Survey: What Are Professional Service Agencies Keen to Improve in 2023?

To keep our finger on the pulse of what makes the professional services industry tick, we recently interviewed over 100 agencies for our 2023 Clockwork report – The Agency Operations Survey.

The survey, which was conducted in partnership with Agency Hackers, aims to collect detailed insights into the processes that drive agencies, their best practices, and how they run their operations. We asked questions on agency structure, client management, and internal processes. We then analyzed the responses to gain valuable insights into how agencies are improving the service they provide to their clients through evolving operational efficiencies. 

You can access the full survey results here to get the unabridged picture of the state of the industry. As a teaser, we’ve compiled the shortened results of one of the most interesting sections below, focussing on the four main areas agencies are eager to improve during the rest of 2023.

1. People, Culture and Collaboration

People and culture remain the cornerstone of a successful agency, and it is hardly surprising that many respondents identified this as their key aspirational focus for the year. Successful collaboration built on a strong cultural foundation does not always come easy, and we’re glad that we got a peek into the challenges as well as the rewards.

Here’s what some of the respondents had to say:

  • “If I could wave a magic wand, I’d like for everyone in the business to have true commercial awareness and to think like they were the owner.”
  • “Garbage in – garbage out. I’d love to get the team to have enough skin in the game to understand that coding expenses, adding POs and all that “admin crap” is fundamental! Everyone understands it’s needed but when busy it’s the one thing that doesn’t get done. Unfortunately, this just adds workload elsewhere.”
  • “Better internal processes to manage workflow and delivery to scope – especially when interacting between specialist divisions. For example, PR teams outsourcing work to content team and managing this without going outside of scope.”
  • “I actually think we’ve reached a point where we have two separate cultures internally, and it’s a struggle to get them both aligned. Our delivery teams are keen to stick to processes and more to the letter of what’s in our SOWs. Our CS teams prioritize making the client happy and view the other teams as being difficult when they push back. As you can imagine this can create some unhelpful friction! It’s one of those things that’s very simple on paper but in reality we have to shift some mindsets and I don’t think that it’s an easy thing to achieve overnight.”

2. Dashboards and Management Information

Many people said they were keen to improve their management information, which is one of the key pain points we hear from almost every person who comes to Scoro looking for solutions.

Having access to management information is essential for agency owners in order to make informed decisions about their business. With access to the right data, an agency owner can better allocate resources and make strategic plans that will maximize growth.

Furthermore, access to management information allows the owner to track progress and monitor performance over time.

Here are some verbatim responses:

  • “We are in a good place with our systems, data reporting and automations – these are stimulating behavior changes and making people more accountable but that takes time and mentoring. It would be great for that to be a quicker journey so you see the positive impacts more quickly.”
  • “I would like to get a better overview of the projects and their profitability.”
  • “Invest in more rigorous process management – both people and systems to focus inputs and outputs. Inputs as client and agency briefs and outputs as strategy, content and ideas at different stages.”
  • “It would be that everybody was on the same page and communications were magically aligned. Everybody knew what everybody else knew!”
  • “Improve the visibility on workload across client teams and pods. Calculate more easily and accurately our margins.

3. Process, Process and More Process

Many responses simply spoke of the basic desire to improve processes! Process is incredibly important for growing agencies – it allows you to structure your workflow and make sure that tasks are completed efficiently and effectively. By having a standardized process, teams can understand which tasks are priorities and how they should be completed.

  • “I would love to improve our processes so that there is less momentum lost when a project gets delayed. Our clients require a lot of flexibility so projects often start and stop. This causes inefficiencies from a team perspective because they lose momentum and velocity to complete projects.”
  • “If I had a magic wand, I’d improve SOPs on client retention, planning and client experience. We’re still growing as a company so I’d like that to happen without having to go through the necessary growing pains!”
  • “I’d love to have our processes be smooth sailing from here on out. Having all the right workflows and processes in place that are battle tested and efficient.”
  • “I’d love an end-to-end overview of a project for all the team so they all have real time data of how a project is performing. More automation in our project delivery process.
  • “I would automate a lot more so that all the processes were linked and informed each other, leaving no room for human error or endless meetings.”        

4. Knowledge Management

Knowledge management can improve agency performance. By capturing, storing, and sharing knowledge throughout the agency, teams can work better by themselves without having to check in with the “process person”. Robust knowledge management can also lead to increased productivity, improved customer service, and better decision-making capabilities. Having one central source of truth is vitally important.

  • “We are at the start of reviewing all the historic processes that were written years ago and have not been looked at for a couple of years. We’re trying to write them down and simplify them so that there is consistency across the business. One of the biggest challenges at the moment is finding time in busy schedules to get this to be a top priority!”
  • “We adore the process side of our agency. Could talk about it forever. Could tinker with it for longer! We have structured (yet flexible-ish) processes for a wide variety of disciplines. Sure they could be tighter, but it feels as though we have solved 80% of the challenge and have something that fits our brand, our approach and our target market well.”
  • We are at a point where we could probably benefit from automating more systems. What we do is quite process driven so there is a lot of opportunity to rinse and repeat.”

Have these responses managed to pique your curiosity? Download the full survey to peruse at your leisure. We believe it serves as a benchmark for those starting their own agency or clients seeking to understand the inner workings of an agency. Most importantly, this report is an invaluable resource to stay informed and competitive in the ever-evolving agency landscape.