at this stage, at least for the first few projects, to ensure everything runs smoothly. Once both partners begin to feel comfortable working with each other and have built up a foundation of trust, the relationship then moves on to the next stage Approval.
Clients that have reached the Approval stage have enough confidence in their agency to let them execute projects with little supervision; however, they still may want to collaborate and contribute ideas along the way, reviewing, editing and approving work before it’s final. The approval process can vary, from regularly emailing spreadsheets and updates, to centralizing everything in one system for anyone to access at their convenience.
The key to success in this stage is to come to a consensus on the approval process that works best for both agency and client.
Once the agency has proven itself to the client, the partnership may move on to the final stage: Pre-Approval. In this stage, the agency has earned the complete confidence of their client and is given authority to manage processes from start to finish, asking simply to be kept in the loop on project status and on any issues that need to be addressed.
Since the client is typically more hands-off at this stage, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of working without regularly communicating with your client. That’s why it’s critical that a solid communication plan between the agency and client is already in place before this final stage is reached.
How to Communicate Better With Your Clients
Regardless of which relationship stage you might be in, there are certain steps you can take to improve communication and strengthen the working bond with your clients.
Find the right communication balance. One of the secrets of effective communication is to understand and honor how your clients prefer to communicate. While one might prefer multiple daily email updates, others might want to have access to a dashboard to check status at their own convenience.
Keep the focus on strategy and results. Clients need to understand how the work they’re paying you for supports their strategy and drives results. Focus your communication on how your work moves goals forward and contributes to the bottom line.
Provide high levels of visibility and transparency. Clients shouldn’t have to wait for you to send them a weekly status report in order to see how their campaigns and other projects are progressing. You can facilitate trust by providing them access to a centralized system where they can explore the data for themselves.
Share only relevant data. Save time and avoid information overload by sharing with your clients only the information they need to see a particular project or piece of content. For example, if you’ve developed a social media calendar for your client, and only need approval on two pieces of content, share links to only those posts, rather than displaying the entire calendar for them to wade through.
Provide a unified agency-client experience. Your clients expect a seamless experience across all their interactions with you. They want the ability to access information and share feedback, whether they’re checking project updates while on their mobile, or sitting in front of the desktop in their office. HeyOrca makes collaboration seamless and provides a unified experience designed to help you build trust and strengthen client relationships.
Implementing even one of the recommendations above will transform the nature of your relationships with clients. Within a few weeks, you’ll begin to note a change in your client’s demeanor. Their mood will improve and any micromanagement tendencies will subside. In the long term, this newfound trust will mean better client retention and better word of mouth for your business.
Effective clients communications is an essential way to stand out from the competition, and investing in the right client communications software will allow your business to incorporate each of our recommendation into your process. Let other agencies continue use screenshots and spreadsheets to communicate with clients, while you use a tool like HeyOrca to ensure your clients are always feeling informed and confident that the work being done supports their goals for success.