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Agility and Client Happiness

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Alex Noonan
Director of Operations

Over the past year or so, Last Call Media has been evolving, becoming more and more focused on our agility. We’ve applied it to every aspect of our development processes, and without even really noticing, I have also been applying the Scrum values and agility to my work in Account Management and Client Services; Openness and Courage go a long way in that regard.

I admit that I was initially very skeptical of Scrum and the notion of agility, because on the surface, it all sounds a lot like a fancy way to say “flying by the seat of my pants.” I like knowing allthethings!, having multiple contingency plans laid out in advance, and having backup plans in case the contingency plans fall through. 

Agility challenged me. It asked me, How much can you actually plan? What if something you didn’t even know you should consider planning for happens? How many hours of your life have you lost, coming up with Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and D even, only to have the utterly unexpected rear its head at you and leave all your carefully-lettered plans in tatters? And most importantly: Now what do you do if there’s no more time left to plan again?

Once I learned that agility isn’t actually about not having a plan, it’s about knowing when to change your plan, being ready and flexible enough to make that adjustment, and being willing to make a new plan, I saw everything differently. 

The 12th Principle of Agility: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

When I started at Last Call Media, I was presented with a task: get clients happier. 

LCM has fantastically intelligent and gifted developers. We do really awesome work on a daily basis, and yet, in January 2016 there was a feeling that a few of our clients might not be satisfied. We wanted to know for sure.

We needed to evaluate the problem, so we rolled out Client Heartbeat, a quarterly survey tool. We asked all of our clients to rank us in Partnership, Accuracy, Promptness, and Helpfulness on a scale from 1-10. Immediately a pattern surfaced: Clients liked our work, sure, but they wanted us to communicate more. 

We said, Okay. We can do that. 

We adapted by appointing a specific person to the task, depending on who the client was. We began communicating more quickly, more often, and in greater detail. In the second quarter of the year, our clients scored us a little higher, and as we focused on them more, our scores kept increasing.

We started 2016 with an overall Client Happiness Score of 6.6. Our score for Q1 of 2017? An 8.9.

When I started, I had no idea which clients weren’t thrilled with Last Call, and therefore had no clue where to begin making them happier. I could have tried planning things that I thought clients would want, like “thank you” cards and holiday gifts—and maybe those would have made some people feel slightly better for about a minute—but I would have ultimately failed. 

The success here was all about a constant cycle of getting feedback, actually listening to that feedback, and making changes accordingly. We even had some clients tell us we were “over-communicating” with them, so we dialed back our correspondence with those people specifically. I continuously check in with our clients, even outside of the Client Heartbeat surveys, to make sure their needs are being met in a way that works for them.

Scrum Values

While Account Management and Client Services don’t really lend themselves to a Scrum framework—tasks change daily, and there is very rarely an instance where I can take two weeks, or even one, to complete something—the Values of the system are incredibly important to keep in mind. While build teams Scrum daily all around me, I just keep in mind: Focus, Courage, Openness, Commitment, and Respect.

I focus on one client at a time. If someone emails me about a question or concern, I don’t do anything else until I have an answer for them. Even if that means sending back a message that just says, “I saw this and need someone else to look into it for you,” I make sure they know they’ve been heard. 

I have the courage to tell a client when I don’t have an immediate resolution for them, because I know that just communicating with them in a timely manner is a powerful way to show that we care. I also know that someone within Last Call will be able to answer them or fix their problem, because I work with really smart people.

I’m open with clients. I treat them like regular people. They’ve come to us for help, we want to help them, and it’s really just that simple. I tell them how far along we are with finding a solution to their problem, and I tell them if their issue is a little trickier than we first thought it was, and we’ll need more time to resolve it. I practice openness with our clients by keeping them in the loop and offering them opportunities to express concerns or ask questions.

I’m committed to giving people a positive experience with Last Call. I make their problems my problems and stick with a task until it’s resolved. I make sure that everyone on my team is communicating timelines, blockers, questions, and suggestions to our clients; this way, everyone feels like they’re being heard and we’re all on the same page, committed to the same end goals.

I respect our clients’ time, their budgets, and them as individuals. The clients who thought our new volume of communication was overkill? We made sure we gave them some more space, because we respected their needs. I think that practicing openness, commitment, courage, and focus is an act of respect as it is, but at the end of the day it’s also important to remember that we’re working with our clients—they are our partners, and we’re working towards the same things.

With agility and the Scrum values now so ingrained in my daily work, it’s a wonder to me that just a year ago, I may have taken a drastically different approach to my job. The recipe for client happiness seems pretty simple to me now, and it really comes down to a willingness to change. I’ve discovered that if something isn’t going quite right, the reason why is easy to find if you’re willing to look for it; if the path you’re on isn’t solving problems—or is, in fact, creating them—then having the agility to adapt to a new course of action just makes sense.

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