When Clients Don't Hold Up Their End of the Bargain


One of the biggest challenges digital marketing agencies (as well as other IT services firms) face is ensuring that clients meet their end of the bargain in terms of performing effectively during engagements. Our agency clients have told us time and time again how client delays, misaligned expectations, and poor communication on the part of their clients often lead to project failures, missed deadlines, and unhappy customers. Unfortunately, this is a common problem that plagues the industry, and it's not always easy to find a solution.

It's not uncommon for poor client feedback about the agency to be a symptom of poor performance by the clients themselves. Clients are an integral part of any project, and their input and involvement are critical to ensuring a successful outcome. But when they don't live up to their end of the deal, it can be frustrating for the agency they've hired, whose dedicated team members are sometimes left holding the bag. 

Here are some of the struggles we see agencies and services firms face when clients don't meet their end of the bargain:

  • Misaligned Expectations - A common problem we see are misaligned expectations. Clients often have unrealistic expectations for what can be achieved within a given timeframe or budget. Maybe they were over-sold by the agency itself, or maybe a third party, such as a technology vendor, overstated the simplicity of the engagement. This misalignment always leads to disappointment and frustration, even if the agency has done everything in its power to deliver the best possible outcome.
  • Missed Deadlines - One of the biggest challenges agencies face is when clients miss deadlines. When clients don't provide feedback or approvals on time, or even complete specific tasks that are assigned to them, it can throw off the entire project timeline and cause delays. Oftentimes, the agency has tasks that rely on the client's task completion, and thus client delays have a ripple effect. However, the clients (or client management) are often unwilling to shift agency deadlines and deliverable dates, thus imposing a real crunch on the agency.
  • Poor Communication - Effective communication is critical to any successful project, but unfortunately, not all clients are good communicators. When clients are slow to respond to emails or don't provide clear feedback, it can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. This can be particularly problematic when agencies are working on complex projects that require a high level of collaboration and communication, or especially if there is more than one service provider involved.
  • Decision-Making Delays - Decision-making delays can be a significant challenge for digital marketing agencies. When clients take too long to make decisions, it can cause delays and throw off the entire project timeline. This can be particularly frustrating when the agency has provided all the necessary information and guidance to help clients make informed decisions.
  • Scope Changes - As projects evolve, clients inevitably request changes or come up with ideas that necessitate changes to the scope, timeline, or budget. While some changes may be necessary to ensure project success, others may be unreasonable or outside the original project scope. Digital agencies must balance the need to keep their clients happy while also managing project constraints and timelines. In some cases, saying no to a client's scope change request may be necessary to ensure the project stays on track. Regardless, the client and agency must negotiate in good faith, which is not always easy.
  • Lack of Organizational Buy-In - Finally, even when a project has been scoped well and agreed upon, clients may struggle to get the necessary buy-in from other stakeholders within their organization. This can lead to delays, changes in direction, and ultimately, project failure. Unfortunately, agencies often have limited control over this aspect of a project and must rely on their clients to navigate these internal dynamics. If the client partner isn't a good advocate or if they aren't persuasive, this can doom a project from the start.

So, what can digital agencies do to address these challenges? Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet solution, but there are some steps they can take to mitigate the risks:

  • Set Clear Expectations - From the outset of any project, it's essential to set clear expectations with clients. This includes project timelines, deliverables, budgets, and communication protocols. By setting clear expectations, clients are more likely to meet their end of the bargain, and there's less room for misunderstandings.
  • Communicate Effectively - Effective communication is critical to any successful project, and digital agencies need to take the lead in ensuring that communication is open and ongoing. This means being proactive about providing regular updates, asking for feedback, and ensuring that clients understand what's expected of them.
  • Manage Risks - Digital agencies can also take steps to manage risks associated with client delays and misaligned expectations. This might include building in contingency plans or adding extra time to project timelines to account for potential delays.

Getting clients to live up to their end of the bargain can be a significant challenge for digital agencies, but it's not an insurmountable one. By setting clear expectations, communicating effectively, and managing risks, agencies can increase the chances of project success and ensure that clients are satisfied with the outcome. However, simply meeting project deadlines and delivering on expectations may not be enough. That's where we can help. 

Digital Clarity Group gathers, benchmarks, and analyzes Voice of Customer feedback for digital agencies through our VOCalis offering -- it's like Net Promoter Score on steroids! But, we also assess client performance by surveying agency team members through our VOCalis 360 offering. VOCalis 360 provides insights that help agencies manage their risks, and it serves as a forecast for future VoC feedback, since poor client performance inevitably leads to poor results, which in turn lead to poor customer satisfaction. We believe we've unlocked the way for agencies to manage client satisfaction proactively, rather than just respond to it reactively. 

If you're interested in hearing more about this inexpensive, turnkey offering, please reach out to us at info@digitalclaritygroup.com

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