Client Insights Report 2021, part one, with Carey Evans & Simon Rhind-Tutt

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By Jenny Plant and Jenny Plant - Account Management Skills Ltd. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
Transcript:

Jenny 00:03
So I'm absolutely thrilled to have Simon and Carey back from Relationship Audits. As many of the listeners are probably aware, as are the participants on my programmes, I'm a huge fan of relationship audits and what they've done. What they did for me when I was working at publicists, which was to come in, audit a relationship that wasn't going particularly well for the agency, and managed to extend that relationship by two years by finding out what was really going on with the client. So relationship audits and management, essentially, listen for what's not being said, with your clients. And I recommend them to every agency that I work with, because they are phenomenal. And not only that, but they have a huge amount of benchmarking data across many different industries, particularly in the creative space. So I'm delighted to have them back. So Carey, can I come over to you just to give a short intro to who you are and what you do?

Carey 00:56
Thank you Jenny, your cheque's in the post!

Jenny 00:59
Great!

Carey 01:02
So for those who don't know us, and I'm sure there's quite a few people who don't know who we are, the clue to what we do is in the name. So Relationship Audits, we audit relationships amongst commercial organisations who either provide a service or buy a service. So if you're a client, you might evaluate your agency or if you're an agency, you might evaluate your relationships with your clients. And we do that in the UK, we do it globally, we've got partners in different countries of the world. And we gather our intelligence by either talking to people with in depth interviews, or by using our award winning online assessment tools, prime of which is Relationship Radar. So that's what we do.

Jenny 01:50
Brilliant. Thank you so much for that lovely, succinct intro. So one of the big reasons I've invited Simon and Carey on is that they've developed recently a really insightful report about their findings, having worked with clients over the last couple of years. And this obviously spans COVID. So in 2020 and 2021. And actually, the insight that they've gathered from clients talking about their relationship with service providers, can provide us with some actions, some activities and recommendations for what we should be doing differently now. So Simon, would you mind spending a couple of minutes just talking about the context behind this report that you've put together?

Simon 02:36
Yes Jenny, thank you very much indeed and hello, everybody. One of the things that we often say to our clients, or indeed their clients often say to us, is that agencies are pretty poor leveraging their collective learning. So we, in a sense, decided to take our own advice and actually look at the themes that clients have been saying to us about their agency relationships over the last 12 months. And what we've done is we've put this together in a series about half a dozen themes of the key and regular things that people are actually talking to us about.

Jenny 03:16
Fantastic. Okay, fantastic. So I'm going to start us off by talking about theme one, which is, I love the way you've titled these, because it's a question, and actually people listening might be thinking, hmm, good question. So the first question is, 'Is your agency fit for purpose?' So can you talk me through a little bit about what you discovered?

Simon 03:35
Yeah, sure. It's amazing to think that it's now over a year since COVID hit and many countries all around the world went into lockdown. And, you know, especially for the business services sectors, such as marketing services, most clients, not all but most, cut their spending and agencies had to rapidly adapt be it furloughing staff or putting other staff on to reduced days per week. And undoubtedly, there was a real shakeout. And what our research consistently shows, is those that had the best service, the best client relationships are undoubtedly the ones that have performed better. It's interesting that some of our clients say to us, what's happening out there? It's all a bit quiet. And I don't think it's any coincidence that those are the agencies that tend to have the poorest client relationship scores. The best ones, certainly, that we've seen over the last few months have been, if they've been complaining about anything, it's the amount of pitch opportunities. So there's undoubtedly been a real shakeout. And what we've also seen is that time poor and insecure clients have really reverted to placing their work with those that they really considered to be what you call trusted advisors. In fact, probably about two thirds told us that supply and performance during lockdown was likely to impact their intentions to work with them in the future. And that we're certainly seeing is the case. Now, clearly, there have been a number of challenges there. The agencies that put their staff onto shorter working weeks, many of them face frustrations from clients, they couldn't get hold of their team when they needed them. And that from hundreds of client companies we spoken to, there hasn't been one that hasn't gone through some form of management restructure. And indeed, many of the larger clients, many of the larger corporates, seem to be on a continual journey of reorganisation. For many, the change of structure and operations has led to them re examining, if their agencies are now fit for purpose. So have a think, are you really fit for your clients purpose? So consequently, is perhaps no surprise that we're seeing in many service categories, a pitch frenzy with, as I said earlier, many agencies struggling to actually keep up with how many opportunities they have to pitch. So with this point, and the other points we're gonna make, there are two key things we'd urge you to actually think about. Simply ask yourself, 'How have your clients changed?' And if so, take a hard look at if you need to restructure the way you work with them. And secondly, confirm on a regular basis, what your clients expectations of you are, and, importantly, how you're performing against those expectations. The greatest mistake you can make is to assume your clients expectations of you have changed the same. Sorry. Let me say that, again, the biggest mistake you can make is assuming that your clients expectations of you have stayed the same. Carey.

Carey 07:04
I couldn't agree more. In fact, just finishing on that point about what Simon said, you know, assuming your expectations are the same as one thing, but what clients tell us,
between 61 and 63%, depending on what year you're in, of our clients we speak to say that their agency has never asked them what their expectations of them are. So I'll speak to them and say, if you're asking what your client, what they want from you, you're ahead of the pack. And it's in this whole era of expectations that again, we got a interesting development over the last 12 months, when we sit down and talk to our clients, when we do deep, in depth interviews, a deep dive into this, first thing we do is we ask the client company about their expectations of their service provider, specifically, their agency. And one of the things we noticed last year was that the proportion of those people, the client, individuals with whom we spoke, who said that agility, flexibility, being able to flex was one of their expectations of the agency, had grown enormously.

So if you look back to 2019, for example, then that's been there, but it was probably, it at was at a level of around 30%. And by third quarter in 2020, that number had risen to 76%. So 76% of clients were saying to us that what they were looking for was an agency that was nimble, agile, and able to flex given the levels of uncertainty that were existing in the marketplace. In fact, one grocery retailer told us that their agency had suffered because the holding company had put in place a rule about homeworking and the the agency themselves took about three weeks to get their act together. But what that bred there was a spirit of innovation to the point where eventually the agency got itself sorted. And in fact just didn't just recover but because of the effort it went to, to innovate, actually strengthened it's relationships with this particular client, because if your grocery client and your agency can't get the answer quick enough, boy, you're going to suffer, right? But the agency got around it. They look for innovative ways of doing it, and they sorted it. So the point about this, I think is to say, if you're working with a client, when was the last time you asked them about their changing priorities, speak to them about their changing priorities? Think about how well you're structured to help them deal with those priorities and those changes, and go to the client with your suggestions before they come to you with the questions.

Jenny 10:23
Okay, I just want to pick up on a couple of points you've said so far, particularly for the role of account manager that's listening to this. Because I think this provides a bit of a checklist, doesn't it, of things to do? Like, are we asking our clients for their expectations? You know, asking the question like, 'For you to come back to me in six months time and tell me this has been the best experience ever', or, 'I'm so glad we chose you as a partner what needs to have happened?' and then being quiet and letting them fill the gap? That's the first thing. The second thing to your point Simon, I think about the changing corporate structure, why is that key now, because for example, I've come across agencies where there has been a CEO change, or there has been a reorganisation at the top level. And that filters down to the supplier relationships. And it could be that you're, however good you've been, you might get given an RFI to fill in again. So you have to re pitch the business, which is fine and dandy if that particular client is less than, say, 20% of your overall revenue. But if it's anything greater then that presents a massive risk to the business. So I think this is great tip so far. The thing about nimbleness Carey, I just wanted to pick up, can you give me any examples of perhaps agencies that haven't been able to respond? Well, I mean, we talked about the working from home policy that maybe was put out there too quickly. Any other examples of agencies where they're not being nimble enough?

Simon 11:56
Can I jump in, because literally,
I was speaking to a client a couple of days ago about this and one particular agency has its workload meeting on a Wednesday. And apparently, the account manager from the agency said, 'Well, I'm going to have to wait until we have the workload meeting in a couple of days time until I can get back to you, and tell you when you can have the piece of work'. Now, this caused major, major problems with that client because the client needed the work really within 48 hours not to have to wait 48 hours until he he could be told when he actually got it. But also, I think this also raises something that occasionally comes up but Carey and I know, it's very, very true. The quality of an account manager, the quality of an accounts director, is partly judged by clients in that their ability to actually short circuit agency internal processes, that when something is urgent or needed very, very quickly, to be able to bend the rules and to actually get that work done. And what clients don't want to do, rather like this particular agency I've just talked about, is feel that they are in a set process that they have to abide by when things are really, really urgent. I would also add that a great account manager, a great account director, actually knows how their clients work, how they think, how they plan. And so lots of examples of non agility are also related in many cases to the agency, not thinking one step ahead. What is likely to be coming down the line from the client? And can we be preparing for that?


Carey 13:57
I absolutely agree entirely with that. And I want to build on that one. Flexibility is not just about what you do, it's about the process right. And so, we recently sent interviews for an agency whose clients, at the bottom of this agency is that they've got a financial system of one size fits all. I work with them in my particular country and I don't benefit from working, I don't benefit from local rates when I want to adapt a piece of internationally developed work. So what that does is I have to pay huge amounts of money for this creative work, which upsets the relative percentage that I'm allowed to spend media versus production. So my business is completely compromised by the fact that they won't be more flexible in terms of the pricing. And to build on Simon's point, another interview that I did, the guy said essentially terrific at operationally. But the other agency with whom they work, was far better at anticipating problems. And if you anticipate problems and go to the client with a solution, before the problem actually develops and manifest itself, and boy, you're on the front foot and the client's on the front foot. So anticipate and be flexible with your financial structures where you need to be.

Jenny 15:34
I love that.

Simon 15:35
And can I just add one build on this? Is that with the intensity of work,
with the intensity of deliverables and the problems associated with remote working, one of the casualties of this are regular post project reviews. What we're seeing is they're being sacrificed, just in the charge to get everything done. If you are holding regular post project reviews, to look at what's worked and why it's worked, particularly in terms of process, but also to look at where problems have occurred, and what the agency can be doing to prevent those problems occurring again, one of which may be forward planning, you will have a much, much, much better client relationship.


Jenny 16:24
And it's also another excuse to get in front of the client to build that relationship, isn't it? A post product project review, you could argue that it's less for the client and more for the agency. But it's so valuable. We're getting the feedback from the client so we're being able to anticipate anything that goes wrong, like Carey's point and also, it's our chance to build upon that relationship, and also anticipate future problems, because inevitably, that post project review will lead on to a future focus conversation about what's next. The other thing that you said, Carey there, which I think is again was super key, is defining value for your client from the outset. You know, what does value mean to you? Because it will mean something different. So this is all fantastic. So, we've talked about 'Is your agency fit for purpose?' we've talked about 'Is the agency nimble enough?' The third theme coming out of this report was, 'Are you communicating in the best way?

Simon 17:30
I think everybody listening to this will have seen, and let's say suffered from the explosion in Zoom, Teams, Bluejeans, whatever, video meetings and I suppose in the absence of being able to meet in person, it was inevitable that people switched to wanting to have virtual face time. However, the consequences have been that many managers, both on the agency and the client side, are spending huge amounts of their time on calls, and really suffering real fatigue. Many enterprise clients and their service providers are saying to us, that they believe that this has resulted in just frankly, too many meetings. And there's almost a paralysis about attending meetings versus getting work done. And it's interesting that we've seen a growing number of companies such as Citigroup, I think is one, HSBC certainly another, starting to come to trial the concept of Zoom free Fridays. I don't know whether it's going to work or not, but I think it's probably a step in the right direction. And you know, furthermore, at the start of this year, we ran a number of our relationship radar online surveys where we asked about clients intentions of going back to their offices, and also visiting their agencies. What was fascinating was by the end of February, the results were showing that 69%, nearly 70% of clients envisage going to their office this year, only three days a week or less. And 9% saying that they were going to work permanently from home. Furthermore, when asked about their anticipated intentions of visiting their agencies, approximately a third said it was too early to say. Fair enough. A third though, said it was unlikely they'd want to travel. And the other third said that they would travel, but certainly a lot less. Now interestingly, those people that said that they would travel but maybe a lot less, said they'd also like the ability to work and to meet their other colleagues in their agencies offices. Now, I think to be fair, that was the research we did in February. We sense since February, there might be a little more optimism about travelling to meetings. Nonetheless though, we're seeing agencies downsizing their office space, and reconfiguring their offices to make them more collaborative spaces. And we're also seeing a number of agencies who are hedging their bets. We know of a number who have given up long term leases and move to rented shorter term, flexible office spaces. And they're encouraging longer term working from their staff. So it's a mixture. This is a huge degree of volatility we're seeing. So, in terms of action, what would we recommend out of this? Well,
firstly, don't assume that everybody wants a Zoom call. Secondly, we'd suggest it's worth resetting with your clients, asking them what communication methods they prefer. And indeed, if you're going to have those Teams and video type calls, reevaluating just how many people do you really need on that call. And thirdly, recognise that in person meetings, certainly for the immediate future, are now a precious commodity. Particularly within marketing services. Face to face meetings have been absolutely crucial to establish and maintaining enduring business relationships. And clearly there will be opportunities, sorry, clearly that there will be less opportunities to meet your clients in person, certainly over the next year. So therefore, you need to think carefully about how your agency and you can get to meet your client in person, be it creating those collaborative working spaces that clients will want to safely visit, workspaces for them to actually hot desk from and also importantly, if you're going to do all of that, have a think about when those clients are going to be in the office and make sure that you're in the office on the same day with them. Even if you haven't got a meeting. Key message is face to face meetings are precious.


Jenny 22:06
Such great advice there. Just a couple of points I wanted to kind of pick up on. I think a lot of this for an agency account manager that might be listening to this thinking how do I incorporate all these questions and make sure I cover all of this? What we're talking about is having a really thorough onboarding checklist, isn't it? Have I asked what the value the client wants to see from me? Have I asked, what's the best way for you and me to communicate? I had an example of an account manager the other day that said, I can't get hold on my client. I actually wrote a post on LinkedIn about it. And I said, 'So what have you done so far?' And he said, 'I've sent three emails'. And I said, 'Have you have you called?' 'No, no, they don't pick up the phone anyway'. 'Okay, fair enough. What else have you tried? Have you tried WhatsApp? Have you tried a video message? Have you tried calling someone else in the client organisation?' But I think a lot of account managers sometimes are a bit stuck in the email, just going to keep emailing. So in that instance, Simon, for example, during the onboarding process, you could ask in an emergency, let's discuss, which is the best communication vehicle for you? What would suit you? What times of the day? How is it best? And the other thing I wanted to ask you actually was, which came up in a conversation today about this face to face with clients. It's at a premium you suggested, a collaborative office space, which I think brilliant clients are showing an interest in that. What's your view on corporate entertainment? You know, is it too early to say? Are you seeing any trends? What are agencies kind of doing?

Simon 23:47
Okay, can I just pick up on probably three points from what you just said. I'll just answer the last one first. We are seeing only very limited amount of corporate entertainment. And those tend to be outside the marketing services sector. I think one needs, certainly until let's say the end of September, to be very, very, very careful about this. There will be clients that would like, and I would include corporate entertainment, as much as going down the pub for a drink or going out for a meal. I think one needs to be very, very careful about this in the near, certainly in the near future. In terms of meeting clients face to face, it's going to be well over a year since most of the people listening to this will have had face to face meetings with their clients. I'm a great, and I know Carey is as well, a great believer in first impressions. It's almost a chance for a new first impression. And what I mean by that is that meetings run like clockwork, there are agendas, all the points have been properly prepped. Don't just treat it as 'Hello, it's nice to actually see you again and let's carry on'. There is an opportunity to actually reset. And to that point, Jenny, you talked about the onboarding process. And we've got a number of clients that have good relationships with new clients that they've won during the pandemic. But even they recognise they're not as close as they actually should be. And that has been a challenge for those agencies. But also, when you were talking about onboarding Jenny, it actually made me think of actually, what we're talking about here is reboarding. Asking clients what their expectations are. Asking about flexibility. Actually resetting a whole number of things with your clients, as you get back into pseudo normal working.

Jenny 25:54
I can see a Simon Rhind-Tutt blog post coming up!

Simon 25:59
Yeah, maybe. And the final thing was, maybe Jenny, Carey you and I could collaborate, and maybe the listeners could also add to it, but actually, I think it would be interesting if we put our heads together, and actually drew up a list of the things you can do if you can't get hold of your client. Because I just wonder how many ideas we would actually have.

Jenny 26:23
A great idea. I love it. And Carey, did you want to add anything to the theme of communication? Before we move on?

Carey 26:31
I mean, it's interesting, isn't it? You know that if you talk about face to face communication right,now what happened last week in Carbis Bay, G7 alll met face to face. And I think, I may be wrong, but I think Trudeau said it was one of the most productive G7 conferences he's ever been to. The power of meeting people when you can do it in the right way.

Simon 26:54
Well, I don't want to date this cast, but was speaking and recording this the day after Joe Biden met President Putin. And one of the things that Biden said last night, which we would absolutely agree with. 'There is no substitute for actually meeting somebody in person'.

Jenny 27:18
Without a doubt, without a doubt.

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