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Why are clients afraid to work with agencies? We asked them.

Business - 5th December 2019
By Pixelfield team

I am not impartial. I work in an agency but I also have to admit that I understand new potential clients when I see they are hesitating to hire a team. There are pros and cons to the agency model and every agency has its own ups and downs. But we have to agree that there are many entrepreneurs, managers and product owners who shiver when they hear about external teams.

Many clients come to us with projects in very bad shape so it’s not difficult to understand the reasons. I asked myself the question: What do we (as agencies) do wrong and how widespread is this problem? We conducted our own research and the results don’t speak well for agencies.

From design to development and marketing

First, we asked about the kind of service the team did. We focused on digital – from design to development and marketing.

Design is almost always part of app development or web development project. Therefore, it’s of no surprise that it was the most prevalent service in the experience of our respondents. App development was also often combined with web development.

Agencies fail to deliver the value in most cases

Not every project is so simple that this question could be answered with nothing but a simple yes or no. It may often be subjective, of course, but the client’s point of view is what matters the most. Alarmingly, 63% of the respondents said the agency they hired hadn’t delivered the value they’d expected.

Only 1 of 5 clients would come back

Arguably the utmost goal of every agency is to keep their clients satisfied, making them want to choose the same team for an update or new project. So how many of the respondents would hire the same people again?

As the graph clearly shows, not that many. Even many of those who were satisfied with the results would still rather look for someone else. Less than 20% of the clients would definitely hire the same agency. Almost 35% of the respondents said they would definitely not hire the same agency.

An in-house team is heavily preferred

What attitude does this experience leave unhappy clients with? We asked and here’s what they think:

As you can see, almost nobody prefers agencies over an in-house team. That’s understandable. On a more positive note, over 75% of the clients would still consider working with an agency, while less than 20% would never want to experience that again.

Costs and quality among the fears

We asked our respondents to only choose their biggest fear. Not surprisingly, high costs were the biggest concern, followed by the quality of the product. About 20% of the clients were afraid of the continuity of the product development, while almost no one was concerned with the idea or intellectual property.

Such insights reveal one big problem – agencies are, in many cases, not able to be effective. This suggests something I have expected – the agencies fail to be lean and truly agile which leads to overly comprehensive documentation, complicated change requests, high costs and low product quality. Another issue is that most agencies won’t be as invested in the project as an in-house team, again resulting in slow-paced work and a low-quality product.

I have to make one point here from an agency point of view. In some cases, this might also be caused by the distrust of client or clients’ lack of understanding of the complicated and costly design and development processes. A good agency and experienced project and account managers should be able to guide the client and explain the process properly to reach not only the most cost-effective solution but also mutual understanding.

Being late is a standard

If you work in an agency environment, this is not going to be a surprise for you. Unfortunately, late delivery became a standard in our field. The only way how our agencies can fight this is to change the way we work and how we think about the projects.

Late delivery comes hand in hand with two other major problems – low quality and poor communication. Over 65% of the clients said the project was delayed, while over 40% of the respondents felt they had been overcharged.

This is without a doubt alarming, even if we take into consideration that customers who were not happy with the services are a bit more likely to participate in research like this.

So what can we do to change this? We need to build mutual relationships based on trust. We need to motivate our teams to truly care about the project and focus on proper project management. The client’s understanding of the process is crucial.

Whenever we divert from the principles we believe in, like being lean, we put the outcome at risk. We need to change what an agency looks like today. Some of us are already trying. Let’s deliver what we promise and let the client benefit from the experience we have, instead of exploiting the fact that we are more knowledgeable in digital design and development than most of the clients.

Written by
Pixelfield team
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