We also operate a system of top-down communication for our customers and partners on our extranet. We announce events, broadcast news, and store information there that’s interesting and relevant for all our customers. In the shared areas, customer contacts can also contact each other and exchange ideas both within and outside the platform. Of course, if, for whatever reason, you don't want your customers and partners to contact each other, you also have the option to prevent that.
What’s even more important to me than the individual applications in our extranet is the fact that we offer our customers a home base and the first point of contact for our cooperation with them. We want to assure them that they can find all the information on the projects we’re collaborating on.
At some point, it may prove difficult to maintain such a high volume of varied and diverse information. In fact, back when we started developing the extranet service, it took almost an hour to prepare a customer section before the relevant information could be posted. These days, thanks to the Space Privacy add-on and Blueprint Creator in Confluence, it only takes a matter of seconds. What’s more, the risk of making mistakes that might allow a customer to accidentally see another customer’s information (via their profile) or even access protected content is no longer a factor.
A home base for cooperation like that provided by an extranet also has the advantage of creating a bond between us and our customers. Most of our competitors don’t offer anything like it. This means that a customer who has gone over to the competition has to live without this service and the centralized and transparent information that goes with it.
Investing time and effort in our customers not only benefits them but also us. On the one hand, we’re providing a service to the customer, which hopefully they respond to positively. On the other hand, we’re investing in long-term customer loyalty.
It’s this second benefit that particularly motivates me. Through this more intensive, long-term cooperation we create an almost unfair competitive advantage. We’ve had customers in the past who’ve asked us to export their extranet section so that they can import it elsewhere. Another customer implemented an extranet concept on their own and then had us work for them as a service provider. That way they wouldn’t be bound to a contract.
I need to underline the positive aspect of customer loyalty before we go any further because it’s important to me. At some point, your spouse or partner knows you so well that they can act on your behalf without you being present. That’s the type of familiarity that can also exist with a service provider.
A common extranet area with a collection of knowledge is only a reflection of this bond. The bond exists in both directions – to the benefit of both sides. Everyone knows that. However, an extranet enhances the effect of that bond. It’s this enhancement that’s extremely valuable – especially for customers for whom you’d not only go the extra mile but an entire marathon.
Now, let all of that sink in. Most of the time, an extranet will not be at the top of an intranet team’s list of things to consider. And that’s a pity because an extranet project not only delivers a lot of benefits but is usually not as competitive. That means it’s also relatively easy to staff. Considering the importance of the project group, this may not be such a bad thing tactically.
Collaboration in the Context of Work Results
When we talk about digital collaboration, we also need to talk about working with files, correction loops, surveys, and communicating changes. This fits in very well with the diagrams and charts we discussed earlier because the work is often visual (see “Preparing and Sharing Organizational Charts And Diagrams”).
First, let me take you on a little tour of a construction site. It’s dusty and dirty. We’re standing in the middle of an unfinished building and wondering whether we shouldn’t be wearing a dust mask like the worker with the hammer over there. What did the site manager just say? It’s just too loud here to have a civilized conversation.
But what are we doing here anyway? What is this group of suits doing over here in all this dust, dirt, and heat? Well, ultimately, it’s all about making decisions that may result in some pretty high costs. It’s all about context. If you evaluate a problem on-site, you can understand it better. We know that intuitively, and despite all the noise, dust, and heat, nobody is questioning that here. We may mess up our hair wearing the obligatory safety helmets but nobody says, “let’s go discuss this in the office.” That’s because this is the place where all the problems converge. We can actually see the wall that’s not straight or the element that doesn’t fit properly. It’s in this place where we can see when someone has screwed things up. And even if we did plan something badly on the drawing board, at least the site manager will notice it while the work is being done or shortly beforehand. And then we come together in another heavyweight round and discuss the issues on-site.
The concept is as clear as it is simple: this is where everything comes together. The workers are here. This is where the real work takes place. This is where fiction becomes reality. This is where workarounds are found. No one sends missives to a construction site containing long, written instructions on what needs to be done. And if they did, the workers wouldn’t read them.
So, with all that in mind, let’s journey from the construction site back to our desks. Unfortunately, this is how we have to work every day. We describe changes to documents, drafts, design proposals, software prototypes, websites, and marketing campaigns in text form and send requests to our colleagues by email. This is as common as it is stupid. In fact, there’s nothing right with this at all. Everything about it is wrong.
One thing at a time, though.
The reason for the emails is that there’s just no alternative. We simply don’t know how to do things differently. But no. That’s not quite right. Of course, we know that face-to-face meetings, split-screen video calls, or simple phone calls work better than lengthy written descriptions in emails. The time we have available for these forms of synchronous communication, however, is scarce. What we do have a lot of time for is asynchronous communication, but that’s exactly what companies don’t have the right tools for. And that’s precisely where a good intranet can come in.
A modern intranet can house files of all kinds and facilitate collaboration in the form of discussions in the direct context of these files. This means, for example, that you can upload a PowerPoint presentation to the intranet where it can actually be previewed. There’s no need to tediously download the file again and open it with a program installed on your computer - it’s displayed directly on the web interface. The big advantage of this is that your colleagues don’t need to install the software on their computers. You and your employees can use the web preview to store notes and mention someone directly in context: “@Carl: This is outdated. Shouldn’t we be talking about XYZ at this point?”
This one sentence is enough and proves that a modern intranet can blow classic email out of the water. That’s because, when writing an email, you’ll probably have to do something like this:
Subject: Your presentation to UUU
I had a look at your presentation (filename.ppt - see attachment). On Slide 34, you talk about ABC in the third line. I think that’s outdated now. We should be talking about XYZ, right?
Can you take a look at the file please and get in touch with me if you don’t understand what I’m talking about?
Displaying the information on the intranet, however, allows you to save all of the contextual information because the commented text in the system lets Carl know immediately what’s going on. Take a look at this screenshot:
Example of a comment in the context of a web preview
You can see from these examples that you need far fewer words (and, of course, less time) to communicate change requests for things like a presentation or the layout proposal for a website.
“Yeah, sure,” I hear you say. “But those few seconds don’t really make a difference in the end.” Normally, I’d actually agree with you, but it’s not just about the 30 seconds of work. Your employees’ workday doesn’t consist of eight hours of creativity distributed equally over time. It doesn’t just take 30 to 90 seconds longer to communicate a change like this in an email.
The problem is that it takes a lot more active energy to write an email like this along with all of the necessary contextual information. If you don’t have just one, but many similar changes to communicate, the time investment increases significantly. In real-life working situations, this can often result in feedback not being given at all. It simply takes up too much time to report such a little thing.
You’re probably familiar with similar situations. A colleague reports an error to the team, and you notice that you found the same error a week ago, but still haven’t communicated it officially. That’s not a great feeling. You knew it had to be corrected but said nothing. Now, a few months later, a frustrated customer finds and reports it.
Look, I’ll admit that I still have similar moments – despite the presence of the intranet, wiki, file preview function, and inline comments. Giving feedback is still laden with lots of effort. And I don’t come to work just to tell every Tom, Dick, and Harry how they can improve this, that, and the other thing. I want to do my own work and be creative. Personally, I think that feedback is frequently something of an obstacle on the path to a productive working day.
That being said, I also know that my feedback is valuable for many of my colleagues. I have lots of experience and can share it with the company through feedback and significantly expand my own sphere of activity. But I still don’t go looking for the opportunity, otherwise, I’d have to find the time for it.
Do you frequently find yourself noticing mistakes and chances for improvement at the most inappropriate times? You’re about to do something and notice that something needs to be changed somewhere entirely unrelated to the task at hand. That’s why I want to show you how much quicker and easier giving contextual feedback via an intranet can be.
It should be as easy as possible to give feedback and that’s just a question of company culture. When feedback is welcome and you can simply post a screenshot with a comment in the group chat instead of having to create an event in Jira or give structured feedback, the probability of there being a lot more feedback increases.
Teams that think a lot of feedback is great (and that should actually be every team in the company) can share their concepts and ideas early on and in visual form. They receive their feedback in context, right at the spot where it’s needed in the layout or template. In this way, our teams can generate 20 to 40 notes and comments for a small website concept with three or four subpages. What’s remarkable here is the quality of the feedback and the variety of people who give it.
If someone on our intranet microblog makes a call for feedback on an iteration, it’s not only the people who do a lot of testing and quality assurance work who reply. Everyone who has the time and energy to offer feedback comes forward. This includes copywriters, design professionals, engineers, and security analysts. And in line with this, the feedback ranges from spelling mistakes to requests for design changes, suggestions on how to achieve better loading times, and SEO aspects, to the results of a penetration test that discovered some pretty nasty security gaps early on.
I’m sure that we wouldn’t get a fraction of the feedback if people weren’t able to simply mark what needs to be done directly in the proper context.
Working together in the context of the document and directly in the visual location that the document concerns is really something you have to do and experience for yourself. If you’ve already discussed layout changes on the phone with a colleague, you’ll know how much more irksome and awkward it is than simply pointing to the spot in person.
In the digital world, solving this problem is often a question of simulating the situation of working together at a table or in a room. And that functions quite well for working together in context. If this approach to collaboration is still completely foreign to you, a good first step would be to take a look at a document in Google Docs or Microsoft Word online with a couple of colleagues.
A modern intranet has to support discussions in the (visual) context of files and concepts and facilitate them without any hurdles. That’s a basic requirement.
Link to this page: https://seibert.biz/intranetbookcustomerloyalty