A lot of conversation has taken place recently around Hanapin regarding the question “What makes clients unhappy”? I have boiled down these conversations into three overarching buckets:

  • Not being proactive
  • Not moving fast enough in accounts
  • Client communication

While positive results usually equates to happy clients, there is often a flaw in these three areas that causes friction between client and agency. Failure to detect these flaws and address them could cause relationships to be strained even if performance is good.

Let’s get to it and discuss how to address common flaws that pop up in client relationships, so we have happy clients that stay with their partners for a long time.

Being Proactive

From conversations I’ve had recently, lack of proactiveness is one of the biggest pain points clients experience.

Clients want and need to feel like they matter. They expect their agencies to bring big ideas to the table, be on the cutting edge of what they do and provide deep insights into what’s driving performance. It is not acceptable to sit back and let the client dictate the agenda 100% of the time. Clients expect their partners to recommend a best course of action and why. We’re expected as an agency or consultant to be thinking about and moving their PPC program forward even when it’s not on the forefront of the client’s mind.

How do we demonstrate to our clients that we’re proactively managing their paid search program? We can do this a couple of ways.

  • Presenting New Opportunities: This shows clients we’re forward thinking about the future direction of accounts. Avoid the pitfall of being reactive and waiting for clients to give permission to try something new. Bring the recommendation to them. The worst a client can say is no.
  • Get in Front of Bad News: Clients dislike bad news, but more importantly they don’t like to be taken by surprise. Proactively acknowledge where performance is lacking, explain what’s going to be done about it, and set a deadline for completion.


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How quickly an agency works has a direct impact on client relations. Many times when clients are unhappy, a key cause is the rate of speed work is being churned out. On calls, when clients ask ‘is that project done’ and a ‘no it isn’t’ answer without a good reason is the response, confidence erodes.

How do we change the perception of how quickly we’re moving in an account?

  • Set Deadlines: Create an expectation for both agency and client that a project or task will be delivered by a specific date. Setting deadlines holds the agency accountable for meeting deliverables on time.
  • Avoid Paralysis by Analysis: While very analytical, I prefer to do a little less analysis and a little more lever pulling in accounts. While its important to collect and interpret data correctly, if we look at it long enough we find ways to talk ourselves out of taking action. Don’t be afraid to do bold things (as long as your doing it responsibly).


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It sounds like an old cliché, but communication is king. Communication takes on a variety of meanings and forms. For instance, not providing detailed enough reporting and performance insight can be construed as a lack of communication. Lack of communication can also be not responding to emails or phone calls.

What can we do to communicate better and build tight client relationships?

  • Detailed Reporting: Provide more than just top-line summary data. For instance, we report overall performance by location for a client I manage. That’s simply not good enough. In addition, we report performance by business segment, business segment performance by location, and performance by network such as Search vs. Display. Being transparent creates trust that you understand how to view the client’s business metrics and that nothing is being held back or covered up.
  • Be Action Oriented: As they saying goes, ‘actions speak louder than words’. From time to time, there will be performance issues that are out of the agency’s control. Instead of harping on the problem, conversations must be ‘this is what’s happening but regardless, here’s our plan to try and overcome’. This approach builds confidence that we’re thinking through client issues, not accepting excuses, and taking action to solve problems.
  • Responsiveness: When a client sends an email or calls you, make sure to answer them. Even if you don’t have an answer for them, acknowledge the communication and that your researching an answer. This correspondence goes a long way towards showing you care about your clients needs.

Closing Thoughts

Keeping clients happy 100% of the time is probably an unrealistic standard. However, being vigilant and not falling prey to complacency will help keep them happy most of the time. Our expertise as an agency is what lands clients but ultimately, how successfully we manage our customer relationships directly impacts whether they remain with us!