Whether in health, relationships, or business, life’s challenges are catalysts for change. When the status quo is no longer tenable, we face a choice: it’s either time to run for shelter or redefine our playing field.

Such is the current context for agencies and clients. It’s clear that the business environment we’ve known for years is extinct. The waves that rock our boat and distract us may be the economy, the dour outlook on pipeline innovation, or the paralyzing predictions of year-to-year national growth. Whatever the uncertainty, it is more crucial than ever for agencies to provide clients with extraordinary value, attentiveness to the relationship, and stability.

But determining whether an agency provides real benefit to the client requires a closer examination—breaking through an emotional barrier to understand the truth about the working relationship.

While clients must ensure that their agencies are focused on what matters most to business objectives, agencies, too, must fearlessly ask clients if what they are doing matters and if the relationship is on track with expectations. It can be uncomfortable to ask a pointed question—but the truthful response will inevitably uncover areas for mutual benefit. “How likely is it that you would recommend us to another colleague or industry contact?” Any hesitation or “let me think about that” contemplation must be heard as: improvement needed immediately.

People are fearful of handling the truth about the client-agency relationship, and about nipping in the bud performance setbacks that, if addressed, might actually elevate growth potential. Why is it that a handful of great agencies see year-to-year client retention at 90 percent or higher? They do not hesitate to ask their clients the frightening “do you love me enough to recommend me to others” question. People at those agencies are willing to disrupt the status quo—and discover the truth about the relationship—in order to redefine their game plan.

All agencies can benefit from a quick reality check. Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company, and author of The Ultimate Question, recommends creating a Net Promoter Score (NPS). The formula is simple. “A growth engine running at perfect efficiency would convert 100 percent of a company’s customers into promoters (P). The worst possible engine would convert 100 percent into detractors. The best way to gauge the efficiency of the growth engine is to take the percentage of customers who are promoters (P) and subtract the percentage of detractors (D).” In other words, using Reichheld’s approach, you can calculate your organization’s NPS—a score that represents client satisfaction with your work—with the formula P – D = NPS. Anything less than a 90% NPS rating requires a closer look at how you seek out the truth in client relationships.

Agencies want to deliver. Clients need to meet business objectives and succeed— with their agency partners at their side. But in today’s environment, clients anticipate more participation, greater insight and applied creativity. Unwanted or unexpected change in agency-client relationships can be painful—but proactive change and new, disruptive thinking can be the perfect catalyst for improved output and satisfaction on both sides. Rather than sit silently and hope that all is well, ask the ultimate question—and learn to handle the truth.

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