The Un-Agency Guide to Serving Your Clients

The Customer is Always Right. Right? Wrong.

It’s an age-old phrase we’ve been taught since we were little. We’ve heard brands and agencies utter the phrase “the customer is always right” for decades.

We’re here to tell you, that phrase is a giant lie. In fact, not only is it a lie, it’s a huge liability to you and your clients. And if you’re a business searching for an agency and they utter that phrase, run… seriously.

Telling your customers that they are always right is not only inaccurate, it’s also a huge disservice to your customers. It actually hurts everybody.

As you know, Metacake is an ecommerce growth team. We’re part agency (or un-agency), part product company (creating free and paid products that help ecommerce businesses grow), and part ecommerce business owners ourselves. And over our lifetime, this has been an area that we’ve worked hard to optimize. You need to create a healthy relationship with your clients that allows you to be honest so you can truly serve them – even when honesty means disagreeing.

In this article we’re going to share with you:

  1. Why our opposite approach (expert leadership and brutal honesty) is actually the way to deliver amazing results for clients.
  2. Why, if you’re a business looking for a partner, you should be searching for a partner who does not always agree with you.
  3. How you can begin to use this approach if you are an agency or service provider.

Expert Leadership vs. “Yes Men (and Women)”

As an agency, you are the expert in your field. That’s why your customer hired you, isn’t it? For your expertise? So, you should be leading them in what they need to do to achieve their goals, not the other way around.

As an agency, this puts a lot of pressure on you. Now that the customer is not always right, there’s no excuse for marketing agencies and service providers to offload their responsibility in being the expert leader they were hired to be.

As an agency, you should be so extremely good at what you do, and have a client’s best interests at the forefront of your mind so intensely that you are willing to be brutally honest with them in order to get them to their goals. That is truly serving them. Now, this DOES NOT mean you don’t listen to the customer, or that you disregard their needs and input. This DOES mean that you own your role as the expert leader they hired you to be, and make sure the decisions they make are the right ones.

If you’re the customer, and you are actually always right, couldn’t you achieve your goals without any help? If all you needed were hands and feet to do your bidding couldn’t you hire a team of virtual assistants? Let’s be honest, the reason you hire an agency is for specific expertise in an area that you are not an expert in. You need someone you can trust to guide you and challenge you when you’re actually wrong.

This isn’t disrespect (unless egos are involved), this is true teamwork. And it’s how you achieve massive goals.

Think about this… What if a doctor said yes to everything you suggested? What if a doctor took the stance, “the patient is always right”? How horrible would that be? They would let you, the patient, tell them what was wrong and what they needed to prescribe you, despite you having no training or expertise in the field. You’d probably be dead, and they’d probably be in jail.

Why Some Agencies Tell Customers They Are Right When They Are Not

Traditional agencies have always treated clients as royalty, which sounds great, but it’s actually rooted in a very unhealthy place. This treatment often comes from pure fear rather than genuine respect (which you should have). This disrupts the relational dynamic. It leads to an unbalanced relationship based on fear rather than on trust, expertise, and results.

So why do agencies continue to operate this way?

1) Misplaced Value
Unfortunately, in many clients’ eyes, an agency’s value is based on how fast they run and how high they jump, rather than the value of their expertise and the results they achieve.

2) Fear
At the end of the day, agencies are afraid to stand up to their clients for fear of losing business, ruffling too many feathers, or creating conflict. Clients are an agency’s livelihood, after all.

3) Baggage
All agencies, in a way, have to bear the baggage of this long-running and well-accepted phrase (“the customer is always right”). It’s difficult to break the pattern when so many continue to follow it.

But there is a better way…

Serve Through Honesty, No Matter How Hard That Might Be

Agencies must serve their clients better by NOT needing their customers to always be right in the first place. All healthy human beings want honesty and certainty in any partnership. Therefore, you have to move from an order-taker (which ultimately provides no real value) to a true expert leader in a field. And if you already are an expert (as most agencies are) you need to be bold enough to lead your clients and speak up when you disagree. This helps agencies and customers alike and leads to a better working relationship. And better relationships lead to better results.

The dirty truth is, customers themselves can be the biggest barrier to achieving their own stated goals. This isn’t intentional, but it comes from being too close to something and too wrapped up in the hangups and details every day. Just like you, they need help to see the forest through the trees. Customers do not know what they need in advertising, or marketing, or a web experience (or whatever your specialty is). They don’t live in that world day in and day out. But unfortunately, they often feel that they have to know. And us, as agencies (or un-agencies), telling them they are right all of the time enables this. Instead, educate your customers, and help them get out of their own way.

How can you do this as an agency?

1) Set expectations

From the beginning, let your clients know how you operate. Tell them you will push back on them when they are asking for something that you believe is not smart for them to do. It’s never easy to push back on a client, but setting the expectation upfront that you are the expert and will tell them the truth when it comes to achieving their goals makes it a bit easier.

Note: This might make some people not want to work with you. And that is okay.

2) Be confident (but not arrogant)

Confidently communicate your expertise and lead your clients, without being arrogant or dismissive of their ideas or questions.

3) Be the expert you claim to be

Do great work. Whatever your area of expertise might be, make sure you are truly an expert. This means you’ll have to invest in your own learning, education, and skillset.

4) Get results

Deliver on your promises. Make sure you are producing the desired results for your clients that get them closer to their business goals.

5) Have a healthy business

For those few times where you are not a good match for a client, you need to be able to objectively and amicably end the relationship. If you stay in a dysfunctional relationship just for the revenue, no one wins.

Why Are We So Passionate About This?

Metacake didn’t set out to be an agency. In fact, by definition, we aren’t one in the traditional sense of the word (even though that’s what we frequently get called).

We are a specialized ecommerce growth and marketing team. Our mission is to help grow brands that matter— brands that make the world better simply by creating great products. We help these brands through specialized services (similar to an agency), but also through coaching (that’s right, we coach and teach internal client implementation teams), as well as educational products (like books and courses). We even have a capital arm of our business where we start and invest in ecommerce brands.

We live in our specialties all day, everyday. Those specialties are: the strategy of running successful ecommerce businesses, paid marketing, online store design, optimization, and email marketing. We help ecommerce brands so they can specialize in what they do best (create awesome products) while we help them grow their online business.

We’re good at what we do. We get results. And we only work with brands that are good at what they do (have great products). Our clients value results, rather than a team of people scurrying around.

But that isn’t the way all agencies operate.

That’s why we call ourselves an un-agency. Are you ready to join the un-agency movement?


Want to learn more about how we work?

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