We’ve covered our communication mindset and strategy as well as the tools we use to facilitate our communication system.
Last thing to do is dive into our workflow to see how it all fits together.
Like we’ve said, Endzone Software provides dev support and maintenance to creative agencies and their clients. Our setup as an agency to agency business may be a little different than if we were serving the end client directly (an agency to client relationship). That being said, a communication system is adaptable as long as you have good tools and more important, solid strategy and processes in place.
We’re going to dig into how we serve two different types of client. One is a larger client with lots of ongoing work. The other is a smaller client with far less moving pieces.
We'll start with our workflow serving a larger client, Yes Media, with lots of incoming tasks and ongoing work (real name changed for privacy).
With this client in particular, we're using two tools for the majority of communication, Trello and Freshdesk. Yes Media is already using these tools within their agency – Trello boards for each of their clients and Freshdesk for their support ticketing.
Our team has login access to their tools and enter the equation when we are pinged through these two mediums. In a way, with the process we follow and the way we are integrated within Yes Media’s tools, it’s as if our agency were an extension of their team.
Here’s how it’s all set up:
Pay attention to the adaptations here. You’ll see how we are adapting our communication system to the client and situation without much change in the final result.
The client interacts with us via Trello and Freshdesk, yet we still have a reliable system for 2-way open communication. That’s what is essential. Here we are achieving our communication system requirements without relying on one specific tool (or even maintaining ‘ownership’ of the tool).
Typically we would advise you to receive tasks through a client facing ticketing system like Freshdesk to optimise ticketing for your agency.
In this particular situation with our client, this exact setup would be a hassle. Yes Media is already taking in support tickets through their own Freshdesk account. We don’t use our own Freshdesk account here because doubling up on accounts and tickets would greatly complicate things. Instead, it’s best for us to integrate into their account.
When Yes Media receives a support ticket through Freshdesk, they process the ticket and decide if they need our technical support (the ticket could be regarding anything that Sweet Media offers as a creative agency such as marketing, SEO, design, development, etc.).
If they do need dev support, Yes Media sends a copy of the ticket to a dedicated support email address we own, which essentially pushes the support ticket to our Slack channel for us to process (the channel is #c-YM-notif-freshdesk). Slack documents the data for us so we aren’t reliant on having our own Freshdesk account to save the the data for later (though we still have access to their Freshdesk if needed).
As we process the tasks we receive, we reply to the questions with updates for Yes Media right on the Freshdesk ticket. That’s one reason why we have login access to their account. All we have to do is click on the support ticket link posted in our Slack notification and that brings us right to the Freshdesk ticket for updating. It’s quick and easy to jump in there and reply to Yes Media in a location that all parties can rely on (you could use Freshdesk / Slack integrations to make it possible to respond to the ticket right within Slack).
So far, here’s the workflow:
Of course the next step in processing the ticket is to create an action / task card on our personal Trello board. But first let’s go over receiving tasks via Trello.
Did you notice what happened in this adaptation? In previous articles, we suggested that you receive support enquiries in some way such as a support desk like Freshdesk and use Slack as a notification hub to stay on top of the requests. We’re still doing this, but our client is maintaining control over this first step.
The second way we often receive task requests is through Trello, and it’s a perfect example of using the same communication channels between internal and external agency communications.
It works like this:
We have a team wide access account (such as @Endzone) for the Trello boards that Yes Media shares with us (they maintain a board for each of their clients). They work through projects and tasks as usual and when they need development work of any kind they mention us on the relevant card.
When our name is mentioned in their Trello cards, we receive a Slack notification in the respective channel (#c-YM-notif-trello). The person in charge of processing notifications and requests follows the link in the message to Yes Media’s Trello card and corresponds as needed (you could also use Trello / Slack integrations to respond from right within Slack).
Here’s the Trello ticketing workflow:
At this point it doesn’t matter if a task request was received through Trello or Freshdesk, we follow the same procedure to continue processing the enquiry, so we head over to our Trello boards.
A client enquiry can result in a variety of different actions on our end. We could end up carrying out a specific development task, doing research, learning more, consulting others, breaking down a task into multiple steps, offering advise, etc.
If we can respond to the enquiry and close the ticket without further action then we do. But if there are any future actions needed, then we add a card to our Trello board in the ‘Next’ column (taking care not to put it at the top in respect of Yes Media’s prioritisation of our tasks).
New task cards require a minimum of:
It can also include:
Now we’ve received a task and added it to our task management system. Yes Media knows they can visit their client dashboard at any time to prioritise the next development task we work on, and our reporting process ensures that tasks and enquiries don’t stagnate.
We just have to complete the tasks when it reaches the top of our ‘Next’ list.
We carry out tasks from the top of the ‘Next’ list as time permits and based on our SLA. First the task is moved to the ‘Doing’ list and the person carrying out the task assigns themselves as a member of the card when they start working on a task (provides clarity for the team on who is or has worked on the task in the past). We also use checklists to indicate changed entities during development.
Tasks are moved to the ‘Blocked’ list if clarifications are needed or to the ’Awaiting approval’ list if approval is needed before being considered completed. This is what Yes Media sees in their dashboard and its how they can monitor what needs to be clarified or approved.
Once completed, a task moves to ‘Done for this week’ and no longer needs the attention of our developers. Each week, all the tasks from this list are added to the weekly report (usually carried out by an assistant following processes to collect and organise the data). Once added to the weekly report, all tasks in the list are moved to the ‘Reported’ phase of our workflow and eventually get archived.
That’s the basic ongoing communication workflow for our agency.
We all know that life doesn’t always go according to plan, that’s why we have to have emergency procedures in place.
We provide Yes Media with an emergency Slack channel as our quickest contact method (we use the #comms-YM-bat-channel).
Whether a task comes in through a standard support ticket or emergency contact from the client, we always create tasks cards in Trello as well as create and send incident reports when the incident is concluded.
Here’s the overall workflow:
That's it for larger clients with a lot of ongoing tasks. Now for a smaller client…
When a client’s ongoing needs are on the lighter side, the communication process can get simpler.
This is the case with one of our clients, Digital Impact (again, name changed for privacy). With this client, we handle development tasks and projects when requested, but the majority of our work includes general support and maintenance.
So our workflow looks like this:
With Digital Impact, we keep a Slack channel for open communication and enquiries (#c-DI). This is less structured than a ticketing system but there aren’t enough incoming task enquiries to warrant support desk software like Freshdesk.
We also have a very friendly relationship with this client so using support ticketing would feel a bit rigid and cold, and we still don’t want to resort to email.
A dedicated Slack channel works very well in this situation. Anytime our contacts at Digital Impact have questions, they simply ping us. They know (according to our SLA) when to expect a response and we can process the enquiry in the same way we do a Freshdesk ticket.
From this point, everything else follows a similar workflow to the one we outlined in detail above with just some slight differences.
We have our own Trello board for Digital Impact’s ongoing tasks and we create new boards for specific projects. They have access to these boards in order to see what’s happening (again, the client engagement is small enough to not need a complete private dashboard).
As we process enquiries, we create task cards and place them in the ‘Next’ pile. Digital Impact has the ability to prioritise their cards as needed, and we can interact with them about the task directly on that task card.
You can see how we are using the same tools for internal and external communication.
In the same way we would ping a teammate in Trello on a task when they are needed, we also ping clients for their input and engagement.
And in the workflow outlined earlier, our client pinged us in Trello as a method of transmitting a support enquiry.
In our line of business we use a handful of external monitoring tools to monitor the health, function, errors, uptime, speed, etc. of websites and apps.
Many tools can be integrated with Slack to automatically send us alerts when an incident occurs or a potential incident is brewing. For development purposes, tools such as Rackspace Monitoring, Pingdom, and Raygun can be used. If you offer SEO, social media, PR, marketing services, etc., check Slack's app directory or Zapier to see if the tools you use integrate with Slack. You could potentially set up alerts and notifications for your ads, social media pages and mentions, and way more.
The automated alerts are processed the same way any other support enquiry is, but with each alert we ask:
‘Is it critical? Can people still make a purchase from the site or access highly important data?’
If it’s not critical then it falls under general maintenance and support, which gets added to our backlog on the Trello board.Anything that is identified as critical gets an immediate response (within the SLA). We take action then go in and add a task to our Trello board (which can be done in a couple of clicks from the monitoring tool).
Critical or not, if the issue was tech related we want to help Digital Impact understand the situation. We include info on the task card to keep them well informed (which helps to simplify task prioritisation).
Incidents get their own report and are referenced along with everything else in the main monthly report.
We carry out our actual work the exact same as we would with a larger client.
The ongoing Trello board displays what we have to do and what’s next (as soon as we have time and space according to our agreement). We work through those tasks and move them to the ‘complete’ list when finished, tagging our contact to alert them.
Once everything is approved to go live, the 'work' is done and the task card moves to the far right list for reporting (the next level of communication). At the end of each month (instead of weekly) we go through this list to compile a report, which wraps up communication on each given task. To make sharing the report easy, we can drop it right into Digital Impact’s Slack channel and ping them that it’s ready.
Here’s the overall workflow:
That’s our basic workflow and it’s important to see how valuable this communication system is for our clients.
Strong relationships are built on communication and trust. It’s terribly annoying to reach out to a business for support and then wonder if anybody saw your message or you get nothing but a generic support response. Your agency needs to be more reliable.
Reliable service is valuable and a communication system brings reliability to your clients. The fact is, we are doing the work in a way that demonstrates and builds trust. By following a system that utilises communication and creates transparency, clients feel incredibly high levels of trust in us.
When the inevitable issues arise, clients don’t have to worry because they know we have a system to see and handle it. They can expect a report laying out what happened, how big an issue it was, and what will happen next. All sides are covered, from the work to the results.
It’s clear, consistent, efficient and helpful.
That’s what clients get from your communication system, and there’s incredible value in that.
This post is part of our series on creating an effective ongoing communication system in your agency. Start at the beginning of the article series or pop directly to the topic you need help with most right now.
Got questions or want to start a conversation about communication challenges in your agency? Shout at us on Twitter using #clientcommunication.