OP-ED: Measuring quality can help firms retain customers

Remember when quality was "job one," according to ads run by Ford Motor? Some of you may even remember a magazine entitled Quality. For those of us around during the '80s, the word, "quality" was everywhere.

Remember when quality was "job one," according to ads run by Ford Motor? Some of you may even remember a magazine entitled Quality. For those of us around during the '80s, the word, "quality" was everywhere.

However, during the dot-com era, quality became a non-issue for many PR firms, which could barely keep up with the new business banging at their doors.

What happened? Is quality still relevant? While quality tests can be applied to the manufacturing process, can they also be applied to intangibles, such as agency/client relationships?

Although there are signs of recovery, with the job market beginning to perk up, soaring federal budget deficits and rising interest rates - combined with surging oil prices - could impact economic growth. For the PR industry, that would mean a slowing recovery and continued pressure on profit margins.

Customer satisfaction has never been more important. As we are all well aware, the cost of landing a new client is more than five times the cost of retaining an existing one. Instituting a quality process can be an effective way to boost customer satisfaction and loyalty.

To satisfy clients, you must meet their expectations. To delight them, you must exceed their expectations. The difference between satisfaction and delight is not a theoretical one. Several years ago, the Harvard Business Review reported a study by Xerox demonstrating that "totally satisfied" (in other words, "delighted") customers were six times more likely to repurchase the company's products over the next 18 months than merely "satisfied" customers.

At Makovsky, total client satisfaction - customer delight - is the name of the game. Our goal is 100% customer satisfaction.

To drive clients from the merely "satisfied" category to "totally satisfied," we introduced our quality initiative - Makovsky's Client Assessment Program (CAP) - in 1988. CAP has been an integral part of our planning process throughout the last 16 years. Free of cost to the client, CAP represents the agency's investment in the relationship.

CAP encompasses "report cards," a gap analysis, and a creative strategy session. Twice annually, we solicit written client evaluations of our performance and - in a monthly meeting moderated by the firm's senior management and the head of the respective account teams - we compare two to three of those client report cards to written account-team evaluations and perform a gap analysis.

The questions we ask are a no-holds-barred attempt to get to the heart of the matter. Are we achieving agreed-upon goals? How does the client rate our work? Is the client getting value for the money? Is there anything we should be doing that we're not? Would the client give us a positive reference? An incisive analysis is supplemented with a creative session in which we examine new ways to add value to the relationship. Results are shared with the client by telephone, and, on a quarterly basis, an independent auditor contacts those clients to get follow-up feedback.

CAP demonstrates our client-centric culture in a very tangible way. It is proactive, rooting out potential problems before they can blossom into crises. It helps us sustain high performance standards, reinforcing our reputation as a quality operation. It also has been an important acculturation tool, serving as a way to model best practices throughout the firm. Not incidentally, CAP has resulted in an average 20% increase in client retention annually.

According to a recent study conducted by InsightExpress, while overall client satisfaction with PR agencies is high, they continue to score highest on administrative and tactical factors, and considerably lower on criteria related to quality of thinking and ability to measure success. A quality program can help fill that void.

Initiating a quality program means embarking on an endless mission to find better ways to do what you do. It requires training, planning, thought, constant review, and re-analysis. However, as a pioneer of quality in the agency business, I can attest to the fact that quality pays off. The key is to practice continual improvement and think of the mission of our business not only as the accomplishment of the client's goals but as the achievement of client delight.

  • Robbin Goodman is EVP at Makovsky & Company, and director of the firm's Client Assessment Program (CAP).

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