Make Your Client A Partner In Managing Their Expectations

I hope you make your clients real partners in setting expectations for your campaign, initiative or even basic assignments, and that you help your agency team play a role in this critical effort. If not, you may find my posts on knowing client expectations, the risks of not setting mutual ones, and how to encourage your team to consistently beat client expectations of value.

The key to success in this endeavor is getting your clients to provide open and direct communication about how they view agency performance versus their expectations.

I’m always somewhat amazed that a number of agencies don’t have a formal process to seek this critical input. In my view this is terribly risky, because the input you obtain from such input tends to fall into the following subsets, all of which you need to know:

  1. Things we know we’re doing well and that matter to  the client: It’s never bad to hear this, because it encourages you and the team to keep doing it. No-brainer.
  2. Things we’re doing well, but didn’t realize the client valued so much: You need to know this, because if you don’t, you might consider doing this less frequently, or putting less energy and attention into it. Don’t!
  3. Things we do well, but don’t really matter to the client: Yes, it’s worth knowing this. Sometimes we do things out of force of habit, because “we’ve always done it this way,” or because the client’s previous lead representative required it. But if it doesn’t bring real value to the client organization, or isn’t valued by the current lead client, why are you spending your time and their money on it?
  4. Things we know we’re not yet doing particularly well, and that matter to the client: It’s important to maintain the dialogue on this. It allows you to know if the client agrees that the efforts you’re making to improve are working. They may feel these steps are effective but require some fine-tuning. It’s valuable to gain such input: It can be a great boon to your team, informing them that their improvement efforts have been noticed by the client, are working, and worth continuing.
  5. And the most important one: Things that the client perceives we’re not doing well, that matter to them, and we didn’t know. This one’s so critical, because you can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broke. Many agencies only find out that there are too many broken things when they’re notified that they’re being dismissed. And that’s a shame, because often these issues, even the most difficult ones, could have been fixed if the agency leaders only knew.

Even though common sense might lead you to believe that your clients will tell you when they’re unhappy, paradoxically, that’s not always the case…until it’s too late. Therefore it’s incumbent upon the agency to drive open communication and get the input that will fall into the five segments above.

How can you get it?

  1. Hold annual, half-yearly, or even quarterly “report card” meetings with the client, not to discuss current programming, but solely agency performance. And not just performance as PR or social media or integrated professionals, but as providers of superior client service. Do remember that these meetings provide the ideal opportunity to discuss what they can do to be a better client. If you go this route, and I encourage you to do so, make sure you’re proficient in language that won’t create a defensive reaction and that illustrates the client benefit of modifying how they manage the agency, such as “Here’s what we need from you to enhance our performance on your behalf and do a better job of achieving your business goals.”
  2. Peppercom, the strategic communications agency which is highly respected for its client service, takes getting client input on performance so seriously that it makes an agency “report card” part of  its formal Letter of Agreement. The evaluations are extensive written reports emailed to the client twice yearly. In them, the agency is graded on everything from strategy and execution to results and responsiveness. The firm uses a scale of one-to-five, with five being the best. All scores are fed directly to the account manager, and any score below a three are sent to founding partners Steve Cody (AKA RepMan) and Ed Moed for immediate action, such as a call or meeting with the client to uncover the reasons why the score was so low. All scores are shared with every employee so that everyone on the team knows how they’re doing, and which accounts need to put things into “high gear.”
  3. Hire a third-party to obtain this data on an annual or semi-annual basis.

In addition to these formal processes, or another one of your own choosing, don’t forget to keep your antennae on high alert for client dissatisfaction. If your gut tells you that the client feels you’re not meeting and beating expectations, you’re probably not! If that’s the case, don’t delay: Get specific client input, share it with the team, and create a plan of action to right the situation. Remember, if you wait until the client brings it up, it may be too late!

How do you make your clients partners in meeting and beating expectations? How do you get their input on your agency’s performance?


Ken Jacobs

I’m the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps public relations and communications agencies and organizations grow and manage business, and enhance staff performance, leadership and communications skills.We do so via consulting, training, and coaching. To learn more, please click on the “Jacobs Communications Consulting” tab on the top.


I also agree that it’s impossible to develop and launch and effective product when your time working on it expires. A product is a constantly evolving thing. The job does not end when you launch it. In many ways it’s just beginning because it’s the users that will ultimately guide the evolution of that product. I often lament leaving a project when our contract time is up, especially when you’ve worked with a great in-house team full of great ideas. And it often works out that the contract runs out just as we’ve had a chance to really understand the business and the audience, and most importantly, the potential.



First, I agree that we need to think in terms of products when it comes to digital media. Someone introduced me as a web designer at a conference last week and it ruined my day. I don’t design web sites. I’d like to think I help build digital products that enhance my clients’ business while growing their audience. More importantly, the client (regardless of industry) should look at what they do digitally this way. Gone are the days of a website being nothing more than a digital brochure. In fact, you shouldn’t even call it your website.



  1. […] your firm actively obtains client feedback on a regular basis. If not, you might find my post Make Your Client A Partner In Meeting, Beating Expectations of value. If you’re getting this important  feedback, you know you can use it to help create […]