Read our new manifesto

Did you miss the deadline?

There’s still time, request your extension

The Drum

UK Digital Agency Census: the key to keeping client relationships strong in the pandemic

The Drum’s Digital Agency Census, released throughout this month, revealed this week the country's best digital shops for client satisfaction. Manchester-based Soap Media came out on top, so we asked chief executive officer Markerle Davis to tell us how the company keeps its clients content amid choppy waters.

Soap Media is an integrated agency that works with businesses to optimize the user journey via a multi-channel approach, considering every customer attribution aspect.

Our philosophy of always looking at the complete picture has been instrumental in client satisfaction, and customer relations are central to how we work. This level of extensive involvement powers our results and is why the relationships we develop with our partners are so positive and rewarding.

Soap has been in business for 16 years, but in 2012 we experienced a pivotal moment. After assessing the driving factors behind our growth and effectiveness, we realized our best work always came when our involvement was across multiple areas of a company’s digital marketing. Our findings and insights were eliciting positive change across numerous channels, and the more disciplines we looked at, the more significant the benefits became.

We identified a major shift in the nature of the buyer’s journey. The days of search, click and buy were numbered. The surge in digital presence and strategy meant more competition than ever, and trust and authority becoming critical decision-making factors.

The broader our involvement, the more insights we could garner and the better our ability to make decisions that enhance results. Our expertise across the end-to-end customer experience was empowering our partners to achieve more than ever.

Today, we bill ourselves as integral components of our partner’s business efforts. We’re not just an external agency – we’re an extension of the client. That level of involvement goes a long way to building positive relationships. And every decision we make is directed back to the question: “do we think this will maximize our partner’s results?”

This often involves asking challenging questions, beginning as early as the discovery call. We’re not ‘yes’ men; we pride ourselves on transparency. Our approach centers on optimizing the efficiency and potency of every pound spent, and we’re extremely thorough in our methods.

We identify early on how reciprocal a company is to this way of working, and this process sets the tone for the working relationship – the intensity of our duty of care is a consistently reassuring factor for clients.

Another element that strengthens our partnerships is innovation. Everyone at Soap lives and breathes creativity. We’re always trying to approach problems with an inventive mindset that uses bleeding-edge techniques and leads to astronomical performance boosts. This adventurous ethos keeps the work we do fun and exciting, and it also keeps our partners outperforming their competition.

We continue a high level of granular detail and due diligence during our onboarding. Since 2005, you can imagine we’ve onboarded a large number of partners. With a commitment to continually bettering ourselves, we retrospectively review the process each time to ensure we run like clockwork.

The result is our techniques are extremely well-drilled, so we get the maximum amount of information in the minimum amount of time. This efficiency delivers a tried and tested framework. We've even developed reusable templates that clients enjoy collaborating with us on, which also demonstrate a thorough process and reliable structure.

We are methodical in finding out what is vital to our shared success, making insight-backed recommendations to achieve our goals. This could be anything from harnessing the latest AI technology for multi-channel advertising or CRM automation and conversation design. Having this depth of involvement with a business naturally leads to a holistic partnership. A company that might have come to us for our paid media or development expertise starts working with us on multiple disciplines.

We set ambitious targets and make sure there’s a thorough roadmap for how this will impact our partners in three, six and 12 months. We view our activity within the company’s ecosystem; it’s not stand-alone, so we take it as our duty to ensure the framework is there when the results kick in. This way, as we scale together, we’re confident their business can fulfil the increased demand our marketing efforts generate, and won’t lead to a weak offering for their customers.

From that point, we establish clear KPIs and implement a reporting structure that works for the partner. We also make sure the data and insight we are sending back are relevant to their goals; we don’t demonstrate our prowess with meaningless metrics. And there’s constant evaluation. When the data unveils a golden opportunity, we provide coherent strategies and projections that allow our partners to realize the potential and approve, so we can proceed efficiently.

The past year has highlighted how robust our processes and systems are and how effectively our client services team communicates with our partners. It’s consolidated aspects we were already good at, such as consistent meeting rhythms and regular touchpoints, but it’s also improved the way we communicate. As one example, the normalizing of video calls across industries has undoubtedly been positive. They weren’t unknown before, but now we’ll speak to our partners over video weekly, bringing greater efficiency. There’s no travelling to see people, which means we can chat in more detail and with more frequency. That’s not to say we don’t miss going for a coffee or a meal with them though!

While we have a lot to be proud of, we’re mindful of the pitfalls of resting on our laurels. We always look to upgrade our service offering and believe the development roadmap is never complete. We recently investigated a popular project management company. During the call, by their admission, it became clear that our internal processes were stronger and better suited to our requirements than the product on offer - which is emblematic of how well run we are in this area.

We have also worked hard to maintain our office culture over the various lockdowns and changing to working from home, and we’re proud our NPS in office culture is consistently 9+. Happiness breeds happiness, because that employee satisfaction ripples down into excellent results, keeping the clients delighted.

To maintain our success, we have a clear vision of continually improving the customer experience. We’re currently adding more project managers to increase our client services team further, alongside building partner performance into the development plans for everyone who works at Soap. Our culture is about instilling accountability and ownership, and because everyone is so invested and engaged in these goals, we continue to excel at it. Ultimately, it’s a perfect confluence of dedication, innovation and optimization, and we’ll continue to empower everyone to achieve these industry-leading results.

Learn more about The Drum’s UK Digital Agency Census 2021 and sign up for future updates here.