Holding Digital Design Agencies to Performance SLAs
By Jennifer Tejada | March 20, 2015
Recently, I’ve been on the road meeting with customers, including marketing and digital heads at major manufacturers, retail giants, shipping and logistics leaders, and more.
Every customer I meet with, regardless of industry, is seeing a marked increase in the importance of their digital channels, especially when it comes to traffic from smartphone and tablets. They tell me that creating an engaging digital experience that successfully achieves its intended business outcome is a complex and difficult challenge, even with the biggest budgets and most renowned digital agencies.
Part of the complexity lies in getting a lot right: branding, interface design, functionality, messaging, SEO, promotion – the list is endless. But, one area often overlooked, especially at the outset of setting design objectives, is performance. While our customers obsess over performance, too often I find digital agencies are at the root of good online initiatives gone bad.
Numerous studies have shown that consumers have little patience for poorly performing sites and mobile apps, and the expectations are becoming increasingly demanding. How many people will give a slowly performing mobile app another chance? 16% is what one study shows. How long will you wait for the shopping cart to load? Three seconds is the limit according to most, two seconds if you are on mobile. The wait is literally over on digital channels.
I am a big believer in building partnerships with the agencies my company works with, and to be a true partner means you have to have a stake in the success of the project – a little skin in the game. That’s why we have project budgets, as opposed to writing blank checks. Performance is intrinsically linked to the interface design. So it occurred to me, given the importance of performance to digital channel success, why wouldn’t you have service level agreements (SLA) in your contracts with digital design agencies?
I’ve seen examples of agency decisions that didn’t take performance into consideration. They looked fantastic and addressed all the goals of the project. But when it came time to take front-end design to deployment in a CMS/eCommerce platform, the overall end-user experience was destroyed by poor performance. Fixing the front-end at this stage can be extremely costly as the design team is typically moved onto the next client/project.
Why not write SLAs based on key performance metrics into your digital agency contracts and project statements? Industry accepted standards for site, page and app delivery can be a starting point. And just like you set financial budget, establish a “performance budget” for your digital project. The concept is simple: set a number for the front end experience (User Experience Time) before development. If a feature gets added, its performance impact is measured relative to the total “budget.” Anything pushing above the line gets refactored, or something else is removed/changed.
Then when you release, partner with companies that make performance monitoring tools to give objective, third-party measurements that could be used as the official numbers for compliance/accountability.
Let me know what you think. Is this possible? Feasible? Would any agency agree to performance SLAs?
Given where the digital world has evolved, can your businesses afford not to?
Find me on Twitter: @jenntejada