Web Reliability

48. High Touch Continuous Management Builds trust and Exposes Opportunity

Mitchell Kimbrough
Written November 30, 2021 by
Mitchell Kimbrough
Founder

We’ve talked a great deal about flow. But what exactly is the fundamental element of what we call “flow”? The end customer. They are the molecule of water that flows through the pipeline we’ve created. They are the electron that flows through our circuitry. Monitoring their progress through the system means also thinking about how to maintain a high touch relationship with them. How to serve them attentively. How to ensure their needs are being met.

The Web Reliability Framework also takes into account the dynamics of the team doing all the work of attracting, preparing for and looking after the customer. The web team has its own set of customers and providers. It's very rare for a company to have all web activities housed natively inside the organization. Outside help is almost always brought in. Maintaining high touch here is important as well, if we’re to maintain the focus on customer service.

Let's start with the end customer, though. They are the highest priority when we're discussing the execution level of the system, as we move beyond an examination of team and strategy and look into tactical execution. This means we need to discuss the myriad customer service systems and methods that may be brought to bear on the business of monitoring the success of the customer journey.

A simple definition of “high touch” that our team uses is this: make contact with the customer before they realize they need you. Find them before they find you. Stay proactive and engaged.

In the early days of building my company I had not yet learned the high touch lesson. In addition, I am an introvert by nature, tending towards quiet introspection. In the early days, if I would get busy and fall behind on a customer job, I would deal with it by trying to avoid the customer. I would just work as quickly as I could hoping they would not find me before I had completed the work that I owed them. This was a terrible way of working and it cost me a good client, eventually. The client was a topiary design company run by an extremely nice married couple. They were the topiary art provider for one of the largest theme park companies in the world, and I was pleased when they contracted my company to design a new logo and website. The relationship started off with a bit of mistrust. They had a perception that I wasn’t an expert, and it was on me to convince them otherwise. I had no success persuading them otherwise as we kicked things off. This mistrust continued as things moved forward. The client had a firm point of view about what they wanted. I wanted them to look at other solutions. They weren’t interested. I began work on what they wanted, reluctantly. As a result, the work was moving slowly. I didn’t communicate with the client about the status of the project. Then I got busy with other things, and their project stalled out. After a week or two had gone by this way, I began feeling guilty and ashamed. This left me even less motivated to make contact with my customer. As it turned out, they were avoiding me too. My total lack of communication had confirmed their suspicion that I was a knucklehead who had no clue what he was doing. This went on for a long time. At last, a couple of months later, they sent me a very blunt email telling me to stop work and send them a final bill. They did not want to confront me and fire me, but they felt they needed to. And so, I was fired.

Had I understood the high touch principle, and been willing to use it, I could have nipped this whole thing in the bud and avoided all of the pain for everyone involved. High touch would have meant that at the very start of our relationship, in the first conversation about the project, we would have agreed on rules for communication. Nowadays our company conducts kickoff meetings where the project plan is reviewed, roles and responsibilities are defined, and expectations set for how the project will go. We set weekly stand-up meetings to ensure transparency and accountability. We create a Slack channel and check in daily or as needed. We make sure project information is documented and shared in an agreed-on project management tool. There is always some sort of a milestone on the calendar. We email and ping one another regularly. This has ensured successful projects, but more importantly successful and lasting relationships. We make sure we are high touch with our clients. At the very same time we are being high touch, we are doing it empathetically. When we make contact, we are feeling things out emotionally. We are checking for stress or unspoken conflict. We are looking for pain points and issues that we might be able to help with or refer someone in to help. High touch results in trust.

This high touch approach also has a valuable side effect, which is inviting and surfacing new opportunities. If your mission is to serve others, and it truly should be if you wish to become reliable over time, then remaining in steady contact with those you serve means you are better positioned to serve them more. Possibilities naturally come up in conversation and create the perfect opportunity for you to suggest a solution. Success leads to more success.

So back to our customer. Remember that this Web Reliability system is broad, not deep. It's a map of the terrain of what constitutes web reliability, not a deep diagnosis and prescription for your specific ailment. With that in mind, high touch with customers may translate differently for you, depending on the scale and scope of your venture. For example, Amazon cannot possibly hope to personally connect with every customer every week. They are far too large to get each customer on the phone and have an empathetic conversation with them. Nevertheless, they can still be high touch and I believe they seek to be. They use email campaigns as a method of high touch follow up on purchases, tracking progress on your orders and suggesting other items you might like. They also enable the third-party vendors on their platform to offer high touch follow up with their customers. There seems to be an understanding of the need to connect and remain connected, and to keep it feeling personal, even at such a massive scale.

Sites that serve a much smaller customer base are ideally positioned for a really personalized relationship, though. Perhaps you run a B2B supply chain site that sells a set of component parts to other companies who incorporate them into their products. You may have a small sales team who each have a handful of contacts at client companies. This is the optimal setup for high touch relationships. And it’s a great example of where such relationships can be a source of authentic professional pleasure. In a B2B context where the product chain is much more complex, there are numerous opportunities to complain about pain points and collaborate on mutual opportunities. Steady monitoring of your customer's flow through your sales pipeline through high touch management results not only in more sales, but in more product line opportunities.

Finally, completing our theme of high touch management, we come back to the web team that manages the web property. The work they do of guiding the customer through the sales journey benefits greatly from high touch. High touch check-ins among the web team result in sustained motivation and reduced friction. Does the template manager regularly connect with the SEO expert on the team? Are they working together to progressively and continuously improve search ranking by discussing and implementing new findings? Does the content editor regularly talk with the CMS team to complain about pain points in the editing process? Does the CMS respect high touch and respond empathetically with solutions to those editorial pains? The list of interactions goes on and on, but all are facilitated by the empathetic high touch management principle.

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