EPIC FAIL: Why Web Design Firms SUCK
This GREAT +Andy Crestodina "list post" is SO TRUE (lol). Andy describes keeping a pad next to his phone and noting the problems he heard for a year. At the end of that year the inescapable conclusion is #webdesign  companies as a group stink at customer communicaiton / service. 

My perspective is interesting since I spent 7 years as a Director of Ecommerce buying web design services and two years as Director Marketing for +Atlantic BT selling those services. In my last year as ABT's marketing director I also became a customer as I hired my firm to create http://www.curecancerstarter.org

Being a customer SUCKED and here's why:

* Not a SINGLE face-to-face meeting with the project manager (all meetings by IM, email and phone and in that order granted there was a flight of stairs separating us). 
* Few "in process" questions that would have saved valuable TIME (think questions weren't asked because they were trying to stay on a tight timeline but questions HELP meet deadlines not hurt).
* Forbidden to speak with programmers (a rule I understand but drives me crazy since I learn things from them I can't from a gatekeeper).
* As a project ages the THRILL leaves the building and it just becomes another thing to get done (remember they were working on helping people with cancer fund the cure for cancer so BIG ideas and cool project that became boring and just another thing to get done).
* Once a project turns from THRILLING and "there's a lot in this for us" to "we have to get this done by x date" your project is dead man walking. Best talent is moved to other projects and all the yelling at the moon can't change your project's destiny (at that point). 
* Once your project becomes a pain you TOO become a pain so both you and your project are marginalized and you and your project's destiny is set (sadly). 

Andy gets it SO right in his answer to the question of why do web design companies SUCK:

* Web design firms are project-based, not account-based like traditional ad agencies or IT support companies. They may not have the people and process in place to provide the kinds of ongoing enhancements and support that clients inevitably need like a support team or account managers.

* This is an industry where almost anything is possible, so clear communication is desperately important. Dozens of options may be discussed, each with pro and cons. This means misunderstandings are common…and sometimes disastrous.
Web designers are busy.

* Clients often need months to get comfortable enough to sign a proposal. That makes it very hard to manage capacity. And it’s a growing industry. A lot of web companies, especially the very cheap and very good ones, are slammed.

YES YES YES. I've been treated like crap by big, small and intermediate web design firms. I've been treated like crap when paying hundreds of thousands and when paying a thousand (so amount of money doesn't change the experience). 

Also agree with Andy's what clients can do:

1. Check References.
Just pick up the phone and call some people! As with job candidates, the best indication of future performance is past performance. Have a genuine conversation with companies the vendor has worked with. Or at the very least…

2. Read Reviews
 But don’t stop there. Search around for a few minutes. Go to the Better Business Bureau website and see if there are any complaints.

3. Get a Demo. 
Of course, you’ll want a demo of the content management system, but also get a demo of the project management tools. Wait, they don’t use project management tools? Bad sign…
Are they taking notes? There may be indications of vendor chaos in the first meeting. They should be capturing goals and requirements in an organized way.

4. Meet the Team
Again, just like a job interview, nothing replaces the face-to-face meeting.

And I would add:

If you can spend a portion of every day at your design firm even if you are just sitting at a desk using their WiFi do! If you can't do that, spend a day a week being PRESENT and available. Share your schedule ahead and don't fill the day with meetings. Hang out and be available for questions. 

6. Pay For Performance
Andy is right about most web companies are slammed and being slammed is contributing to bad service. When THEY have more work than they can manage you may not be able to create Pay for Performance goals with clearly defined carrot and stick rewards / punishments. 

7. Provide Ongoing Social Compensation
If you have great social following, klout and authority you have something any partner needs too - legitimacy and existing traffic / rank. Make sure you SHARE with "in process" communication (Tweet what is happening). When you share what is happening IN THE WORLD you bring in an issue all web design firms MUST care about - reputation and brand. Remember you get more bees with honey than vinegar. You only get to FIRE them once, and you need something important from them so be socially rewarding and punish in private. They can do the math and will know what is at risk if they fail you. 
8. Know Their Team & Create Matchups With Your Team
Know who is helpful, willing to go the extra mile for you and an effective advocate for your project inside the shop. This is why I like to EMBED because when the only thing you see is the MASK, the image they want you to see, you can't learn who the GO TO players are. Matchup your team to theirs. Have your techies get to know and interact with theirs. Have your marketing people get to know the Project Manager and sales people. PRESENT your project to the company if they have a forum to do so. Harder to SCREW people you know and care about :). 

9. Be Cognizant of TIME
Chances are YOU don't work like a lawyer charging for every moment you speak to clients and rounding up to the hour. TIME is the currency inside any web design firm. DON'T brainstorm with 4 team members since you are burning $400 or more an hour. Create detailed specs and pictures of what you want. BE OPEN to their changing your vision 20%, but keep  your whip, gun and chair handy. Your BEST "whip, gun and chair" is having your act together and not asking general "let's wander in the woods" questions. Wander in the woods with me, +Mark Traphagen and +Phil Buckley. Be aware that every MINUTE you are on the phone or in a meeting THEIR meter is running.

10. Keep YOUR Process and Politics OUT of the Mix 
I realize keeping your internal squabbles to yourself is hard, but get a COACH or OD counselor to come in to solve team problems. The reason team dysfunction comes up in #webdesign  is a company must look into its SOUL to create great online communication. The web is a HUGE lie detecting amplifier. Any flaw gets amplified, so don't work out your team issues using your web designers as OD counselors. Poor use of money and exposing indecision and infighting means your project will be circling the drain soon. 

Finally, and I'm not going to number this one (lol), remember its BUSINESS not personal. This is the other CATCH-22 of web design. Great web designs require you share your SOUL, but sharing your soul the tiniest bit too much means you can't create great web designs.

Keep your presentations to your designers on the page and know who and what you ARE before engaging a web design company. 

Many web design companies say they can help you do the core marketing too. DON'T BELIEVE THEM. Web design firms may be the worst marketers on the planet.

Most web design firms have so much work they can SUCK at customer service AND #marketing  and still grow. If you need Unique Selling Proposition or tactics and strategy help hire me,  +Frank Pollock or +Brian Yanish (or Andy if he is available). We've had to combine Internet marketing with tactics and strategy. Web design firms? Not so much, no matter WHAT they tell you (lol).  
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