One of the best kept secrets of our growth from “web guy” to “digital agency” has been customer service. My personal availability to clients at really any hour of the day or night is a key ingredient to cementing trust and building relationships. But as business grows, a business growth strategy is necessary.
Now, the trick has been a smooth transition from support from one, to support from many. When clients were so accustomed to calling my business line (aka my cell phone) and nearly always getting me to pick-up the call, how would they react to voice mail? To having someone else answer the line? To having someone strange call them back, and more importantly having that person NOT have my two dozen years of web design and marketing experience help them.
Those are the all important questions that I have asked for some time, making me delay this transition to a centralized toll free phone number and smart routing system. While I do not want to deliver services with the impersonal touch of a “big company”, having over 80 clients necessitates something to happen. With 15 development projects, 20 change orders and 8 problem tickets, order must be made of it all.
Well, of course more tech is needed to support business growth. What kind though? ERP, CRM, Accounting, Lead Gen, Social? What new tech and at what time, and in what order? The first thing I did was to move 2 years ago away from Microsoft Word template invoices printed and mailed to Freshbooks, a software as a service accounting application that keeps track of hours worked, invoices my clients by project, performs recurring billings, emails invoices as well as sending “snail mail” invoices to clients who don’t process electronic payments. Freshbooks also provides an array of important reporting for tax purposes. It is by far.. my most favorite application for managing client accounts. I used to forget to bill clients and had trouble tracking who was paying what and when. Freshbooks takes all the guessing out of it for me. Bash Foo can effectively invoice, track and operate, thanks to this great application.
How do you keep track of 50 problem and client change orders each week? Not easily without a powerful help desk app. I needed something that kept track of hours worked, would allow clients to submit tickets to me via email a web portal, would handle both problem and change management, and would allow me to assign work seamlessly to other Bash Foo team members from the office or while mobile. Freshdesk does this all for us today. We tried Zendesk out but that cost was significantly more than Freshdesk, AND Freshdesk had some interesting integrations with Google Apps, Freshbooks (above), and social media. When a client visits our Facebook page they can send us a message and it is “automagically” turned into a support ticket. So, our agents can respond to kudos as well as requests for help quickly and efficiently. We respond to facebook posts on our page with lightning speed and we have received and closed 3 deals from leads that came in on our facebook page this year.
Project management is a bear. And having been a project manager for a dozen years I have used pretty much every tool out there. Prior to “landing” a project management support tool, I tried Microsoft Sharepoint, Project, Basecamp 1.0, Huddle, Zoho, Solve360, and then Basecamp 2.0 in that order. We have settled (for a time) on a newer platform called Groupcamp. While I prefer to keep track of hours worked in Freshbooks, Groupcamp can track hours worked, perform all the basic project management tasks and most importantly the cost profile was acceptable. Why is pricing so important? Well, the web business has a TON of software subscriptions required per-employee with about 60% of the employee cost each month coming from licensed software use. It matters a lot whether or not I have to pay $30/employee per month in project management software when I can have 10 contractors working on a project at a time.
Most of our clients enjoy a very low cost POP/IMAP email service. For discriminating, or growing clients, Google Apps is the way to go in order to effectively collaborate with others within their organization, share tasks and calendar events, and (like Bash Foo) integrate their email into their accounting (Freshbooks), help desk (Freshdesk), and project management (GroupCamp) services. Fully integrating these tools allow you to track, bill, and manage every effort within our growing agency. We also easily collaborate within our office things like conference room time, events and client meetings. We like Google Apps so much we are an Authorized Partner with Google Apps and can effectively deploy it within any size organization.
Scheduling Meetings and Presentations
In addition to the “regular” daily business that Bash Foo performs, I have a pretty busy presentation and public speaking schedule that needs tending. When a new lead contacts me to review their current website, provide digital marketing consulting, or speak to a group of professionals, Vcita allows my clients to add requests for my time to my calendar, and compare my public availability to their availability. It also helps to communicate the value of my time to potential clients.. as one thing everyone wants for free from a consultant also happens to be the primary source of income for the consultant. If I could make a good living by providing valuable advice for free, I would most certainly do it.
So, now how will Bash Foo handle incoming calls if the CEO/President isn’t going to be available 7/24/365? Answer: a netTalk DUO WifFi VoIP device, a couple nice AT&T wireless phones, a fancy 800# (888-345-5847) service from logmycalls.com that tracks calls and routes them, and a Google Voice account that will transcribe important calls and SMS text them to me. So, starting this week, associates in the office will be able to field calls, create tickets for clients, follow-up on leads, all with or without yours truly. I’ll field the most urgent calls, and be able to follow-up with clients quickly and efficiently no longer having to dig through two dozen voice mails for that all important one.
Building up the right team is by far the most difficult task of any small business. What all small businesses have in common is that in order to go +1 you have to find someone that has a basic level of understanding, is willing to learn, and you can afford them. Spend too much or not enough on your talent and your death spiral will be swift. Don’t hire anyone and the same will be true. And, in our society today there is no shortage of people willing to do shoddy or no work at all and still demand a paycheck. Not wanting to cast aspersions on all workers out there, the moral of the story is you gotta go through about 8-10 folks to find one you like. You’ll over pay for some, under pay others. Eventually you’ll figure out the right mix, and find just the right folks to help represent your company.
Every small business will have a different set of needs, the key I have found is in sequencing the delivery of these changes within your small business so that it disrupts your clients the least and does not have a lasting negative impact on your bottom line. It’s real easy to quickly grow your organizational costs, and just as easy to cheat your clients by delivering less than optimal results through a lack of growth. Staying customer focused, and trying to always “knock their socks off” with your capabilities will allow you to grow while still being considered the most trustworthy resource in your line of business. Now.. go and get ’em friends!