Who really cares about a client's need?

I’ve been working with some direct clients over the last couple of months –who have been ‘let down’ by the digital agencies and are looking toward – in effect – starting their integrated digital strategies again.

Now, full disclosure here - I’ve been one of those who, in the past, has let down clients – when working for and helping build agencies and software houses I’ve underestimated, over-complicated, stretched out work, shortened work, bluffed through specifications and then been involved in having to deal with the mess. This happens in every business and every market – cashflow, income, exit strategies, competition, capability all feed into the pressure and real day to day issues that need to be addressed and sometimes focus moves from what is right for the client to what is needed for your business.

But there is a slight difference in the reasons that clients are saying that agencies have let them down. Without exception – they have said that their digital partners did not understand them as a business and more explicitly did not want to understand them as a business.

To me this suggests that agencies are only interested in what is right for them and not the client, that they only see their services and value in a slim spectrum (i.e. delivering online solutions) and they are under pressure to churn out work. This is, I think a result of short-term, narrow minded strategies on behalf of agencies who are either so busy that they can’t look up from their desks or they are so focused on exit strategies that they are concentrating only on generating figures for due diligence checks.

Whatever the reason clients feel let-down, unengaged and ready to move on.

What a missed opportunity for agencies – why would you not want to understand and get fully engaged with businesses that want you to do just that? I wonder if in addition to some of the flippant reasons I’ve listed above if it is because digital agencies do not have the right skillset within their staffing base that allows them to effectively become a partner for the next stage of digital maturity.

This is being magnified in the market now by the number of management consultancies that are in the process of buying creative and digital agencies. There is a fundamental reason for this I think – not because they are wowed by their creativity, beards and tight jeans – but because the consultancies have immersed themselves in their clients’ business, developed a strategy and need a creative production house to implement their strategic plans. Creative and digital agencies are at the end of business change and not at the start.

It’s understandable, right? In all seriousness, you cannot get a front-end developer to be able to understand the core business and logistics imperatives for order processing, an account manager to focus on the investment strategy within which digital is simply one line or (as it stands today) can you expect a UX professional to be able to understand the entire end to end customer experiences (online and offline) – although they should and I write about that constantly – most recently here.

But in my view this approach and agency mindset really does need modification – creative and digital agencies need to broaden their skillset – move away from expecting Business Analysts and Customer Experience staff to find all the answers and then limit them to maintaining their scope of the visible digital aspects of the work, but rather supporting them with experienced business and management professionals. Because of the business criticality of digital these agencies need to be in a position where they can understand, lead and implement significant business change. And they are more than capable of doing so…

Agencies and their management teams mustn’t forget that they have created and run businesses themselves – they understand the pitfalls, risks and opportunities that creating and managing a business in the digital world involves – they are much better positioned that some of the consultancy firms that we see muscling in on the digital and creative market today. Maybe there is a need for a bit more confidence (if that is possible in digital) in broadening and delivering real business change services.

Being in a position where a creative or digital agency bought a management consultancy is I think, be what should be happening in the market – for the benefit of businesses and customers – but we are still a long way from this at the moment.

By understanding businesses in much more detail and having the confidence and the mindset to commit to it – we may see some forward-thinking agencies that are truly focused on the growth and success of their clients succeeding in more dramatic and exciting ways than before.

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The Ethics of User Experience