Drawing the Line Between Value-adds and Over-servicing ClientsOne of the best compliments my agency ever received came from a client who said he never felt like we had our hand in his pocket.

We were putting his interests ahead of our own.

And that is usually the best way to build trust.

Yet, as good as that comment made me feel, it wasn’t enough.

Sure, it indicated we were satisfying our client, but if clients are satisfied with your work, you may be in trouble.

Clients don’t want to be “satisfied” with their marketing agencies.

They want to be wowed.

And that means they want to be over-serviced.

But there’s a danger there, too.

Offer too much, and you could be hurting your agency’s future.

The Over-servicing Tipping Point

You need to over-deliver, but you and your employees should also remember you’re not running a charity.

If over-servicing starts to eat through your profitability, you have a problem.

It starts with your account executives.

One of the most dangerous habits for any AE to develop is to think of themselves as a customer service rep rather than a business growth specialist.

When that attitude spreads to the whole agency, you’ll start to see:

  • Unrealistic expectations from your clients. If you always over-service a client, the marginal value of that effort will diminish. The client will become overly demanding and expect you to keep upping the ante, possibly expecting you to deliver work even faster, or at a significantly reduced cost. And those favors could hit your business hard.
  • Low (or no) profitability. An agency client of mine worked with the same large client for years. They never modified their agreement, and after a few years, the agency was working for $40 an hour when most agencies were charging $150 an hour. The team was paying for the privilege of working for that high-profile client.

Alleviating the Over-servicing Problem

Some months will be better than others, but the industry average for over-servicing clients is around 20 percent of the monthly retainer.

If that figure approaches 75 or 100 percent, you need to address it.

Here’s how:

  • Reset expectations. You want your clients to be confident you’ll take good care of them, but you don’t want them to expect everything for free. The best clients are comfortable paying a fair amount for the value you generate, and they’re less likely to take your work for granted if you charge market rates. Make your scope documents and estimates as specific as possible to ensure everybody’s on the same page.
  • Educate employees. Avoiding the over-servicing problem isn’t just up to the agency leaders; every team member has a part to play. Talk to your employees to make sure they understand how over-servicing clients can hurt the agency’s profits. The more your employees understand the situation, the less likely they are to fall into bad habits.
  • Have a candid conversation. We all take things for granted occasionally. If you’ve been with a client for a while and have developed a good relationship, don’t be afraid to talk about the problem. A straightforward and honest conversation is often the best way to avoid expectations spiraling out of control.

Your clients want a long and fulfilling relationship, too, and that means they don’t want to see your agency go bust.

So offer the best service you can, but don’t jeopardize your own future to do so.

Drew McLellan

For over 30 years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. For 26 of those years, he has owned and run an agency. Additionally, Drew leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small- to medium-sized advertising agencies on how to grow and build their profitability through agency owner peer networks, consulting, workshops, and more.

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