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Are client satisfaction surveys worthwhile for agencies?

Does your agency regularly survey your clients to see how happy they are with the services that they are receiving and how likely they are to recommend you to someone else?

Is it even worth doing these surveys? That’s the question that Chip and Gini explore in this week’s episode.

Spoiler alert: they’re not big fans of formal surveys, so they offer some alternative approaches. For those who still insist on sending questions to clients, they do have some practical advice on how to make the approach more effective.

Key takeaways

  • Gini Dietrich: “Because of the work that we do, we should know whether or not clients are happy.”
  • Chip Griffin: “You’re not likely to find out much from these surveys that you don’t already know unless you’ve got a bigger problem to begin with.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “We don’t have hundreds of clients. We should know what’s going on every single day.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Ask yourself, what do you actually think that you’re going to gain from this? And if it truly is just that you want to find out how happy they are, why don’t you just ask them that question?”

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: Gini, I’ve, I’ve got a little survey for you. I need to find out how satisfied you are with this podcast and how we record it, and how we edit it, and all of that,

Gini Dietrich: how you are as a co-host.

Chip Griffin: Sure.

That too. Okay. I think I know the answer to that one though, right after this.

How likely are you to recommend my intros on this podcast to a friend?

Gini Dietrich: Oh, highly I highly recommend. Highly, highly recommend. Yes. I think they’re the best part of the whole podcast.

Chip Griffin: It’s all downhill from there.

Gini Dietrich: It is.

Chip Griffin: Listen to those first 15 seconds and after that Yeah, it’s fine. From our stats standpoint, you’ve downloaded it at that point, so I don’t care.

Gini Dietrich: Right, exactly. It’s all good. We can count it.

Chip Griffin: So, in all seriousness, we are gonna talk about client satisfaction surveys today because this is a question that comes up on a regular basis. Should I be surveying my clients? What should I be asking them? What does it mean? What’s your answer to that, Gini?

Gini Dietrich: Well, if you’re on video, you can see I have a guest who is making me lose my train of thought.

Chip Griffin: I, I prefer to think of it as having a summer intern, my summer intern. You’re in that season.

Gini Dietrich: Yes, we are. I actually don’t believe in client survey satisfaction surveys for agencies. And the reason being is that because of the work that we do, you should know whether or not clients are happy.

Because you’re having weekly meetings with them, one would presume they’re giving you feedback. You’re providing feedback. There should be a relationship there built with your clients where you know whether or not they’re happy. And if they’re not happy, you’re, you should be fixing that. So the idea of a client satisfaction survey, from my perspective, is kind of a moot point.

Because we’re not selling widgets. We aren’t, we don’t have hundreds of customers. We’re not a consumer brand, so we can’t, we don’t, it’s not necessary. Now, if you don’t aren’t doing those things, that’s a different, different topic, of course. But from my perspective, I don’t think that you need them.

Chip Griffin: Well, and if you’re not doing those things, the solution isn’t to introduce client satisfaction surveys.

It’s to, to have more frequent and direct conversations with your clients. Like you, I, I am not a fan of client satisfaction surveys. I don’t, I don’t care if they’re one question or a hundred. To me, they, they don’t serve a particular purpose. First of all, if you’re a small agency, your sample size ought to be exceedingly small.

Because you shouldn’t have huge numbers of clients if you’re in the PR and marketing agency space. You know, we’re gonna set aside, you know, more of the service bureau type agencies, the SEO, PPC type ones, where it, you know, it, it’s, it’s a volume game. But to me it, it, you do need to know your clients.

You’re not gonna likely find out much from these surveys that you don’t already know unless you’ve got a bigger problem to begin with. Right. In that you’re not communicating. Right. I would say even if you do have a larger number of clients, I mean, we used to do surveys occasionally of our customers when I owned CustomScoop and we had, you know, far more than 10 clients, In that business.

And even in that, it’s challenging because the people who tend to fill out surveys like that tend to be the people who are either the most annoyed or the most happy. Right. Your biggest fans fill ’em out because they feel like they’ll do anything for you. Fair. And the people who are the grumpiest will fill it out because they figure it’s their way to be heard.

Right. And the vast majority of your clients fall somewhere in the middle in between those. And so you’re not really, in my view, getting an accurate picture until you are able to run these surveys to huge numbers of people. Yep, yep, yep. And you’re able to do it with representative samples, and you’ve got someone in who’s an expert in making sure that you do truly have a representative sample of your business in order to glean some information from it.

Even then, we could probably have debate just how useful they are, and you have to be careful. Because clients will often, depending on how you word the question, they will give you the answer that you want to hear, or the answer that is most likely to benefit them. Right? Which is not necessarily accurate.

So for example, when I owned CustomScoop, we would ask people, you know, which of these features would you like to see in the product? And guess what? They checked off just about every one because Sure, they’d love to see them. And you’d even put in there, you know, would you be willing to pay for these?

Absolutely. And then we’d roll out the feature and those same people would not pay for, not wanna pay for it, right? Of course. Because it’s very and and so I always tell people, until you actually have someone paying for something, you don’t know that they actually like it. So if you put on your client satisfaction survey, we’re thinking about introducing, I don’t know, social media management as a service, would you be interested in that?

Would you be willing to pay for it? Your clients, they will say, yes. Sure. Yeah. Until they’re actually paying you, you don’t know that that’s true. Right. You know, it’s conceptually sure. It sounds like a great idea. So I, you know, to me I would focus on having meaningful conversations and not worry so much about trying to put together these, these surveys and, and trying to figure, okay, well maybe I can get some little bit of information that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I think some, some agency owners wanna do surveys to get testimonials or, you know, social proof. And I think you can do that, get that without doing a survey like, Sure. Just ask your clients, would you write a testimonial for me or can we do a testimonial video with you? Or something like that, because almost everybody’s willing to do that, assuming they’re not irritated with you because of something in the relationship that isn’t going well.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, you know, ultimately you need to ask yourself, what do you actually think that you’re going to gain from this? And, and if it truly is just that you wanna find out how happy they are, why don’t you just ask them that question? Right? Yes. I mean, and, and look, you know, we also tell you as an owner that you shouldn’t be in weekly meetings with your clients.

And so I’m sure some people are saying, well, wait a minute. You, you say you should be having weekly conversations to know how it’s going, and then you tell me you shouldn’t be having weekly meetings because it’s a waste of our time as an owner.

Gini Dietrich: Fair. I meant the agency should be having weekly meetings.

Chip Griffin: Yes. Right. And that’s my point. You know, you, you, first of all, you need to be having your regular one-on-ones with your direct reports so that you can pick up from them what they’re hearing from the clients and look that your direct reports are much more likely to be hearing the truth from clients than you.

Yep. Yep. Yep. It is, it is one of the benefits of extracting yourself from that. People will often be much more direct with juniors Yep. In expressing their dissatisfaction. And so you need to make sure that you’re, you’re taking the time to get that from your team members and they’re not glossing over it to keep you happy, just as the client might gloss over it to keep you happy because mm-hmm.

You know, maybe they just don’t wanna be honest with you. You know, you’re, you’re, you’re the important bigwig, you’re the owner of the business, you know. So, you know, make sure that you’re having those clear communications, not just with the client, but with your internal team members on a weekly basis, because that will be your early warning sign that something might be wrong in the relationship.

Gini Dietrich: That’s right.

And it, you know, I mean, as you grow. And certainly asking clients, but you can tell, like we have, we do some crisis work and, and usually I’m in those meetings because of the, the level of strategic work that we’re doing. And you can tell whether or not the client’s happy with you. Like I, we have one client who told me I’m not very nice the other day, and I was like, Okay, so you’re unhappy about something.

Is it because I’m not being nice because I’m telling you something you don’t want to hear? Or like, but so the, the, you also have to do some coaching with your team to be able to, to get them to the point where they hear those kinds of things and they’re like, okay, are they unhappy with us, are they unhappy with the recommendations that we’re making or the consulting that we’re doing or is something else going on entirely?

And it turns out with this something else was going on and she was feeling very sensitive. I also might have been teasing her a little bit, but. I, I settled myself down after, after she said that. But those are the kinds of things that you should be doing. Spending your time in your one-to-ones with your, your direct reports to coach them, to listen for those kinds of things.

What are they actually saying when they’re saying, oh, I’m really frustrated by this, or, I don’t like that. Is it really that they’re frustrated with us in the process or something else going on that you can help with? So those are the kinds of things that’s where you should be spending your time is in teaching and coaching your team to, to figure those things out.

Chip Griffin: And, and I think the other thing that I would say is that, look, we’re telling you you shouldn’t be in weekly one-on-ones with your clients. We’re not telling you, you should never talk to your clients. Right? Absolutely. There is a healthy balance because some agency owners do swing the other way and once, once they, once they hand off the, the regular day-to-day type stuff to a team member, they then never talk to the client again.

That’s a mistake also. Right?

Gini Dietrich: That is a mistake, yeah.

Chip Griffin: If you only, if you only pop in when it’s time for a renewal or to pitch some service or something like that, and that’s the only way that they’re seeing you. That’s a problem. So you do need to make sure that you have a regular cadence of having communications with those clients, whether that’s monthly, quarterly, semi, some, some sort of regular basis.

That makes sense, where you can come in. You know, you’re working on managing the relationship. You’re working on providing that higher level strategic guidance, so they continue to see you around and, and feel like you’re engaged with it, even though, because you need to go into those conversations fully briefed, right?

Don’t go into a, a conversation with a client without talking to your day-to-day manager saying, Hey, what do I need to know? Because the ideal is that you go into those conversations and it sounds like you are in on this every single day, right? You, you have a complete grasp of everything that’s currently going on, and it took you, if you do it right, five or 10 minutes of conversation with your team member to get up to speed like that.

But that’s so impressive to a client when you’re able to do that, particularly if you’re only doing it monthly or quarterly. Yeah, because they, they, they have the illusion. And you don’t lie and you don’t say, I’m looking at this every day, but they have the illusion that you are, and that makes them feel more comfortable overall.

So you want to always make sure that they don’t feel like, geez, you know, he has no idea what’s going on here, does he? He doesn’t even know that we have a big event coming up tomorrow.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, that would be bad. That would, that would be bad for sure.

Chip Griffin: But I’ve seen agency owners do that where they just go in completely blind.

Yeah. And, and that makes no sense at all because it doesn’t take that long to get a quick briefing from a team member. And I, anytime I went into that with a client, when I was not in the day-to-day, I always wanted to know, you know, what’s big and happening now, you know, what have they complained about recently?

What have they said nice things about recently? So that at least I know the basics and I come in and I’m not gonna get blindsided by anything because, you know, I think we’ve talked about it before. I always tell my team members never want to be surprised about anything. I don’t want good surprises.

I don’t want bad surprises when I talk to a client. I want to know what we know. And, and if you’re doing those things, that gives you the opportunity to, to burnish the relationship, but also to pick up the real feedback and understand how are they feeling about your agency in ways that you can’t get by sending them a Survey Monkey link and, and hoping that they take the time to, you know, fill it out and don’t just randomly click buttons to get through it or just skip them together.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I think, I think you’re right. And, you know, doing a client satisfaction survey in that way I think is the chicken way out of getting real feedback. Because we assume that they’re going to give us honest feedback and maybe it’s great and maybe it’s not, but we assume that they’re going to A, take the time and B will do that for us.

And like I said earlier, we’re not selling widgets. We’re not a consumer business. We don’t have hundreds of clients. We should know what’s going on every single day. And to your point, my mom used to say to us kids when, you know, if we got in trouble at school, she’d want to know it from us versus getting a call from school.

I don’t want to hear it from your teachers first. You better, I better have heard this from you first. And it’s the same thing with this. You want to know exactly what’s going on with the client, the good, the bad, and the ugly before you walk into that meeting. And for me, I do monthly meetings with our, with the CEOs of our clients.

And they’re scheduled. They’re scheduled for a year out. And we, we look at it and say, okay, you know, kind of like you would with a board meeting here, here are all the meetings. And certainly, you know, if things need to be rescheduled throughout the year, they are. But we scheduled those all out for a year so that I know I’m going to talk to this client on this day and this client on this day.

And then everybody’s prepared from my team’s perspective because it’s on the calendar. Oh, Gini’s going to be talking to, to my client on Thursday. I gotta get in front of her to make sure that she has all this information.

Chip Griffin: Right. All right, so let’s, let’s assume that someone has listened to us up to this point, and we still haven’t sold them.

They, they, they’re just, they’re, they are convinced they need to somehow do client satisfaction surveys of some kind. If someone came to you and said, look, I, I’m doing it anyway. I don’t, I don’t care, Gini, that you think this is a bad idea. What advice would you give them on how to structure it if they did go forward with it?

Gini Dietrich: So I would say we’re not, we’re not going to convince everybody. I, I just, I know from the owners, I know there are some who are going to do this no matter what.

Absolutely, you’re right. I would say that there should be at least three questions that are the same every time. And if you’re going to do it, do it quarterly so that you can get a good sample size and the kinds of information that you need.

Mm-hmm. And those three questions are things like, would you recommend us to somebody else? You know, if your, if your buddy says, I’m looking for a PR firm or a web firm, or a marketing firm, would you, would you recommend us or refer us? The second one should be, what are we doing really well and what, what can we do to improve our services or our relationship, or something like that.

So I think those three questions need to be the same every single time, so that you get the kinds of information that you, you want and that you need. And then you could add in things like, would you be willing to write a testimonial for us, or would you be willing to, to spend some time with us doing video, a video case study, or, you know, If, to your point earlier, if we’re thinking about adding social media services, and we’re, we’re, we’re obviously going to be thinking about doing 3D printing.

Would you be interested in learning more about that?

Chip Griffin: I mean, every agency has been meaning to look that’s what that was. To, to 3D printing. Yeah. Well, I, look, I would stop with those three questions. I think, I think you have outlined the, the perfect set of questions to ask that I would make, I would make one modification, which is on the. Would you recommend us question? I would be very specific and I would, I would use it as an opportunity to reinforce your positioning as an agency and say, you know, would, how likely would you be to recommend us to, and then describe your ideal client.

Gini Dietrich: Love that. That’s awesome. Love that.

Chip Griffin: Because what that does is it actually plants the seed and if they are likely to refer you, they may immediately start thinking of, oh right, I should recommend this to Chip. Because he’s, he’s got the kind of business that could work with you. That’s a great, so, so I would use it as a backdoor way to, to invite a referral and not just be a generic, you know, how likely are you to, to recommend this to somebody?

Love that. I love that. But I do like the other two being those open-ended, what are we doing well? What could we improve on? Yep. And I, I don’t think there’s any need to get more specific than that. I’ve seen a lot of agency surveys where they really go to detail, you know, how do you feel about your day-to-day rep?

How do you feel about our timeliness? How do you feel about our price? That’s that one. I hate. Do not ask about price in the survey.

Gini Dietrich: No, because everyone will say it’s terrible. I mean, I’m paying too much.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I’m, I, I only the dumbest client would respond. No, I, I think I should be paying more. Right. I, I mean, Who on so, so don’t even plant the seed that you might be overpriced.

Right. Don’t, don’t do anything that will cause them to think that way. The other thing I would say is if you do one of these surveys, don’t aggregate the results. Just don’t.

Gini Dietrich: No, absolutely not. Because to your point earlier, there’s not enough.

Chip Griffin: Don’t make it anonymous and don’t aggregate the results. Yep, yep.

Because the real purpose here is just to elicit a conversation with that individual. It’s not, you know, if you’ve got 10 clients, you maybe get four or five who fill it out. So that means, you know, if, if you have a variance in will they recommend you by one answer that’s like a 20% swing.

Yeah. And so, oh, our client satisfaction this quarter went from 80% down to 60%. No. One person answered differently, right? I mean, that’s, you know, so the, the sample sizes are likely to be so small that you don’t want to aggregate this data. It really is just pinpoint on that individual so that you know where you stand and you get maybe some substantive feedback that you can then implement at least on that account, if not more broadly.

So if you’re gonna do it, I think those are the three questions then I would stop there. Don’t make it more complicated. Keep it simple. You’re more likely to get them to give you an answer if you keep it simple. And just go from there.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I love that.

Chip Griffin: And frankly, those are questions you should be asking anyway if you’re just talking to them.

So this is really just, if you’re not comfortable asking these questions in a conversation, which I would argue you should be if you own an agency. But yes, if you’re not, you know, you can kind of get around it by sending it out this way.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I love that. And I think that’s really good feedback. And to your point, if.

Most. Some people are not.

Some people are not going be willing.

Chip Griffin: I feel like we’re back in 2020, Gini. I remember when we had our third co-host for many, many months there. In 2020.

Gini Dietrich: It was, yeah. Yeah. I need some space. Entire..

Chip Griffin: Maybe you should survey your intern and see what she thinks about all of this.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I’ll tell you what she thinks about all of it.

She’s bored. That’s what she thinks, and I won’t let her use her iPad. So there you go.

Chip Griffin: See, there’s your mistake. You, you need to understand that iPads, Xboxes, PlayStations, they’re all great babysitters. Yep. And I think it’s right, right around the age that, that your daughter is, is about when we caved in with our kids and just said, unlimited.

You can have all the screen time you want. Go away.

Gini Dietrich: Get outta my hair.

Chip Griffin: Leave, leave us alone.

Gini Dietrich: It’s only a week. I can do it for a week.

Chip Griffin: And now, now we’re at the point where they are, well, I won’t say out of the house because they’re not out of the house. They’re not, they, they’ve graduated high school. One is about to graduate college in about six months or so.

So progress.

Gini Dietrich: Close to empty nest.

Chip Griffin: You on the other hand have a long, long, yes. Long, yes I do. Long way to go. Yes, I do. You’re right. So on that note, this episode has a very, very short way to go because we’re gonna draw it to a close here before the co-host jumps in and really contributes more to this episode in a not very meaningful way.

I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich

Chip Griffin: and it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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