It almost seems too obvious to state that an agency culture can have an impact on client service and relationships.
In 2012, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy launched a communications crisis for his company when he shared his views on gay marriage on a Christian radio program and in a Christian publication. The backlash was pretty intense, but the company finished with a record year of growth.
All indications are the company's culture, which includes a laser focus on customer service, quality, and attention to detail, are what kept an intensely loyal customer base coming back again and again, despite the protests that waged outside the restaurants.
There are clients that will embrace an agency that is entirely telecommute or that focuses so much on flex time. There are also clients that will prefer a traditional agency environment where the teams are working 9-to-5 in an office somewhere. There is nothing wrong with either type of client.
The problem comes when the client expects a suit and tie, and your agency encourages jeans and sweaters. That's why new business development teams must align with agency culture and communicate the culture to prospective new clients.
The process of interviewing the new client has to go beyond what kind of marketing they've used in the past and what their goals are. Questions like “Are you comfortable working with people who work from home?” “Do you prefer teleconference or in-person meetings?” “What is your company's dress code?” “Does your marketing department tend to work nights and weekends, or do they limit their work to traditional office hours?”
This kind of questioning can quickly help business development teams understand the prospective client's own culture and how well it meshes with the agency culture. When the client also embraces the methods that lead to the agency staff's increased creativity, innovation, and productivity, everyone wins. The agency produces better work and achieves more wins for the client, who in turn is more open to new ideas and expansion of the account. In the long run, it can feed on itself.
Chick-fil-A has a very strong following among the Christian community and conservatives (among others). Their culture and company values aligned so closely with that of many customers that the culture itself served as their crisis communications plan. Today, they are a larger, more successful company for it.
By recruiting clients based on values and culture, your agency can achieve the same level of customer loyalty - and the same level of business growth.
Clay Morgan is VP of operations at Arment Dietrich.