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Agencies: How to improve the customer experience for your clients


We’ve been building an agency from the ground up, for over a year now. It’s the first time I’ve attempted such a thing and here’s the headline:

Clients are everything.

Ground-breaking, I know. For a capital C creative person, however, that takes some adjusting to (we’re bred to believe that the creative product is the centre of the universe). For a strategist, however, understanding the audience is fundamental to building insight into how and why a transaction might take place.

So, as a Creative Strategist, I’ve been looking for a structured way to think about how our clients work with us. The answer was as simple as it is profound:

Customer Experience (CX)

In no particular order, here are some of the most valuable CX lessons we’ve learned from a year of building an agency, and how we’ve applied them to improving the way our customers experience working with us:

1. You lost me

We’ve long realised that our audiences have no time (I’d like to see the next person who describes their target market as “time-poor” get thrown in jail, amongst one of the very few populations in the world who are genuinely time-rich). We’ve moved past the insight, into action and are designing our messages for them: infographics, snackable content, 7 second Vines and the like. Max Headroom was more of a prophet than people give him credit for.

So, then, why, for the love of PowerPoint, do we insist on delivering our agency product to our very time-poor clients in the form of 137 page decks? I’ll tell you why: We’re afraid that if it looks too ‘thin’, they won’t believe we’ve put in the head hours. We’ve confused quantity with quality, verbiage with insight. So we pump up the page count and, in the process, sacrifice usability.

Our approach: We’ve developed a strategic mapping process that spits out a One Page Strategic Roadmap. Reams of research, hours of inteviews, days of workshops — all get boiled down into a single page, designed as an infographic. Our clients laminate it, stick it on the wall and use it every day of the campaign. I can’t say the same of the 137 page deck stored somewhere on the corporate server.

2. Is that business or pleasure?

Both, actually. Spending time with the agency should be the fun part of our clients’ day, something they look forward to. I don’t mean ‘fun’ as in hookers and blow (although, for some clients, that might be exactly what they want me to mean), I mean fun as in intellectually stimulating conversations*, delivered in unexpected formats; with a diverse mix of people; in order to provoke a creative or provocative result. Most marcomms people spend enough time sitting in meeting rooms, having meetings. Why would we want to needlessly add to that?

Our approach: Learning through play. One of the most valuable sessions in our 3d Strategy workshops requires everyone (yes, even the boss) to spend some time building houses with Lego bricks. The things you accidentally learn while you’re playing with blocks would blow your mind.

3. How much would you like to spend on that argument?

Some people call them robust discussions. Those people are being overly polite. Let’s call them what they are. Arguments are not an inherently bad thing (in fact, they’re a necessary part of the collaboratively creative process), but when they occur in expensive places, they become counter-productive and fraught with danger. Some of the more expensive places I’ve seen them occur include: the photo shoot, the design studio, the edit suite and (my personal favourite) at the printers. If you’re going to have them (hint: you should have them), why not construct somewhere relatively low-risk (and low-cost) to have them? They’ll cost less and return more.

Our approach: Our 3d Brand Strategy** process is designed to tease out all the hidden agendas and provoke all the arguments at the very start of the campaign, before any ink (or pixels or blood) gets spilt. The only costs are the room and your time. We make it a rule to run the workshop only if the decision-makers agree to be in the room for the whole session and we work very hard at separating ideas from people, so arguments stay professional, rather than creep into the personal.

4. Would you like that gift-wrapped?

Unless your client is working in a marketing firm (and if they are, what are they doing talking to you?) their role will likely be in support of a higher purpose, such as making something, selling something or providing some kind of service. At some point, they are going to have to explain their marketing and creative decisions (the ones they bought from you) to their non-marketing colleagues. Help ‘em out.

Our approach: We often create an executive version of our presentations, designed specifically for our marketing clients as they re-present (and re-sell) our work within their organisation. Sure, it’s a little extra work. But it’s a lot less work than developing completely new work because the first round got killed by a committee who had neither the time nor motivation to understand your narrowly-focussed marketing deck.

5. What does this button do?

Maybe it’s just a man thing***, but not many people seem to read the instructions before attempting to operate something new and complex. The same goes for marketing agencies. Probably because we’ve all worked in or for or with them before, we all assume we know how they work. Crucially, we all assume they work roughly the same. Wrong. They’re all a little bit different. The good ones are often a lot different. Trouble is, we never bother to sit down with the client and explain why or how we work, or what they need to do to get the best result. And then we wonder why the performance is ‘sub optimal’.

Our approach: We’re currently writing an instruction manual. It’s about our agency and it’s for our clients. How we’re built, what we’re good at, which other machines we’re designed to work with, how to make us go faster, what will cause us to break, what to do when something goes wrong – that sort of thing. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek at times, but there’s some great advice in there for marketers genuinely looking to get the best work out of their agency. Especially if their agency happens to be us.

Have we cracked the secret code for agency-client relations? Hardly. But the simple application of a little CX thinking to our own business is helping us see life from an entirely new (and crucially important) perspective: our customers.

* I know that sound like an impossibly conceited thing to say, but our clients are genuinely changing the world, one city block at a time. That kind of ambition and complexity naturally generates some interesting conversations. I do my best to try and keep up.

** 3d Brand Strategy is the result of years of watching with some of the best strategic minds in the business struggle with the crushing reality of the 67-page strategic template. Personally, I’m not a fan of struggling.

*** No, it is most definitely a man thing.

This post was originally published on the Firebrand Ideas Ignition Blog.

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