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Global Digital Agencies Have A Consistency Problem

The race to create more global digital agencies continues apace as established agencies and consultancies continue to snap up smaller independents around the globe. Just this week, I received a message about Wunderman, a subsidiary of holding company WPP, buying a Spanish agency called The Cocktail (and surely I’m not the first person to wonder why it wasn’t called El Cocktail?). And it feels like every time I refresh my email there’s a new message about a recent Accenture Interactive acquisition. Most recently, Accenture picked up The Monkeys (Australia) and Karmarama (U.K.). If there is a digital agency in Antarctica, I have no doubt that Accenture’s due diligence teams are already out there.

The gap between expectations and actual experience

Yet in our research and consulting engagements at Digital Clarity Group, we continue to see multinational companies struggle to find the right fit digital agency for their needs and with which they are satisfied, despite all the M&A activity in the market. Here are some actual examples:

  • The agency claims a “presence” in Country X, and provides local office contact information for one or more cities in that country on its website. Yet in practice, the local office(s) is just for sales enquiries. Instead, the agency project team must fly in from other countries and no one on the team speaks the native language of the client.
  • The agency is a premium partner for a specific vendor technology solution. The agency’s pitch and proposal to the customer were phenomenal and included active participation from the agency’s most senior executives. Yet once the contract was signed, the agency assigned a project team composed of junior employees who lacked the depth of technical knowledge and project management skills required to execute successfully.
  • The customer, who lead a project team located in Country Y, signed a contract with a global agency that also has multiple offices in that country staffed with experts serving other customers also based in Country Y. In addition, the contract terms are under the laws of Country Y. Yet the project team assigned to the customer ends up being entirely based in another country on another continent in a time zone eight hours ahead.

In each of these examples, the agency has arguably not done anything wrong. A sales office is indeed a local presence, a pitch team will by design be different from an implementation team, and a project team in a distant country may actually have the appropriate expertise – and have availability in time and resources – to take on a new project.

Whether the agency was technically wrong or not wrong, however, misses the point. The point is what the customer takes away from the experience: at the very least, disappointment, and at worst, extreme anger and the feeling the agency had scammed them out of millions of dollars (as was the case in the second example), or pulled a bait-and-switch and should have just been honest (as was the case with the third). In other words, the customer’s actual experience in each case fell short of expectations, leading to their dissatisfaction. And after having had a poor experience, a customer is much less likely to continue the relationship with that supplier or to recommend them to their peers.

A few ways to mind the gap

To avoid falling into the experience/expectations gap, organizations will need to 1) thoroughly investigate potential global digital agency suppliers to uncover possible areas of inconsistencies, and 2) ensure that signed contracts reflect as much as possible what the agency promised in the pitch phase. Some questions to consider asking potential include:

  • Where will the agency’s project team members be physically located during the project?
  • If they are in another country/timezone/language, how will they ensure regular, clear communication and timely responses?
  • What is the progress reporting and dispute resolution process? How often should the customer project team expect updates on project status?
  • How are technical problems that involve the vendor handled? Beware of extra charges from the vendor if their customer support or professional teams have to get involved to resolve problems.

Deloitte Digital executive Mark Singer, quoted in a recent article in AdAge, noted that due to brands’ developing more direct relationships with consumers, agencies would need to adapt in order to help brands with this challenge: “… agencies will need a greater variety of skill sets that include technical, operational, business and strategy arenas.” He was right. However, he left out one of the most important areas where agencies need to improve in order to keep pace with the increasing competition from consultancies and systems integrators: consistency across practices in different geographic regions.

Looking for help in finding an agency that can deliver on the expectations it sets? Check our technology and digital partner selection services, read our recent report on this topic (it’s free with registration), or contact us to learn more.

 

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