Many agencies are built on the backs of referrals; however, trust can be quickly eroded, leading to ongoing problems maintaining growth and building a healthy, self-sustaining business.
While most agencies will say that trust is important, we often encounter things that may inherently lead to a lack of trust, even if they feel like they could be good for business.
For example, we’ll hear of other agencies:
- Locking clients into long contracts with no out clauses.
- Not providing clients with access to their own ad accounts.
- Taking on work they don’t have expertise in, or developing dashboards that leave out critical elements like spend or cost per order/lead.
These may make your agency feel secure in the short term but won’t lead to a trusting relationship.
This article will explain why maintaining client trust is critical to building a strong agency and culture.
How trust is built
There’s a trust equation that includes three important components leading to trustworthiness:
- Credibility: Do you have the knowledge or capability to execute or provide relevant information.
- “I can trust what he tells me about SEO, he has deep experience in this area.”
- Reliability: Do you do things when you say you will?
- “If he says I’ll have this report by Friday, I can trust that he will have it to me that day.”
- Intimacy: Do clients feel confident that you can be trusted?
- “I can trust them with this project. They are always professional and maintain confidence in sensitive situations.”
Combined, these items represent trust. Any one of them can destroy or diminish trust.
For example, if you have a lot of knowledge about a subject but never deliver projects on time, your clients (and colleagues!) may feel you can’t be trusted.
However, self-orientation is another important component in the equation.
The first three items we covered – credibility, reliability, and intimacy – build trust.
However, being perceived as self-serving or motivated by your own interests can destroy trust.
In other words, even if you are really smart, and do what you say you will do on time, people who perceive you as motivated by your own self-interests won’t trust you as much.
“I don’t trust him – it seems like he is only doing this to get recognition, not because he cares or wants to help me.”
Why should agencies focus on building trust?
Now that we understand what leads to the perception that you are trustworthy, let’s address practical and business-oriented reasons agencies need to focus on building trust:
When your clients stay with you, new business becomes accretive instead of simply offsetting churn.
If you are constantly losing clients, you can continue to stay flat if you are good at bringing in new accounts but will struggle to grow.
Former clients will bring you with them
When your clients trust you and switch to a new company, they will likely want to partner with you again.
Referrals to new prospects
In your initial years of growth, your business may stem more from word of mouth than proactive business development. Building trust is likely to lead to more referrals.
Expanded services and growth
A high level of trust will generally open doors to selling clients additional services or increasing spend on accounts. Growing your business by increasing share of wallet within an account can lead to rapid growth.
Marketing material creation and references
Certain prospects will ask to speak with references or want to see testimonials and case studies. Clients who trust you will gladly share their experience with your prospects.
Your employees want to feel trusted, so make sure you do things necessary to help them be seen that way.
If your team feels good about their work and is more likely to want to stay engaged with the client, you’re likely to have a lower voluntary turnover rate.
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The process of building trust
I’ve previously written about NPS (net promoter score) and eNPS (employee net promoter score) as measures of trust. These are objective and measurable ways to monitor how well you are doing with your clients and employees.
Monitor client churn and the percentage of clients using you for multiple services as additional measures of success.
Building trust with clients starts during the sales process but continues through management
Kickoff meetings are the first opportunity for your team to build a healthy foundation for trust.
- Start with a welcome email.
- Build a kickoff questionnaire that shows your interest in getting to know their business and team, not just what they do in marketing.
- Introduce yourself and your team, and begin to build credibility.
- Follow up with next steps to start showing that you will be reliable by meeting stated dates.
Best practices for building trust with your clients
- Consistent and reliable service: Cover the breadth of strategy and execution, and be responsive to requests. That doesn’t mean you should drop everything, but it does mean that you should acknowledge receipt of requests.
- Do what you say, and when you say you’ll do it: Not being reliable is a quick way to destroy trust.
- Be proactive and transparent with communication: Use agendas to set the stage for a great discussion.
- Deliver measurable results: Offer transparent reporting and discuss weekly highlights and improvement areas. Ensure that tracking is as accurate as possible.
- Set clear expectations and timing: Following up meetings with summary recaps can help build trust.
- Own challenges and mistakes: Mistakes will happen – whether small, like a typo in reporting, or large, like an overspend. Own it, explain what you will do to prevent it from happening in the future, and if appropriate, offer a credit to make up for the inconvenience.
- Provide feedback and ask for it: Open and honest feedback loops with clients should be positive, empathetic, and action-oriented.
Trust is built over time and doesn’t require you to be perfect. It requires you to be transparent when you aren’t perfect.
Tips for surviving challenges or breaches in trust when they occur
Get in front of credibility and reliability issues early
For example, consider how you’d feel if you received this note on a Wednesday instead of on a Friday morning:
- “I know that I committed to getting you this report by Friday. It’s taking us longer to get the right data, so we will need an extra two days.”
If you send that a couple of days or weeks ahead of time, the client will likely believe you. Send it on Friday morning? They’ll assume it’s an excuse or that you procrastinated.
Create a solution-based plan for mistakes
As long as you’ve built a good, trusting relationship, you’ll likely be forgiven for an occasional mistake, as long as it doesn’t happen more than once.
- “We found an error in a formula in the last report that was sent out. Going forward, a second person will be checking reports when formula edits are made”
Offer credits if needed
This should be reserved for only highly unusual or extreme situations, but if someone on your team overspent, nothing says “I own this” like a credit, especially if your contracts don’t require them.
While the focus of this article has been on building and maintaining client trust, these same principles apply to building trust with employees, as well.
If you’re a manager of a team or agency and are interested in additional ways to build a high-performing team, you may enjoy the book 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.
The foundation of any successful team – whether between a client and agency – or internal team is trust.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.