Client-satisfaction programs cultivate business

It is easier to keep than conquest. Marketers know that rule well, and since the Internet bubble burst, more and more PR firms are learning it, too.

It is easier to keep than conquest. Marketers know that rule well, and since the Internet bubble burst, more and more PR firms are learning it, too.

Over the past few years, firms ranging from GCI Group, which started a client-satisfaction measurement program last year, to Burson-Marsteller, which started its program nearly a decade ago, have put more cash and attention toward quality control and customer satisfaction.

In the past, the gateway to agency revenue was new business, but blistering competition for new accounts has firms cultivating the clients they have; revenue is coming from making clients happy enough to stay with their agency and ask for more services.

Janice Rothstein, chief quality officer at Edelman, notes that strong quality programs ensure a higher standard across all areas of agency practice.

"We are being asked [more frequently] to give specialist knowledge in a particular area," notes Rothstein. "But those clients also want to have input from other areas, like corporate, tech, health, and management. They may have hired us for a consumer brand program and then decide they want to go into China. It's important for our client to expect the same quality and consistency of service."

Michael Ramah, partner and director of strategic planning at Porter Novelli, credits quality-of-service practices for cultivating business in a relatively dry climate.

"I think where we have had great success is in organic growth," he says. "And that can't help but be due to the greater attention we are paying. There are fewer bigger assignments out there, client acquisition is increasingly expensive, so we are all singing the same mantra: Grow what you have."

PN branded its approach to client satisfaction "Signature Service" seven years ago.

James Murphy, marketing director for Burson client Accenture, concedes that the new focus on client satisfaction has a much greater impact on a firm's bottom line than in years past. "Over the past 10 years, people understand the cost of going after new business versus maintaining."

Murphy, whose organization, Murphy & Co., oversees research for Burson's Key Client Relationship program, says the firm does a yearly phone and in-person administration of its client-satisfaction survey. He adds that Burson uses a formal metric for client-satisfaction research touching on parameters such as quality of account people, the firm's responsiveness, and account administration.

Fred Hawrysh, director of global client service and a member of Burson's executive board, says the key is to talk one-on-one with clients. "[The process is] fairly extensive and involves hour-long phone interviews, with a spectrum of client leadership across geographies," he says.

Edelman created its E Squared (Edelman Excellence) client-satisfaction review after Rothstein was named chief quality officer in 2001 as the agency was expanding globally. "I was tapped to make sure there was consistent quality around the world, to deepen the dialogue with clients, and to find ways of analyzing it."

The agency sends a Web-based electronic survey to all clients once a year, to new clients twice a year, and to project clients at the end of the project. "It takes five or seven minutes to fill out, [then] it comes back to me and to the Edelman client leader," Rothstein says.

Key points:

Clients will make time to discuss firm performance

The agency president or a senior executive should conduct the review

Talk to more than one client executive

Agency performance staff should serve as a liaison between the client and the agency

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