How Taking the Pulse of Your Clients Can Help You Manage Happiness

Download Now: Client & Agency Happiness Checklist
Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



Is the client happy?

This one question keeps many an account manager up at night, turning over every phrase said and every email exchanged.

If the client isn’t happy, that’s a problem. But the more concerning issue occurs when a client’s unhappiness completely surprises you -- when a client leaves before you have the chance to remedy and resolve the issue.

In all the chaos of delivering work, getting feedback, updating creative, launching campaigns, and reporting on those campaigns, you missed the signs. You thought the lack of a return phone call was simply a sign of an overloaded calendar. You misinterpreted a look as confusion, not distaste.

This situation and others like it is why TINYhr, the creators of employee review software, launched CLIENTpulse in 2013.

The company applied its approach to understanding the happiness of employees to the client service industry so that companies could see what clients are at risk and what opportunities are being left on the table.

Why You Need Clients to Evaluate Your Agency

Sometimes, issues can be beyond repair. But for the most part, clients become unhappy because of specific, fixable issues. Other times, the simple act of recognizing an issue and apologizing is enough to correct the course of the relationship.

If you -- like many others -- liken the client-agency relationship to a marriage, and if you are married, then you understand that sometimes all the injured party needs is to feel heard and understood.

For those who think: But why would we want to remind the client of our missteps or prompt them to question the relationship?

“That’s being an ostrich and putting your head in the sand,” said B.J. Shannon, the head of customer happiness at TINYhr.

He says that it is foolish to think that clients forget or are unaware of a poor experience. They may ignore it, but as soon as another issue occurs, they will start to build a backlog of complaints. These complaints will fester into an overall displeasure with the agency, and you could end up with a situation where everything the agency does is wrong because of the client’s general attitude. Once it gets to this point, it is difficult to turn back.

“It’s really about building a relationship so it can survive through all the ups and downs of a business relationship,” Shannon said.

According to CLIENTpulse, there are three main reasons you should survey your clients:


Landing a new account is expensive. It takes time, it may require a competitive pitch, and you won’t know until you actually win the work and begin the relationship whether it is a good fit or not.

It’s much easier to keep a current client than to gain a new one. Understanding the needs, wants, and attitudes of your current clients so you can retain them will make your agency a more stable business.


Loyal clients are more likely to refer your business to other brands, and this is one of the main ways agencies win new business.

And one of the best ways to earn trust and therefore loyalty is by showing a client how you deal with difficult issues and tough situations.

“We have found that when you resolve a problem for a client, loyalty goes up between 30 and 50%,” Shannon said.

This is because clients see that their happiness and satisfaction is a priority.

Price Sensitivity

When a client feels that the agency has ignored his wishes, has failed to produce strategic ideas, or has provided poor service, he will begin to question the value of your services and the price he is paying.

This sensitivity will make renewing a retainer or upselling the client event more difficult. You need to know when his estimation of the value of the relationship plummets so you can find ways to show your worth.

In addition to these reasons, conducting client surveys are also a way for your team to get a confidence boost. Shannon said that many businesses are surprised by the amount of positive feedback they receive. This feedback can reinforce good behavior in your agency and show you what matters most to clients.

4 Tips for Running a Client Satisfaction Survey

The first step for running a client survey is getting leadership to buy in; otherwise, the people on the client-side won’t feel that it is worth their time.

You need to tell them why this will be beneficial for the relationship. Tell them how your team wants the opportunity to be a better partner, but that they can only do that with the client’s input. Describe how long it takes to find a new agency when a relationship breaks down, and how this can lead to missed goals for the brand. Talk to them about how open communication has led to more impactful creative work.

Once everyone is onboard, it’s time to formulate your survey. Here are a few tips for making them useful and productive:

1) Keep It Short

In our experience, taking a short, simple survey can yield response rates of 50% or more,” Shannon said.

CLIENTpulse found that typical B2B survey response rates can vary between 1.5% and 10%, which doesn’t provide much data when trying to benchmark or make changes.

Keeping a survey short and focused shows respect for the client’s time, which is a key part of getting buy-in from the team. It also means you need to hone the questions you ask.

2) Get the Timing Right

At HubSpot, we take a weekly TINYpulse survey. This works well for employees, but you need to approach a client survey with more sensitivity.

Quarterly work best for customer satisfaction surveys, especially if the client has signed on for a year-long retainer. If you are doing more project-based work, you might consider a different schedule based on the timeline.

You need to do it often enough to be able to track changing attitudes, but not too often to seem intrusive and insecure.

3) Segment the Results

Segmenting the results of the survey is one of the most powerful ways to gather insights that will lead to improvements in your agency.

Segmenting the results by account manager is one way CLIENTpulse subscribers are using this feature. These are the people who have the most contact with clients, and their abilities and attitudes will directly affect the health of the relationship.

You could also segment by company if you survey multiple people within a brand, or you could segment by type of project. Are clients with retainers more or less happy than those with project-based contracts? Are clients who invest in content marketing noticeably happier? Should we invest more resources in selling that service line? Are clients who are local -- people who you meet with face-to-face noticeably happier than those who you only meet with twice a year? Should you invest more resources in travel?

These are the types of questions you can begin to ask and see the results for.

4) Benchmark Your Data

For you to see changing attitudes throughout a relationship, you need at least one benchmark question. Shannon suggests asking a question that will give you a Net Promote Score (NPS), which is metric that helps you define whom your promoters, passives, and detractors are.

For HubSpot, our monthly question is: How happy are you are work?

For your clients, it could be one of these:

  • How likely are you to recommend our services to a friend?
  • How likely are you to be a client one year from now?
  • How happy are you with our service?

Respondents select their answer on a 0 to 10 scale. To calculate the NPS, you take the percentage of clients who are promoters and subtract the percentage of detractors. This will give you an overall benchmark to measure against.

The second question you ask each quarter is one you can change up and experiment with. This should be aligned with new initiatives in your agency, or it should help you to find out more information about an issue you would like to solve.

The third question should be an open-ended one, such as: Can you provide us with feedback or suggestions?

This is where you want your clients to open up about what they are happy about, frustrated with, and what they wish would change.

Do More Than Collect Data

After you’ve collected and reviewed responses, the real work begins. That’s when you actually set up a time to talk with an unhappy client, investigate what the cause of an issue is, and make changes.

The goal should be to make your agency better through customer input -- for both existing and future clients.

“The only thing worse than not collecting feedback is collecting feedback and doing nothing with it,” Shannon said. “If you are not willing to make changes before you ask about something, do not even ask in the first place. It will make the situation even worse.”

If you are asking for feedback, you should have a plan for reviewing and implementing changes that make sense.

At the very least, you need to acknowledge the feedback. People want to be heard, and they want to feel that their opinions and thoughts are valued. And sometimes, that approach is enough to form a strong, open relationship.


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