The success of a marketing agency depends on two things: consistent delivery of high-quality work and client trust.
The challenge is when one comes at the cost of the other. Teams might spend so much time fine-tuning campaigns that they neglect to nurture relationships with their clients. Teams that obsessively focus on communication and delivery might let quality lag and create work that doesn't drive results.
This leaves many agencies in a catch-22: how should they balance building customer trust while also creating impactful work?
Animalz, Inc., a 20 person content marketing agency based in New York City, has been focused on solving this problem. After searching for a year for a way to balance high-quality and efficient communication, they finally found a system that works for their team: a shared inbox.
The Animalz team builds customer trust by directly involving clients in the creative process as often as possible. They coordinate monthly strategy calls, share pitch ideas before starting the writing process, and work with clients on several drafts before considering a piece complete.
Each Animalz team member is responsible for managing communication with two to four clients and is managing a handful of conversations with each client every week. A single missed message has a significant impact: team members might spend hours writing an article for a pitch the client passed on or deliver work that doesn't align with client expectations.
To avoid these costly mistakes, Animalz adheres to three pillars of communication:
Be transparent. Though every client has a main point of contact, information should not be siloed in one person's inbox. Every conversation should be available for someone else on the team to pick up as needed.
Be proactive. Every conversation should come to a resolution. If a client doesn't respond, the team should follow up until they have the information they need.
Be organized. An action should be taken on every email that comes in — whether archived, replied to, or “snoozed” — and the team should keep as close to Inbox Zero as possible.
Before adopting a shared inbox, the team had to CC and BCC a group email address on every message and use Gmail extensions such as Followup.cc to set automatic reminders. The system ensured that no email fell through the cracks, but it was time-intensive. The Animalz team was communicating effectively, but not efficiently.
With a growing team and client base, CEO Walter Chen decided it was time for a change. The same day he set up a shared inbox in Front to transform how the team communicated with clients and collaborated with each other.
Walter's goal was to improve how efficiently the team communicated while adhering to the communication pillars the team was used to. To do this, he set up a message routing system that mapped how Animalz is organized.
The 20 person Animalz team is divided into four groups, with two writers, a researcher, and a team captain for each. Writers are responsible for day-to-day communication with client accounts, while the captain supervises and ensures everything is running smoothly. Consequently, they set up Front to route most messages to the writers, while maintaining transparency for the captain.
Here's how they set up their shared inbox for efficient message routing:
Animalz created Google Group addresses for each of their teams and corresponding folders in Front that housed all the conversations for each team. Since teams work together on client projects, it makes sense for client conversations to be accessible to everyone.
Two tags — one for the client, and one for the team responsible — are applied to every message. These tags help keep the email archive organized so team members can easily search for related conversations.
Front rules are triggered by the “from” sender address for new incoming messages. These rules automatically assign the message to the writer responsible for the account and tag the message with the client and team name tags.
Their Front implementation helps the Animalz team stick to their pillars efficiently and effectively. Group emails and internal comments maintain transparency, custom reminders make it easy to be proactive, and automated rules improve organization. No more complicated email chains, Gmail extensions, or time wasted sifting through individual inboxes.
Once the team understood the power of Front, they began to look for even more ways to streamline customer communication.
When the team took a closer look at how they were sharing updates with clients, they found many messages that were almost identical. They weren't brainstorming or asking for feedback—they were purely transactional messages that let clients know the status of ongoing projects. Team members would take information stored in Airtable (their project management software) about the status and due dates for articles, type them up into client messages, and send them off — over and over again.
Thinking of the time saved by automated message in Front, the team set out to automate these updates also. Using Zapier to connect Airtable and Front, they created triggers to send client emails when an article was set to a particular stage in Airtable. Here's what an example email for the “Drafting” stage:
The trigger is a new record in “Drafting” stage in the Airtable base.
Zapier searches the Airtable record for the customer name and the ETA for the article.
The action triggers a message to be sent through Front with the following template:
Once the message is sent, Front rules assign the email to the appropriate person to follow up on client responses.
This type of automation was only the beginning. Animalz has started adding Airtable triggers for internal alerts, so that the team could plan their calendars ahead and be prepared for client calls. They also connected Front with Slack to push schedule updates to the team in real time.
Animalz started by creating a shared inbox to keep client communicaion more organized. Now, the Animalz team is constantly thinking about ways to reduce operational overhead, and it pays off.
With Front, Animalz handles 600 conversations a week, without letting anything slip through the cracks. They've grown their client base while maintaining their high quality of work by focusing on what matters: their writing, not managing their inbox.
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