A guide to switching website maintenance agency

A guide to switching website maintenance agency

It is an open secret that most web agencies have trouble providing the maintenance you need once your website is live. 

Sure, agencies are on the ball with your website redesign, but when your project is complete and goes into maintenance mode, many agencies simply stop caring. 

And while a lot of agencies pay lip service to “dedicated” maintenance, what that usually means is you only have limited access to a single developer that can help you with your site. If that person has a busy schedule or if they're on vacation, it can be a long while until your issue gets resolved. 

Without an actual dedicated team set up to help you with that maintenance, you’ll often be waiting for somebody to come to your rescue. 

Who’s on your maintenance team, and how long are you waiting?

If you’re being ghosted or left hanging, then we need to talk about your website maintenance, and why switching your maintenance providers is easier – and more important - than you think. 

Projects vs. Maintenance

One of main reasons for lackluster maintenance support is that there seems to be a clear division between “project” work (like website design and building) and “maintenance” work (everything post-launch).

A lot of agencies are very project focused, and for good reason: projects have a beginning, a middle and an end; projects are often proactively built from scratch; projects have clear expectations and specific goals and strict deadlines associated with design and launch. Because of this focus and clarity, it is no wonder that most web agencies often prefer and prioritize project work. 

Maintenance, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether: maintenance comes and goes and evolves on longer and vaguer timelines; maintenance is usually delivered ad hoc and often in reaction to an event; maintenance is often reactive rather than proactive; and it is often mischaracterized as rote rather than creative. 
Because it is not a set project with a set team and set deadlines, a lot of agencies put less effort and care into maintenance work compared to project work, to the detriment of both the ongoing maintenance and future evolution of your website. 

And proof of this absence isn’t hard to find if you ask yourself some hard questions.

Do you have a dedicated maintenance team? Like a truly dedicated maintenance team, composed of several IRL people that are ready to respond as quickly as possible to whatever issue you have? Or are you working with one developer and a frustrating ticketing system - where they’ll get to you when they get to you – because the rest of the team is off doing project work?

Ticketed to death

We can see how little some agencies care about maintenance in something as apparent as the ticketing process, where the myth of an efficient and “dedicated team” quickly vanishes. 

Most web agencies will ask you to send them an email when you're having a challenge. This is par for the course for most maintenance, but with a reactive and slower maintenance process, that email will end up in someone’s inbox (not necessarily a developer) who will respond within, say, two business days to your inquiry. Instead of responding with solutions, they respond with questions based on your issues. So, you take the time to answer their questions and send them back, which may or may not be re-queued again. Whoever gets your reply now has to track down and send those answers to somebody they think can help, who will then potentially either have more questions or start the maintenance work when they get around to having the time to do it, if they’re even on the clock. The timeframe from the original email to start of work could be as 5 days, or more. 

Sounds exhausting, right? And it probably sounds familiar too. Unfortunately, this type of ticketing system is what counts as “maintenance” for a lot of web agencies. 

So certainly, it's always great to send an email about your concerns, but the critical issues are how long it takes to get anything fixed and who is fixing it.

Here’s the rub: solutions can happen very quickly if an agency actually cares about maintenance and is proactively set up to respond to requests. A proper ticketing system should have somebody doing triage right away, going through your problem with you, ensuring they have answers to your questions and collecting as much information from you as quickly as possible. From here, it should lead to an immediate action, sending that information to not just your “dedicated” developer, but to any developer that's on that maintenance team, so work can start right away. That is how to do ticketing in a way that takes your maintenance - and your entire business - seriously.

When maintenance goes bad

Maintenance issues - and their consequences when you’re given poor maintenance by a web agency unconcerned with it - can be divided into four key areas:

  1. Bug fixes – This is a catch-all category for when you go into your website and something isn't working. Often, it’s not an issue that can be prevented or proactively dealt with because “something just happened”, as complex code is wont to do. Depending on the level of severity, if bugs cause a full breakdown, your company could have downtime, lose leads, or even lose money if it's an e-commerce site. 
  2. Enhancements and continuous improvements – These are custom upgrades to your current platform. While most agencies wait for their client to tell them what they should improve, the ideal approach is that your agency recommend enhancements based on your digital roadmap and strategy. Also, since it’s easy to get swept away by the urgent, a lot of important improvements often stay too long in the backlog - so prioritizing these items is essential.
  3. Proactive prevention - Proactive maintenance functions much like a prevention plan, often related to security updates. These are usually events and issues that your company either doesn’t control or have great visibility into, but that the agency knows about. So web agencies need to be proactive to get behind the scenes and secure your website ahead of time without anyone reaching out to them – hard to do when a “dedicated” team is one person in constant “react” mode. And if you're not preventative and on top of security, you risk website hacks, data leaks or worse. 
  4. Strategic – Yes, strategy should be a part of maintenance as well (even though it’s conspicuously absent from most maintenance plans). Maintenance is about the current and future stability of not just your site, but your company as whole. This means that web agencies need to be forward-looking just as much as looking at what's currently in front of them. In this way, maintenance needs to ensure the evolution of your website doesn’t fall behind either your own strategic goals or the wider strategic trends of your industry, but is able to align maintenance to website, website to strategy, strategy to goals, and goals to industry.

Knowing all of these challenges - and the very real impacts that they could have on your company – the thought of switching web agencies to do your maintenance work may have come to mind. But is this even a viable solution? 

Switching midstream

People are often worried that it’s not viable or efficient or prudent to switch agencies “midstream” for maintenance. There’s a prevalent understanding – though one totally unfounded - that the agency that built your website is the only one who can support you in maintenance. 

But that's absolutely not the case.

Think of it this way: it's no different than getting an oil change. Whether you go to Jiffy Lube or a car dealership or your regular mechanic, someone’s going to help you if they understand what the problem is.

Switching agencies is not only a viable solution, but in some cases a very smart one.  

When changing maintenance providers, you have to make sure you're picking the right one. What you need is an agency that cares not just for the maintenance work, but how it can help the evolution of your website and understands how it fits into the larger strategic goals of your company. You will therefore need to be picky and ask the right questions because not every agency is equipped to deal with maintenance outside of your standard “dedicated” solo developer and slow ticketing system.

Moving on

If you get to the point where switching maintenance agencies is seeming likely, you’ll need to be forthcoming with potential new partners and share whatever maintenance woes have plagued you with your old partner, so as to not have them repeated. Ask every agency courting you how they're going to prevent or deal with them - these are the priority issues that your new agency will really need to understand, and being open and transparent about them means they can be addressed directly. 

While you’re weighing your maintenance relationships, here are some questions and concerns you should consider so that you don’t end up with the same problems at a new agency:

  • Websites in place - How does the agency support websites that are already in place (that they haven’t built themselves)? Who and how many experts are doing “dedicated” maintenance work? How long does the agency usually take to respond to maintenance issues?
  • Projects vs. Maintenance - Are they just a project-based web agency? How does an agency connect its project work to its maintenance work? Have they done maintenance takeovers before? Are they trying to sell you more on project work, like a website redesign?
  • Strategy - Is the agency strategic and forward-thinking in a way that is in line with your overall company goals? And not just for one project and its maintenance, but to the strategy and execution of future projects and future viability?

It’s a competitive field out there and there is no doubt that a lot of agencies can do the work, have years of experience and have earned all the right certifications - but the biggest issue is the quality of support that you're likely to get outside of this standard pedigree. 

So the final and most important question is: what is the breadth and depth of support you’ll be getting? 

You want an agency that can fill a multi-faceted partnership role, that can take you from strategy through development to execution, and then continue to support you with efficient, consistent and proactive maintenance and into future maintenance needs. And if it’s just maintenance that you’re looking for, you want an agency that actually cares about your maintenance needs, has a robust system with more than one person tackling your issues when they have the time, and knows that maintenance is directly connected to your future health, growth and goals.

Whether full-spectrum project and maintenance work, or just maintenance on its own, you want an agency that understands your wider business needs are much, much more than your specific website needs.

So where does the agency’s uniqueness lie, is it just in development or is it in the whole process? If an agency is only talking about your website, they’re having the wrong conversation. The right conversation is about how your website supports your business goals. If they’re not asking you about your future, they're only interested in your money, not in your company.

This is why, when Symetris takes over your maintenance, we always ask how our maintenance work can help you achieve your strategic goals. 

Slow and steady wins the long-term race - the Symetris approach to proactive maintenance

We love project work too, don’t get us wrong. People come to us all the time in the middle of a redesign, and we’re always happy to hear what your plans are. 

Often, however, other agencies in this position hastily – and erroneously, perhaps selfishly – conclude that a full rebuild and a new website is the only solution.

But we understand that not every solution is more project work, more money, more of everything.  

Symetris is going to take a step back. We're going to audit your website, talk to your stakeholders to find out your goals. We’ll take over platform maintenance and focus on the most efficient changes for your best ROI. Realistically, we want to help you leverage what's already there, before we make any larger redesign recommendations to what needs to happen. If it works better for you, it works better for us. 

And if all you need is a new maintenance partner, that’s where Symetris can make a difference. Unlike your current “dedicated” team or the new agency that will give you another ticket to wait in line, we want to make sure that your means align with your needs align with your goals align with dreams align with...see where we’re going here?

With maintenance takeovers, Symetris can learn a lot about a client and how they work, while still offering a level of maintenance expertise without the hefty price tag of a full rebuild project. This also gives you the chance to see us in action, experience demonstrable results without having to bite the bullet on a full project, and be impressed with our commitment. Maintenance work needs time, and we’re fully confident we’ll earn your trust for when you’re ready for future design projects. 

Symetris has been in operation over 17 years and has delivered over 350+ mandates. We hold over 25 certifications, including two Drupal grandmasters, and have supported over 400 sites, some of which we’ve designed and supported, some of which we just supported. In the last few years, we’ve successfully taken over the maintenance for over 20 websites; a full quarter of these moved on to do full website redesigns with Symetris, and the rest completed smaller but impactful projects to enhance their websites to better align with the company's strategic goals.

Whether solving your immediate maintenance problems or working with you to build toward your strategic goals, Symetris is always ready with an entire team dedicated to you. Get in touch with one of our experts to find out more.

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