In all of our lives we have transformations that are key to our personal existence, keys to the success of our company's growth (for business owners), and the success of the customer's that we assist. This week for JM2 of Valparaiso Indiana was truly no exception. We have changed our web design and marketing from being what I would classify as a commodity that any individual could due to a strategic marketing machine. That is a very bold statement and one I think you will agree. In this article you will see how we transformed our brand, our customer service, and our internal processes to become something no other web design company in Northwest Indiana has ever done.
Two major change catalysts
Over the past month we have talked about and noticed two major setbacks that have never happened in our company history. When things like this happen either you grow from it by acknowledging you are human and moving forward or you sulk and kind of ignore your faults. We chose to acknowledge not just internally but externally as well. We opted to look for how to fix it and make us stronger than we were before. At first, I was angry that I allowed this to happen but knowing I, and my team, are human I knew we had to adapt and live our agile philosophy of constantly improving.
We had one client pissed, really pissed. Rather than talking to us they just went out and attacked us on every possible front. They had paid for a 10-page website, which expanded to 70+ pages yet they expected the timeline to be done in the same amount as a 10-page site. We failed to communicate that growing the project that much would make it take that much longer. The team didn't think that needed to be explained and that was where we faulted. This was truly our fault and why we have the Customer Service section below as this was a major mistake on our part. We emailed the client every week (or more) of the status but never talked to them on the phone even after weeks of no response. The client asked a few questions but we never offered training. We only answered the questions they asked and didn't realize they should have been given more than what they asked.
The second was that everyone was in too many meetings and it was growing every week. I was averaging more than 30 hours per week in meetings. Even when you work seven days a week and have that many meetings you are never able to truly catch up to where you need to be.
Something truly needed to happen and it needed to happen fast (e.g. agile manner). The first step was defining what needed to be fixed:
- Increase communication with our clients
- Educate, inform, and make certain our clients are taking advantage of all the services they have available to them (most do not even know half of what we offer)
- We had sent monthly emails to do checkups with every single client. We never checked and truly made sure a client was happy. We were going off the basis of no response meant all was good. That is not the way customer service should be.
- Get the team working (and myself) and not in meetings
The solution was to get the role we called "Time Keeper" which in essence is a project coordinator to handle the communication and meeting process. This seems like a simple thing. Hire someone, tell them what to do, and done. Ha! Not even close. We have a ton of products and services which means we need to educate this person and make certain they are able to properly educate the customer's.
Not truly a direct problem but one that needed to be fixed. With all of the changes this was an opportune time to make this change. For the past five years we have gone through a lot of growth but one item we never truly locked down or written into stone was our branding of our company colors, fonts or the look-and-feel of how we wanted to present the company.
With all of these new changes we were doing it was time to truly time to "grow up" (with a Nerf gun or two – can't get rid of all the fun!!!). We needed more consistency and this was the perfect time to do so. We now have more vibrant colors that complement each other where previously it just didn't "work well". This was the easiest of the changes and the blog you are reading is using these new colors. Our sales and marketing pieces have been printed, and updated business cards for everyone. The new look is cleaner, more professional, more thought out, and consistent throughout the entire company. We have achieved marketing harmony with everything we do which is something we had been doing with our clients for years.
In the past year we had already "hired ourselves" where I am not handling the social media for the company. Now I have released myself from the entire equation and let those that are truly the experts (I am not) take care of the marketing and branding so that I can focus on writing software which is where I am the expert.
This is where we saw the biggest area for change and improvement. We did more interviews than we have done in the past five years combined to fill the void we had in customer service. This is how serious we all were in finding the person that would be right to fix the current problems that I noted above. We needed someone that solved the current problems but also look for additional areas of improvement so that we can hopefully avoid any other major setbacks like this. I say "hopefully" as we know we are human and we know that we will make mistakes. It is acknowledging this that we know that we can truly meet the challenge.
The person we looked for had to fit the following criteria:
- They not only had to fit our culture but also be able to communicate well with our clients
- They had to fit with the internal team and they needed to be part of the decision process
- We needed someone that could think for themselves
- Someone that wasn't shy (e.g. not an introvert)
- Someone that truly needed a desire to help businesses grow with an eyesight for not only today but down the road to help them take advantage of technology
- And a solid dash of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) with an eye for detail
In fact, we are taking the internal team out of all communication wherever possible once this person started so that we could get a layer of double-checking that never happened before. This is something a one or two person shop is truly not able to do as they just don't have the time. Even with our larger team we didn't have the time. Now with this new company role we have mandated that this time is critical for all of our clients.
Our internal process has been automated for over a year and has worked very well. The problem is we weren't taking full advantage of it which is why part of the problem we were experiencing. That has changed as now we are documenting and tracking every action we do for our clients. No matter how big or small the task it is now logged. Our new process at a high level is:
- Email received (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- If received on other emails it is forwarded to the project coordinator for them to enter so that the steps below can be followed. They can begin the task though even before it hits the system so that the client gets great service.
- Entered in as a Task in the system
- Assigned to one or more individuals who receive notification of the new task along with deadlines to complete the task
- Estimate the amount of time to be done
- Enter in as much detail as possible, including attachments of documents and images
- The client receives an email that the information is entered in and the task number(s) that were created. One email often turns into several unique and different tasks.
- Clients have been able to check the status in real-time on our customer portal but only around 3% have taken advantage of it. We see with this change this percentage to grow
- Follow-up with who assigned to
- Starting in August the team will get daily emails of every task that is assigned to them. This is being tested already but not rolled out to the rest of the team. For now, they have to log into the portal to see their currently assigned work.
- The project coordinator will then validate everything meets the criteria and send back if any changes are needed
- Contact client back via their preferred method of communication
- If can't be reached a secondary method will be used to communicate with them
Being agile to change is critical for a company to change and adapt. We talked about how to best do the above. We talked about having an outside business person/company coming in and telling us the faults we had or to adapt and grow and make the changes. We opted to do it ourselves. This doesn't mean that is the best solution. We do know that what we have done an outside consultant would have told us to do and would have been a bad use of our company's money.
We knew that hiding the problem wouldn't make it go away. That talking about it and acknowledging it both internally and externally was key for us. We believe in honesty and part of being honest is acknowledging our faults. Do we like talking about them – no – but we know that without talking about them we can't grow from it. I can say I feel horrible that it happened but also excited about the future that we now have in front of us.