In preparation for building Basecamp 3, we did a lot of customer research. Some of it took the shape of formal interviews, some of it involved casual conversations. Some information we gleaned from customer service interactions, and some came from surveys.
Through it all, one thing became very clear: We could make major improvements for a certain kind of customer if we concentrated on elimination rather than addition.
A large portion of our customer base consists of client services firms. These include advertising, marketing, and design agencies; consultancies; dev shops; accountants, lawyers, and professional services firms. People who work closely with their clients.
This is, after all, why we built Basecamp. We started out as a web-design firm, and needed a more organized, more professional way to share work with clients, get their feedback and approvals on the record, and make progress as partners, not as adversaries. We created Basecamp for ourselves.
But, it turns out, the client-firm relationship is often a delicate one. There's a lot of tiptoeing around, with people at the firm afraid to say certain things in front of the client, the client afraid to give certain kinds of feedback, and everyone a little leery of the other side's opinions. When time, money, and results are on the line, it's easy for tension to build.
And that was the breakthrough. That's the big insight from all of our customer research. People who use Basecamp with clients want it to help eliminate the fear that characterizes the client-firm relationship. It wasn't about adding this or that feature. It was about removing something. Eureka!
We dug in deeper. We asked a lot of questions. We listened a lot. And the picture came into focus.
Traditionally, tools like Basecamp combine an internal repository for work in progress with a mechanism to share work with clients and get their feedback. Makes sense--you want to keep it all in the same place, since it's all related to the same work. The problem was that people weren't sure what clients could see. Could they see work that wasn't ready to show? Could they see internal debates about feedback they provided? Might they see a negative comment someone on the inside made about them?
As a remedy, previous versions of Basecamp gave people a box they could check to hide something from the client. Problem was, the box was too easy to miss. You forget to check that box, the client sees something you'd rather keep to yourself, and all hell can break loose. Thousands of dollars could be at stake.
So, armed with this insight, we completely redesigned the way clients and firms work together in Basecamp 3. We came up with something we call the Clientside.
Imagine a theater. In the front of the house, the audience enjoys a polished performance. Backstage, the actors and crew are frantically getting ready for the next scene. The audience never sees that chaos.
In Basecamp 3, we mimic that structure. The stuff your team can see and the stuff clients can see are in two separate places in the app. It's impossible for clients to access anything they aren't supposed to. They get to watch the show, but not what goes into creating the show.
Now teams don't need to watch their every step. They can be loose and casual when talking among themselves about clients and work in progress. And when it's time to make a formal presentation, they can switch over to the Clientside, where they know they're talking to a client. The distinction is clear. The fear and anxiety are gone. And they'll never again have to worry about the client seeing backstage.