Have you ever realised just how complex language and communication is?
Take Japanese. Depending on multiple factors, you would use formal, informal, or honourific grammar in your speech. But for a Japanese language learner, remembering how and then knowing when to use each level of grammar can be a nightmare.
These levels of politeness are just a tiny aspect of communication within Japanese, but it’s complex enough to completely trip someone up. Throw in all the other aspects of the language and it’s chaos for the newbie learner.
As an agency, we want the exact opposite of chaos. We know that communication is a real challenge (no matter what the language or medium), so we want to approach communication with as much simplicity as possible.
When we think about carrying out any project – internal operations or client work – we could break each project down to two primary parts: the work and the results.
The work is all the actions taken to prepare for and carry out a project. The results are pretty self-explanatory.
We tend to think of ongoing communication in a similar way. There’s the work – the operational or task level communication. And there’s the results – the overview and reporting level of communication.
Let's touch on each level of communication a little more:
1. Operational / Task Level Communication
These are all the little things that have to be communicated in order to get anything done at an agency. Nothing happens without operational communication.
Operational communication could include a request from the client, a task update from a fellow team member, or any other tidbit of info that needs to be passed along and contributes to a project or task. It could be human to human interaction, but it also includes automated alerts and errors generated by various tools.
We break this level of communication down to two sub-levels:
- External - agency / client communication
- Internal - agency’s team communication
Here’s the thing:
We know we want a communication system which records all interactions in a centralised place. We also want the right amount of transparency for our clients.
That’s why we strive to keep our methods of communication between these two sub-levels as closely related as possible. We want to think about external and internal communication has a whole process, not completely disparate processes.
In our opinion, the wrong thing many agencies do is use vastly different processes, systems, and tools between external and internal operational communication. If the processes between the two sub-levels are completely different, transparency fades and information can easily fall through the cracks.
So how do we keep our methods of communication between these two sub-levels related?
It simply takes integrating support systems with team communication channels AND with internal task management systems.
In other words, it’s a customer relationship management (CRM) crossed with an intranet and project management tools.
Does that sound complicated?
It all boils down to using quality tools and implementing systems and processes across the team (all of which we’ll cover soon).
2. Overview / Reporting Level of Communication
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
– George Santayana
Reporting is a crucial level of ongoing communication because it fills the gaps between operational interactions while reinforcing progress, growth and improvement. We use reports to review what we did and the result it created, to celebrate wins and demonstrate value, and to root out weaknesses or areas for improvement. That’s why reporting is a key feature of a great communication system.
And once again, we can break this level of communication down into external and internal sub-levels.
As agencies, reports are a way to ensure that clients are happy (and keep paying us). They help us to continually recap our value as a service provider. In our agency, we often find that our point of contact on the client side greatly appreciates our regular reports. The reports are a strong tool to impress their superiors.
Reports don’t always signify the end of a project. Depending on what your agency does, who you serve, and the nature of your projects, client reports could be anywhere from the day to day bitty level, up to weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Or they could be one-off incident reports.
In an effort to provide the right amount of transparency to clients, frequent reports should be easy to understand, explanatory and factually based to deliver the highlights of the individual tasks and projects scheduled, what you’re currently working on or recently completed. These could be considered “heartbeat reports” that demonstrate the lifeline of your work. They demonstrate progress and competency without overloading the client with details.
Less frequent reports tend to have more depth and look to deeply portray the value you are bringing to your clients. They take more effort and should be prepared as if they were going all the way up to the CEO or owner (what Brennan Dunn calls a “CEO Ready” report).
Now speaking of effort…
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
– Peter Drucker
Just as the communication system aides in client reporting, it also helps us evaluate internal operations.
Internal reporting is different from reporting to clients and requires a substantial amount more effort. The key performance indicators (KPIs) we measure for our agency are different from what we measure for clients. In addition, internal interactions are far more frequent than external interactions, providing more data to comb through.
Nevertheless, internal reporting is essential for understanding how we can improve as an agency. That’s why it should be done as much as possible and shared with the team in full transparency.
When it comes to ongoing communication, we want to keep it simple (stupid). We also want to continually demonstrate warmth and competence to our clients. That’s why we approach ongoing communication at two primary levels, operational and reporting.
Operational communication covers everything we do as we do it. Reporting communication reviews our actions after they’re finished. Each can be done externally (between the client and the agency) and internally (among the agency).
With all of this in mind, it’s now time to talk about the right tools to set up your communication system. Check out the tools we use and how they are integrated to form a solid and reliable ongoing agency communication system.