A long time ago in a galaxy where I still currently reside, I was a marketing & product designer for several multimedia agencies focused on building marketing websites for small businesses. The platform of choice for these small businesses? You guessed it: WordPress. Most of us know WordPress as an open source platform that’s fairly expansive. With the right knowledge, humans can command nearly limitless functionality and accomplish unique and amazing things. However, if there’s one thing agency-folk know about WordPress is that with the promise of potential endless customization options comes the drawback of serious time-sink. Cue the “time is money” cliche.
As a business that builds solutions for other businesses by utilizing an open source platform, there needs to be careful balance in determining when to harness pre-built bits of functionality such as plugins, and when to build proprietary components to achieve intended goals.
Consistency, efficiency, and trust
Consistency of organization
Over the years, I learned from designing marketing sites for small businesses is that the SaaS model works fairly well in many cases. Creating different levels of packages for small businesses and developing sites as a product offering where many components could be reutilized and customized for different customers was something that worked for both parties. The agency could move quickly because it had developed a consistent formula to produce a product, and the small business didn’t have to wait months on end to receive a tool to help them make money.
In this regard, having a successful SaaS model was built in a foundation of consistency. As a team, we developed a consistent process — from on-boarding a customer to retention of said customer (not unlike the growth funnel approach I now utilize working on WordPress.com and Jetpack). Through our consistent approach we became much more efficient. Our consistency and efficiency of process led to building trust amongst our client-base because we set expectations and delivered on them. The trust we built was reflected as part of our brand, and thus, our customer-base grew.
As we collected feedback from our customers on the success / failures of our product in the wild, we evolved our process. We became better as a team and our products also got better. However, for the situations where we used third party products for WordPress, sometimes their consistency (or lack thereof) altered the perceptions of us (the agency) and WordPress (the ecosystem), in the eyes of the end customer. This became a strange relationship in some regards — we would get feedback on products that weren’t ours, and so we needed to pass on the feedback to the necessary channels to hopefully initiate changes to help the perception of our business and success of our customers. There was never any guarantee our feedback would be heard, which sometimes strained our relationship with customers.
Consistency of Product
Consistent products allow for agencies (and all customers alike) to move quicker and become more efficient. With proper consistent design languages and patterns within a product or experience, expectations are set early and remain the same throughout the customer experience — the learning curve quickly plateaus. Take a look at a few large organizations like Apple, Google, Netflix, or similar. They create consistent patterns across their devices or software in most cases, so once you’ve learned how to navigate one of their products, the others come easily.
In my experience, agencies create consistency in both internal and external systems in this regard, which translates to “consistency of service.” All of which builds trust for their customers.
Listening to Agencies
These days I design products on a different part of the spectrum . Now I strive to create tools that agencies can utilize, along with small businesses and end consumers alike. The equation is altered here slightly, but now there’s an even greater need for consistency, both in our product and team organization, in order to build a product that works for our customers, and our customers’ customers. If we envision these relationships as a waterfall, the principle of consistency (efficiency & trust), trickles down throughout. If we aren’t consistent in organization, we aren’t consistent in product and experience, and so our agency customers will feel the impact of that.
Agencies are pivotal in the WordPress ecosystem because they’re working with and listening to businesses of all sizes, daily. Research is naturally part of their process because small businesses are continuously communicating their needs. As a designer for tools like WordPress.com and Jetpack, I’m fortunate enough to be friends with folks from several local agencies that utilize WordPress as part of their product offering — eMagine, Linchpin, and Slocum. I’m able to learn from what they learn about their small business customers.
Agencies have unique needs
One of the most interesting aspects here is how layered this relationship is. We can build a product that helps (or fails) more than one customer-type, simultaneously. Because of which, designers need to take special care to research and keep in mind who our product is having an impact on, and how.
- How does our product solve problems agencies are having?
- How does our product fail to solve the problems agencies are having?
- How does our product solve the problems for the customers of the agency?
- How does our product fail to the solve the problems for the customers of the agency?
- How does our product alter the perception of our customers’ (agency) in the eyes of their customer?
If our product fails to meet the needs of an agency’s customer, it also fails to meet the needs of the agency. So we have a failure roll-up.
Another circumstance to remember is that with products like WordPress.com and Jetpack are products that can — and often are — used by both agencies and their customers. And this is where consistency is paramount, in order to have efficient communication and trust throughout every party in this relationship.
More thoughts on building for agencies to come!
Originally written for Automattic.design