Earlier this week, we addressed important criticism made by a former Visuals by Impulse custom design client. Soon afterward, a number of other creators stepped forward, sharing similar concerns with their custom design experience. This public criticism was humbling and warranted.
In our official response, we mentioned stepping back to run a full audit of our custom design business. The goal was to listen to issues being raised by the community, identify key shortcomings and problem areas, and then mobilize towards solutions.
Since then, many of you have rightly asked for an update on the situation. You have asked for specific steps we’ll be taking to avoid situations like these in the future.
That’s why we’re here today. To bring you a concrete list of action items we’ll be focusing on over the coming weeks and months. Most of these responsibilities fall upon our management team. Some belong to our artists. Still others will rely on our team of engineers and developers. Regardless, we’re committed to seeing the items below 100% through.
So let’s get into it. Let’s see what we’re doing next. 23 action items, based on your feedback.
Our Action Items
For the sake of readability, we’ve broken up these steps into four sections.
Client Portal Action Items
As the primary interface between customer and artist, the VBI Client Portal is the most obvious place to start. Upon review, things became clear pretty quickly. Our clients should have more power to submit feedback and communicate with our team. With that said, here are a few ways we’re going to provide that power:
- Online / Offline Statuses: We should better notify clients when our team is off-duty. VBI artists and managers are offline outside of standard business hours (9am – 5pm Pacific), plus weekends and holidays. Many times, clients will message us during these offline hours and receive delayed or no responses. We don’t want clients to think we are ignoring them in these instances, but rather unplugging after a long day’s work (or workweek). We’re confident an online/offline toggle or status will help manage expectations.
- File Management Improvements: The Client Portal’s current ‘Files’ tab is messy and tricky to navigate. We’d like to implement some organizational filters and tags. This way, clients and artists can quickly track down the latest comps, references, and final designs. No more file chaos.
- Viewable Consultation ‘Recaps’: Every new custom design client receives an onboarding consultation with their project manager. Following this meeting, we create a written recap/summary – which becomes one of our artists’ chief reference documents. However, this recap is currently only viewable by VBI staff, and small miscommunications here can have large impacts on projects. We want this recap to be viewable for clients; pinned to the ‘Messages’ tab so they can review it at any time. This way, any errors can be caught early and often.
- Satisfaction Feedback Tool: Our clients should be able to easily communicate their satisfaction – or lack of it – with the team. We’re implementing a feedback tool/mechanism that allows clients to quickly alert us when they are disappointed or frustrated. We want to take action on these immediately, versus hearing from our customers where we could have done better at the end of the project.
- Direct Designer Access: Many years ago, we decided to restrict client communication to their project manager only. This policy allowed us to maintain a professional, unified voice – and made it easier for managers to track project updates. However, we recognize that this often slows down the creative process, creating a barrier between artist and client. We’re opening designer-to-client communication to provide feedback and share design concepts. This should reduce wait-time between updates. Through the addition of online/offline indicators, you’ll be able to see exactly when your design team is online.
Management Action Items
Project managers are a vital part of our custom design business. That said, they need more tools at their disposal to manage clients, deadlines, and expectations. We want our clients to trust that their projects are in good hands. Here’s how we’ll be increasing management’s responsibilities and resources:
- More Transparency on Pricing + Project Scope: We need to do a better job of communicating pricing expectations. This has always been a major challenge, since so many variables can impact project cost. However, we need to step our game up. For example, many customers ask for designs similar to those we have done for large influencers. These projects can cost upwards of $10K and beyond – which is generally outside the budget of a typical streamer. Through the meaningful conversations we’ve had this past week with our clients, we’ve gained a lot of insight into where pricing confusion starts. A client shared their perspective on pricing with us “It felt like I was on an indoor roller coaster. I knew I wanted to be a part of the team’s great work, but I had no idea what to expect when it came to pricing.”
We’re actively in the process of making our custom design/portfolio page more transparent with ballpark pricing. While we expect there to be a short time to implementation, understand that we’re working closely with our UX/UI team on how to better convey this information to visitors.
A common misconception about working with VBI is that you have to have everything done for your project all at once. This simply isn’t true. VBI is and always has been about building long term relationships with creators, regardless of their stage in the journey. 90% of creators start a project with us and add on to it over time as they hit various milestones. We understand some items can cost a large amount and are always able to work with each creator on building a game plan to accomplish their endgame goal.
- Improved Application Form: Let’s be frank, our custom design form leaves a lot to be desired. It’s long-winded, impersonal, and the community has outgrown it. I think we all agree it’s time for something new in this space. An intake process that filters out trolls who expect us to design extensive projects for the cost of a meal at McDonald’s. Our improvements to the intake form will allow us to connect to clients who are serious about their brand much quicker than its current state.
- Dynamic Deadlines: We have lots of improvement when it comes to adjusting deadlines. There’s been times where our team has been blocked by either a technical problem or personal issue to tend to. Times where our clients have experienced personal emergencies, leaving our team without feedback for days, even weeks. These things happen, as expected. However, our team needs to do a better job of adjusting these deadlines as these events arise. Deadlines are dynamic. They change often, whether we’re able to deliver the project sooner, or need to push the date out to reflect the response times we’ve given. Regardless, we don’t want deadlines to force any reluctance for asking for modifications, but we’re confident this change will convey more accurate timelines.
- Designated Queue Processing: We’re adding consistent, recurring review SLA’s (service level agreements) on new design requests submitted to us. Currently, our SLA is 10 business days. We think that’s a bit long, especially after hearing your feedback. By adding designated queue processing, we’re cutting this time at least in half.
- Weekly Touch Bases: We also heard from our non-endemic brands, agencies, and influencers as well. Having the opportunity to connect weekly to review our thought process or to review feedback through whiteboard sessions verbally is incredibly valuable. Some of the best feedback and challenges are solved through our weekly sync ups. We’re looking forward to rolling out this cadence across our portfolio.
Designer Action Items
Our designers too have an important role to play in this process. We need to empower our creatives to stay organized, disciplined, and thorough. Our clients should never doubt the ability or motivation of their project’s assigned-artist. Here are a few ways we’ll make sure that’s the case:
- Stricter Deadlines: Our artists need to do a better job of meeting deadlines – both for concept reviews and final deliveries – and we need to do a better job of enforcing them. Clients shouldn’t have to guess at when they can expect certain assets. Moving forward, if we find an artist is not meeting his or her deadlines, we will be taking swift action. These actions include removing the designer, refunding clients, or re-assigning the project as requested. We didn’t get to where we are today by holding someone’s hard earned funds while they patiently wait for an artist to finally respond. We’re here because our clients trust us with shaping their brand.
- Better File Organization: As mentioned earlier, an improved file system on the Client Portal will be especially useful for artists. We will be consulting with our creatives and clients to see which filters and folders would be most useful (ex., ‘approved’, ‘declined’, ‘previews’, etc). We will implement these suggestions ASAP.
- More Engineering Involvement: We need greater collaboration between our designers and engineers, especially early in the project lifecycle. Since the majority of our artists are not programmers, we need to make sure that their designs can be replicated on the backend. Moving forward, any asset that needs programming will require prior approval from both the project manager and engineering representative.
- Programming Proof of Concepts: It’s not good enough to send over a shared URL or profile link for a programmed project. Effective immediately, it is a requirement on our team to send a working video of the programmed project in action as intended.
- Ask the Right Questions: Too often our designers make assumptions of a client’s wishes (for ex., “I’m sure the client is fine with scrolling text for their stream labels…”). There are many reasons for this, but the main culprit is a lack of direct communication between artist and client (i.e., using project manager as intermediary). Many designers would rather make gut decisions, instead of dealing with long wait-times for simple questions. This is wrong, and we need to empower our artists to ask for and receive clarification. As mentioned, part of the solution comes by opening direct designer-to-client communication, and this will be implemented immediately.
Development Action Items
Many of the changes above would prove impossible if it weren’t for our engineering team. We’re going to rely on them more than ever, providing all the resources they need to build an improved Client Portal. Here’s what they’ll be working on in the near future. (We will keep this blog updated, along with announcing these new features through our Portal so you can begin using them).
- Task Dates: Add anticipated dates/deadlines for items on the “Tasks” tab.
- Conversation Threads: Creating threads for message tab. This will allow both our clients and team to easily digest conversations, versus a wall of text.
- Online / Offline Status: Creating an “online/offline” status for VBI team members..
- Improved File System: Improved file system for both clients/team. This includes: time stamps, “new” badges based on the last time the user viewed the tab, viewbox for files instead of downloading them, author attributes of who uploaded the file, folders (final deliverables, approved/declined, etc), and even the ability to create sub folders that can be custom named.
- Pinnable Messages: Add “pinned” messages in “Messages” tab. This will keep client & staff messages neatly organized at a glance.
- Add Feedback Tool: Add “feedback” mechanism. Let us know how the project is going at any point and as often as you want. This way, our team has a timeline and can see at a glance how you’re feeling overall about our progress.
- Designer Workload Snapshots: Although this will be an internal only tool, we believe visually showing how booked our artists are at a glance will allow us to manage our future workload far more efficiently. We do track this data internally, but now we’re integrating it directly into our Portal Dashboard.
Well, here we are. 23 action items for the coming weeks and months. Call it a roadmap; a blueprint; a gameplan. Regardless, we hope you’ll continue to keep us accountable.
We also want to hear from you. Are we doing enough? Have we missed anything? Are you confident entrusting your brand in our hands? Know that our team is listening and we’re hard at work implementing your feedback.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know your thoughts. We want to make this right. If you’ve lost faith in us, we want to regain your trust. And we can’t do that without your voice.
Perhaps most importantly, we want to promise you this. We’re still committed to bringing world class design to all streamers, no matter their audience size or influence. Sadly, we recognize the fact that this week’s incident may not have caught our attention if a smaller creator (with a less-vocal community) had been involved. This is wrong. We won’t let it happen again.
Our team has always championed the small, independent streamer (so much so that we’ve featured it prominently in our mission statement). For every superstar influencer in our portfolio, we work with thousands of ordinary, non-celeb creators. It’s time to get back to our roots and reaffirm our commitment to the small streamer with big dreams.
And that starts today. Let’s get to work.
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