As a digital professional, few things are as stressful and problematic as a failing agency relationship. When things break down between your business and your primary eCommerce agency, it can affect your whole online operation. Whether it’s poor communication, substandard quality of delivery or simply lack of a proactive ‘spark’, the realisation that you’ve got to go back to the market can be frustrating.
Once the decision is made, there are a number of things you can do to make the transition quicker and less painful for all involved (including your new agency). Some of these are fairly obvious but can be easily forgotten during the clamour of switching to something that feels bigger and better. Other factors are things we’ve learned through experiences – both client-side and agency-side.
Breaking the news
The hardest call to make during the whole agency swap process is when to serve notice on your incumbent agency. Chances are your contract with them will already have a notice period. This is something you need to be aware of and work with as far as possible. It doesn’t necessarily mean the agency has to be working with, or supporting you throughout the whole notice period, but it does mean you’ll probably have to pay up until the contracted date unless you can negotiate a settlement.
It’s tricky to judge how your existing agency will react. There are plenty of anecdotes about companies being cut loose and agencies just walking away, taking their support and hosting with them. But this is actually a very rare occurrence and so damaging to an agency’s reputation that it is truly a last resort that nobody wants. This doesn’t mean your existing agency won’t be keen to distance themselves from you as soon as possible though, so be prepared to act quickly once notice is served. At the very least, you likely to move down their list of priorities and you may find their attention begins to slip on any work they are currently undertaking for you.
In an ideal world, you will have selected a new agency before giving notice, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, you may have a good relationship with your current agency and the decision could be more of a practical one than a political on. For example, the agency could be moving in a different technological direction, or your demand may have outgrown their capability. In these cases, they may even help you find an alternative agency.
Finally, it is worth noting that in the vast majority of cases, your agency will already know that this is coming. It’s very rare for a client to serve notice out of the blue and there will have been warning signs that all but the most oblivious of companies will have picked up on.
Poor communication is a common reason for the breakdown between an agency and customer. It can even cause problems after moving to a new partner if you don’t fully understand everything that your existing agency is doing for you. For example, there may have been a number of administrative or maintenance tasks done as a matter of course which you weren’t aware of, or took for granted that your new agency doesn’t yet know about. Identifying these items can be tricky, especially if you don’t want to give the game away that you’re leaving just yet! But it is possible to get these documented for the purposes of succession planning and process auditing. This is a practice you should undertake even if you’re not planning to leave your current partner, just in case your agency should become unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances.
Any new agency worth their salt will be doing their own auditing and analysis before taking on a new client – especially one who is leaving a competitor – and will likely assist you with this planning process. But being able to provide detailed information upfront will likely reduce the cost associated with migrating, expedite the process and help them learn your setup faster.
There are likely to be a lot of facets to your eCommerce implementation. From your code repository to hosting, database logins to third party accounts for things like payment gateways and search tools. Your new partner will need access to all of these to support your online operations. Make sure you have them securely documented and a plan in place to update them all (or have your new agency update them) once you have switched.
There’s no telling who might have access to your site behind the scenes, so take the opportunity to scrutinise all accounts with escalated privileges at the same time.
Understanding what your site does through a code audit is half of the puzzle. Matching that up with what you expect your site to be able to do based on any initial requirements you set out to your agency is the other half. Any (and all) documentation you have to hand should be made available to your new agency. You should also take the time to review it yourselves to ensure any outstanding work you’re expecting your current agency to do before you leave is covered, or that it’s at least documented as uncompleted.
Honesty, openness and communication
Be prepared to kick off your new agency relationship with as much openness and honesty as you can. Now is the time for a clean start and the closer your new partnership is, the more successful it will be. While there is no need to dwell on failed relationships of the past, learning from your mistakes and making sure they’re not repeated will help you settle in with your new agency faster.
Ensure you relay all important information to the new agency from day one. Sudden unexpected surprises or missing key pieces of information can cause headaches for everyone involved and hold up progress.
Finally, make sure you agree a regular communication schedule with your new agency. Whether it’s weekly account updates, a brief bi-weekly meeting or something completely bespoke, creating a schedule early on in the engagement helps form habits and communication becomes seamless.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, have patience! While there will always be a sense of urgency when moving to a new agency, the better your new partner understands your situation and the strategic goals of your business, the better they’ll be able to help you achieve them.
If you’re thinking about moving agencies or you’re concerned about how your agency is performing and would like some advice, contact us to chat more.