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What do clients think?

The recent What Clients Think report by Up To The Light, in association with the DBA, has thrown up some interesting insights on the thoughts of individuals who commission design.

We can’t make sweeping generalisations, of course, but the report draws insight from in-depth interviews with over 500 clients, across the whole seniority spectrum, from large and small businesses and from a wide variety of sectors. As the author of the report Jonathan Kirk said at the recent launch event hosted by the DBA, the report gives clarity to a lot of issues that agencies know exist but don’t know how to manage.

Here are my five top take-outs from the report and launch event:

1. Client pressures

Clients are feeling pressure in terms of both time and money – they feel the need to do more with less and are constantly being bombarded by approaches from a multitude of other agencies. On average 17 approaches a day (from all types of agencies, not just design). The fact that 64% of clients couldn’t name more than three other design agencies shows that a lot of new business approach has become background noise. They don’t have time to have exploratory ‘credential’ meetings with agencies and they don’t like to feel sold to. Instead they like to feel they have discovered the agency themselves.

2. Agency positioning and promotion

Clients are interested in knowing what an agency’s core competencies are when visiting their website. 93% want to know what they are best at quickly and easily, rather than assertions that you are experts at everything. 88% of clients have not visited their agency’s website ‘in the last few months’ and when prompted to do so 44% said it ‘fails to communicate the agency I know’.

Agencies are obviously missing a trick. They need to articulate what they do simply (and differentiate themselves from competitors) and provide a reason for clients to revisit their site on a regular basis. Once a good relationship has been established, 33% of clients wish their agency offered more services. Getting a client to revisit your site (where your services are clearly explained) is a clear way of winning more business without ‘selling’ to the client.

3. Effectiveness


70% of clients believe that design effectiveness can be difficult (though not impossible) to measure. Those agencies that support and encourage their clients to measure their effectiveness have an advantage. Evidence of effectiveness was also the top answer to the question ‘If a new agency had 30 seconds to say something to you, what would be most likely to get your interest?’ A perfect reason to study how others have articulated the effectiveness of their work in the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards archive.

4. Questioning and pitch disruption


68% of winning pitch presentations went against the brief in some way. Proof perhaps that many clients don’t really know what they want or need at the start of the process – a sentiment echoed in a recent article for the DBA by Blair Enns, ‘Quit giving the client what they want’.

Questioning the brief should be the first stage of any project, but how far you push it relates to if you are in a supplier or partner relationship with the client. There is scope for more interrogation throughout a project though, with 44% of clients wishing that their design agencies asked more questions and 30% feeling that their agency was too passive.

5. Client servicing


Agencies rarely lose a client because they were not creative enough. 89% of clients who had a weaker relationship with their agency cited client service issues as the main reason. Biggest bug-bears include failing to flag additional costs earlier, haphazard progress reports, being too passive or overly defensive/stubborn. And people have long memories – 29% of clients referred to an agency ‘mistake’ that happened over a year ago. It is failings in client servicing which lead to only 18% of clients believing that their design agency ‘regularly exceeds’ their expectations.

Jonathan’s main advice for developing and maintaining excellent client relationships was to instill a defined approach to client servicing. Actually writing down how your agency manages client relationships is important so all staff can follow the same process and understand what needs to be done in different circumstances. Making mistakes is human, how they are corrected and dealt with can actually strengthen a relationship.

We recently launched the What Clients Think report with Up to the Light. DBA members can view the video of the launch event here (login required), which features in-depth analysis of results by DBA Expert Jonathan Kirk as well as advice and context around how agencies might address some of the issues presented.

If you’d like access to the video, become a DBA member. Call us on 020 7251 9229 or visit our website to discuss how joining us can help your design agency grow.

Image credit: Up to the Light


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