7 Behaviours of Underperforming Agencies #7 - Happy Being Average

articles leadership mindset sales and business development Dec 15, 2022

It’s okay to want to not be ‘okay’.

It’s okay to aim higher.

And if you want to grow - you must. The seventh behaviour we see in underperforming agencies is that they’re happy being average. 

From the agency logo, website and service it provides: it’s all just okay. It’s all a bit ‘meh’. 

These agencies have the DESIRE to grow - it's not about a lack of ambition - but they pursue this desire without really excelling at anything and without a defined culture, identity, values, or strategy to enable it… 

So, they lose out to better agencies with better services, people, products… and stay average - charging average rates and getting average results from an average team. 

 This final blog in the series on features of underperforming agencies deals with the dangers of settling for average - and how to flip average to awesome. 

Average Joe

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz: “Coffee is what we sell as a product, but it’s not the business we’re in.”

Anyone can sell coffee: people go to Starbucks because they sell more. They sell an experience. 

Note their slogan: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup, one neighbourhood at a time. “

A mission statement, a call to arms: and no mention of coffee. 

Whilst an agency’s services don’t include making a decent latte, the lesson is worth remembering: the transaction is not enough. Not enough to motivate and inspire excellent staff long-term, and certainly not enough to prevent client churn or - your goal - to inspire clients to become your champions and generate quality referrals. 

After more than one bad experience, around 80% of consumers say they would rather do business with a competitor. And note this: they’re unlikely to tell you they’re leaving or even why… Only 1 in 26 customers will tell a business about their negative experience; according to customer service facts, the rest simply leave. 

An agency with high churn is going to need to constantly sell to fill the leaking bucket - but an average agency, pitching frequently, loses more than they win. And the domino effect of unmotivated employees and frustrated leadership teams will, slowly but surely, see these agencies implode. 

So… what does above awesome look like?


Awesome: Inside and Out

You can’t fake above-average service or experience: it doesn’t work as a one-off. Becoming awesome is about consistency. 

This doesn’t mean you never make mistakes, it means that if you do, your reputation and prior performance will retain client confidence in the face of the error. If the company’s customer service is excellent, 78% of consumers will do business with them again after a mistake.

Become brilliant at the basics and create the business clients want to work with. 

And we mean basics: test every part of your business and make it sing. 

Email signatures, meeting agendas, the carpet, finance reports, employee reviews, business cards, autoresponders, campaign reports, project reports, client follow-ups, client communication, equipment, pitch decks, time tracking, perks, team tooling, training, kettle… coffee.

Make brilliance a constant. Make it feel effortless. 

And the small touches count - not only for clients but for employees. According to a recent study expectations around job satisfaction have increased over the last five years. Almost all (97%) of respondents said that job satisfaction was more important than any other factor when looking for a new position.

The coffee you serve at meetings isn’t trivial - because you’re not serving coffee, but delivering an experience. For your internal and external customers. 


Test your Touchpoints


“Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get.” –Nelson Boswell

From the way you answer your prospect’s first call, to how you handle the project sign-off, every touchpoint your customer encounters counts. 

  • 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services
  • 80% of companies believe that they deliver a "superior experience", while only 8% of customers believe that this is the case.


So, map your clients’ journey: from the first moment they see your website, through pre-sales, and onboarding, to delivery for the review and re-contracting / your exit process. Identify everything that could go wrong… then flip it and ask ‘how do we make sure these things DON’T go wrong?’

One key question to ask of each process you run, or touchpoint you identify: is it just okay? 

 If it’s just okay, that’s not okay: how do you make it better?


Client Experience Counts


“Average is always the safe choice: and the most dangerous choice you can make.” Erwin Raphael McManus

Better leads to new leads and what you want - your agency’s growth and security. Customer experience - even often above the service received - counts as much for you as it does in other industries. 70% of the customer's journey is based on how the customer feels they are being treated. (

And one thing’s for certain - how they feel they’ve been treated will determine if they’re passive clients (present or past) or continual and passionate champions of your agency and your brand. 

Take Tesla. Without much in the way of a traditional marketing strategy, the automotive industry disruptor relies almost solely on brand recognition and recommendation - powered by impeccable customer service and customer listening. 

The result? The industry’s most loyal customers… In one survey, 99% of Tesla Model 3 owners said they would recommend the car to their family and friends, and 98% said they’d buy one again.

No surprise then that they have one of the world’s highest Net Promoter Scores - a mind-blowing 97. 

This means that the overwhelming majority of the company’s customers are promoters - championing the brand and product - while less than 2% are passives and detractors respectively.

NPS, or the Net Promoter Score, is one of the central metrics companies can use to measure their customer experience and it’s based on a very simple question: On a scale from 0 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?  

If you want to get an insight into how your customers feel about your agency, brand, and customer service, measure your NPS.

And if you want to get an insight into how your employees feel about your agency, brand, and customer service, measure your employee NPS.

Considering the Tesla customer touchpoints, one striking feature is the personalisation… right down to the offer of delivering your bespoke vehicle to you, or collection at the factory with a free tour thrown in. 

As Forbes put it: “Tesla demonstrates that forward-thinking companies must focus on personalisation and that doing so and creating a unique customer experience can lead to incredible loyalty and growth.”

Musk’s relentless pursuit of excellence is well-documented, famously stating: “Don’t tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t like.”

Feedback between account managers and clients should not just be about the deliverable… but about the delivery. And this is a sound way of evolving the best possible customer experience in your agency. 


People, not Prospects


“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” –Jeff Bezos

Average agencies treat clients as average ones: and that’s not going to make them feel great. If your dream clients walk into the office right now, what would you do for them, what would your ‘red-carpet’ service look like? 

Then ask yourself: why wouldn’t you do that with everybody? 

Try treating every client as your dream client - and your role to host their ultimate agency experience.

But remember - it starts with being brilliant at the basics and honest, customer-centric service to help them sell and get amazing ROI. 

The bells and whistles of a flashy logo, great graphics, or - the horror - ping-pong tables in your employee lounge are meaningless without quality service delivery, produced in line with a robust strategy for growth. 

Take a lesson from the early 20th-century writer, Ernest Hemingway. No bells. No whistles. Rather than more, he used less. For greater impact. 

Hemingway heavily edited his writing until the bare minimum remained. 

He was brilliant at the basics. And he won both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes as a result.

He famously said, ‘Writing is architecture, not interior decoration.’

No showy website, curated social walls, or posturing in pitches - decoration, effectively - will compensate for an agency’s low quality. But neither will service delivery alone nurture referrals and attract the best team.

Being brilliant at the basics helps to create the foundations of strong agencies - to wow their clients with the coffee they serve AND the service they deliver. 




High-performing agencies are looking at the horizon and asking how they can keep innovating and aim for anything other than average. 

An agency with clear positioning - knowing who it's for and what it's selling - has a purpose and a vision that inspires and values that are explicit. 

Clear positioning can often be the thing that helps inform everything else. If you have tight positioning, recruitment’s easier, your marketing is easier, and your strategy is easier: everything becomes a little easier because everything's more focused.