I have an open-door policy. I want to hear from our employees and our clients on how we can do things better. Years ago an employee approached me and said, “You know what, Mark…I think – given the choice – it’s more important that a client is happy rather than if they get results.” At first I was quick to say, “heck no….results are the name of the game.” Then I thought about it…
If a client isn’t happy, then do results really matter? And if they aren’t happy but yet we are delivering results from our efforts, then our ability to translate that in a manner in which the client understands must be lacking. Results DO matter; but a client’s happiness trumps all. I’ll be damned…he was right!
Delivering customer service, though, starts way before a client is engaged and cutting a check. It starts in the sales cycle. In my years of running an SEO agency, I have handled sales most of that time. Why? Because I didn’t want to hire a bunch of commission-based sales people to “close some business” only to learn later that our new clients didn’t even know what S.E.O. stood for, much less what it took to be successful with an effort.
That’s also a major reason why I created the SEO RFP Template that we make freely available to anyone who wishes to use it (or rip it off). As well, it’s one of the reasons why I’ve been compelled to write as many articles as I have on Search Engine Watch and ClickZ, including my recent column on Why I Talk Most Folks Out of SEO Projects .
It is a big deal, to me, that we do everything in our power to bring on SEO clients who demonstrate a strong understanding of SEO, realistic expectations and a willingness to partner with us in order to achieve results. The SEO RFP helps prospects understand a lot of the inner workings of an SEO engagement. And if I’m honest here, it might even scare off a few prospects. But that’s okay. I would much rather lose some business than to have a chance that a company engages in SEO (starts cutting checks) only to learn and understand later the real work that actually goes into an effort from both the agency and the client.
Once the “real” work begins, customer service continues on in the form of further education and transparency.
I see it as our duty to not only “do our jobs” but to also educate our clients through the process. Too often, SEO firms will leave clients in the dark and operate in a black box. That’s why there’s such a lack of trust in SEOs. I even know of some agencies who insist on “owning” Google Analytics (they have their clients place code on their site for the agency’s analytics rather than working with the client’s existing profile). There are also agencies that “own” the Adwords profiles and report to the client only that which the agency wants to report against. That makes no damn sense to me. I could say more about this, but that’s another post.
I want clients to feel empowered. I want them to own their analytics. I want them to have enough of an understanding of SEO to question things (but, over time learn to trust us all the same). I want clients to have a deep understanding of Google Analytics, so that they can independently judge whether or not things are progressing well.
Customer service for an SEO agency extends beyond being on the monthly calls and responding within 24 hours to emails. In my opinion, we are partners with our clients and we should help our clients make better decisions with their digital marketing programs. We should help them understand things that they may not “get.” By giving our clients an education, we actually benefit. We earn trust. The more you understand something and the more trust that the client has with us, the more likely it is that the client will find budget for future projects… because they are happy. Happy with the results and therefore happy with us.
Certainly there is also the “fact” that you can get carried away with education. Sometimes in the pre-sale process, prospects have taken advantage of my sense of duty to educate and have “fished” for (free) information. I even had a large agency, representing a huge international brand, “pry out” of me everything they (thought they) needed to fix their clients issues. You can read more about that experience here Are You Giving Away Free SEO Advice?
I believe in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So I continue to provide some free consulting. Probably 90% of the prospects that I speak with are prospects that I know can’t afford good SEO. Rather than have them just simply go with a firm that fits within their budget requirements, I try my best to educate them so that they don’t have a bad experience and become – like many others – jaded and believe that “SEO doesn’t work.”
That’s good customer service and hopefully leads to “good karma.”
But, we also have a responsibility to our clients. Our clients pay us for our time. It’s not really too fair if a client or two are getting “free” time. If a client is hammering us with 10 emails per day, we might need to talk about setting up a statement of work for some on-site training. I’ve even had a PPC client ask me (several times) for SEO thoughts/advice. I had provided some thoughts during the course of our relationship. Then upon that person’s departure from their company, I learned that they had told their employer that they were “an SEO.”
Much like a company who had been burned by “SEO,” I too can become a little jaded.
So, there is a fine line between delivering quality customer service and having clients take advantage of your time.
What are your experiences? Where do you define that thin line?