Running a digital agency can be tough. First you have to persuade the clients to buy from you, then they squeeze you on price and then you have to deliver. If you over-deliver then they expect you to keep on doing it; if you under-deliver then the client wants a refund or they’ll sack you. And the customer’s view of great service is not the same as yours!
Most digital agencies are convinced that they deliver, and in spades! However, try talking to some disgruntled customers and you get a very different picture. And there is no shortage of these moaners and grumblers. But, professional pride aside, there is something going on that we need to get to the bottom of.
A ‘service delivery’ gap is reported consistently in all service firms which include marketing and digital agencies. The relatively limited data we have for digital agencies is entirely consistent with that of other service firms (see $$$$$$$).
80% of companies reported that they deliver an above-average customer experience
When asked, only 11% of the actual clients felt they received an above-average experience
The reality is that it would appear that service firms, including practices and agencies, are failing to deliver.
There is a 69% service gap.
Like male drivers, most companies believe that they are above-average. Paradoxically, they are not so confident as to say that their clients would agree. The clients (as suggested by the companies themselves) support the view that few supplier companies deliver above-average service levels.
It is surprising that suppliers appear to hold logical but inconsistent points of view:
A totally unrealistic view (over-inflated?) of the customer experience they are delivering
A totally realistic view of what their clients think of them.
The delivery gap may occur for a number of reasons:
Basic blindness or inability to take on customer feedback
Being too much in love with one’s own product/service
Not being close enough to the customer
Failure to track and monitor every step of the customer journey
Preoccupation with hard measures and statistics that sit neatly in a spreadsheet
Forgetting the purpose, the why, of their business
Inability to believe that there could be a better way of delivering
Smugness that the customer is not always right
Failure to design new products/services that exceed customer satisfaction.
Excellent customer service is difficult to deliver. While excellent customer service is easy to describe it seems to be much harder to deliver, consistently. Good relationships are hard to build and even harder to maintain.
Agencies seem to be blind to what the customer really wants or needs. Too much in love with their own product/service and their own processes, agencies fail to see or acknowledge how they are failing their customers. We regularly hear statements like, “Customers don’t know what they really want” and “We still deliver the best product but customers just don’t seem to get it”.
Many agencies simply fail to understand who their customer is, why and when and how and where they buy the product/service. The agency then proceeds to use inappropriate messages often via the wrong channels.
Confusing products and services with markets and customers
The product/service-centric view of the world is doomed in the long run; it will fail to follow the needs of customers as their tastes and technology change. The business needs to see the product/service through the eyes of the customer.
Most agencies are competing in over-cooked marketplaces: more competitors competing on price, weary customers progressively less impressed by empty/vacuous marketing messages. Similar-looking businesses employ similar people with similar qualifications to use similar software and hardware to create similar-looking websites to sell similar-looking products to similar people at similar prices.
Too many businesses are still working with one-year-old assumptions about who their customer is, what they are buying, for what reason, the right price point, the right sales channel and who or what the competition really is today. Out-of-date, it is no wonder their latest P&L doesn’t match their business plans.
Hard vs soft thinking paradox
It is argued that hard-thinking (measuring and analysing accounts) conflicts with soft-thinking (relationships and service). An impact of chasing hard results is that costs will be squeezed to maximise profits (at the cost of customer service performance).
In some senses, the solutions feel like a return to the basics of a first year Marketing 101 course. Somewhere along the way, agencies have lost the plot. But then most agencies are led by technicians first and business people second. The business mindset is normally learnt, the hard way, on the job.
The key is to design the customer journey through the eyes of the customer. The following strategies and initiatives will start to address the service delivery gap issues:
Identify key target customers
Create a clear value proposition and a clear message and voice
Design and align sales, marketing and operations
Use the appropriate channels to communicate.
Everything and nothing has changed in the last ten years. On the one hand, communication, design, production and distribution are cheaper and faster than ever. On the other hand, there is still a need to engage, on a personal level, and to respond to customer wants and needs in a way that they find accessible and compelling. Businesses and agencies that fail to address these apparently contradictory pressures will fail in the marketplace. (Think of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Kodak and Blockbuster.)