Helping Animals and Their Owners: Our Partnership with AHS - Part 1
In this interview with Ivan Stegic, Founder and President of TEN7, and Madeleine Lowry, Technical Project Manager, we discuss TEN7's relationship with the Animal Humane Society (AHS), the leading animal welfare organization in the Upper Midwest. AHS helps thousands of dogs, cats and critters in need find loving homes each year — and no animal is ever turned away. As a result of their extraordinary efforts, more than 95 percent of the animals that came through their doors last year were adopted or placed in the community.
MADELEINE LOWRY: AHS and TEN7 have been valued partners for several years. How did the relationship get started?
IVAN STEGIC: They were referred to us by one of our clients back in 2008. The Marketing Director role at AHS at was not at all focused on digital and they did a lot of print and billboard marketing at that time. Our first interactions were simple requests like, “Change this text on that page,” and "Make these paragraphs bold." I'd make the changes for them because they had a custom-built classic ASP site that none of their staff were able to access.
MADELEINE: What was the condition of the site when TEN7 took it over? What were the client’s wishes for the site at that point?
IVAN: The site wasn’t really doing what they needed it to do. It had a lot of static information. There were complaints from the staff that the most important function of the site, the adoptable animal listings, were not updated often enough. It was being done manually, maybe once a day, maybe less. At that time the information on adoptable animals was being imported from an internal database. One of the first things we did for them was to write an automated script to upload the data every four hours. That was a big step up for them.
Once they got a taste of a reliable automated upload, their wishes escalated. Then they wanted updates every two hours, then every hour [laughs]. And then they wanted to be able to make content changes themselves [laughs]. That’s when we suggested that we rebuild their site using Drupal.
MADELEINE: When was that?
IVAN: Back in 2009. It was a fortuitous moment in their history, because they were making the transition from three separate organizations into one and rebranding the unified organization. So, that determined the functionality and design of the new Drupal 5 website. At that time they wanted a complicated scheme of roles and permissions for editing content, which they’ve now moved away from. And they wanted the ability to cross-promote related programs. For example, on the adoption pages, they wanted to raise awareness of the training programs and their events, like the Walk for Animals.
MADELEINE: Tell me about some of the methods used to improve the efficacy of the site over the years? What were some of the most interesting problems you worked on?
IVAN: We upgraded the site to Drupal 6 in 2011 to improve performance. Based on user feedback, we also made significant changes to the design of the home page. That was the beginning of our process of using voice of the customer data to inform the user experience. We’ve learned a lot about adoptable animal searches. Users respond to simple things like the order that animals are listed in. At first we listed search results alphabetically, but we found that brought too much attention to the animals at the top of the results. The solution was to randomize the listing in order to give equal views to all animals.
When they replaced their in-house animal tracking database with a third party service, they asked us to write the integration so that their users could have real-time updates. We created a sync process that happens every 10 minutes where we compare the latest animal listings to the previously cached version, and simply update those that have changed. This has worked very well.
MADELEINE: Their site has been through a few iterations during the relationship. What are some of the projects you’ve worked on together?
IVAN: There was the Drupal 5 and the Drupal 6 sites. We’ve created other sites for them including Now Boarding Pets for their boarding services and Kindest Cut for their spay and neuter services. We created a site called SniffOutTheTruth.org to debunk false information about AHS and a social media site for animals called Law of the Paw. For a while we had a separate mobile site, and then we changed our approach and folded that into the Drupal 6 site. We implemented the Lost and Found section of the site in 2012. We created landing pages for their annual events: Whisker Whirl, Walk for Animals and the Wine Dinner. I’m particularly proud of the work we’re doing right now in upgrading their presence to a Drupal 8 powered site.
MADELEINE: In a true partnership there is growth on both sides. How do you think your partnership with AHS has helped TEN7 reach its goals as a company?
IVAN: At the beginning of our partnership we were a one-man team. We then hired entry-level developers and learned together--including the client. Now those developers are senior developers working in expanded roles. Our goal is to become better at what we do ad infinitum, and having clients like AHS allows us to do just that.
MADELEINE: What make AHS a good client for TEN7?
IVAN: We’ve had an excellent collaboration with Paul, the marketing director at AHS. We have very clear communications. They rely on us for our expertise and come to us with problems rather than solutions. Early in the relationship we provided as much data as we could to justify our technology recommendations. Now, there’s less a burden of proof. We’ve built an enduring trust between our organizations.
I’d have to say that our values are well-aligned. The Animal Humane Society has a mission of helping animals and the humans who own them. That syncs well with our value of sharing and our interest in collective success and contributing to the larger community.
MADELEINE: What is your impression of the impact of the site improvements on the AHS organization over the years?
IVAN: Their increased reliance on the website is the result of our collective hard work. I believe Paul would say that the website is their most important marketing channel. We’ve seen a commensurate increase in their investment in it as well.
MADELEINE: Looking into the future, what exciting new chapters do you see on the horizon in your partnership?
IVAN: I want us to take a more proactive role in site data analytics. Up until this point we’ve crunched data only in preparation for a site redesign. I’d like to utilize the data for continuous improvement at a more deeper level. This will allow AHS to make more timely decisions about what users want, and what they’re responding to on the site.
I’m also excited at the possibility of bridging online users to shelter visits. I think there are opportunities there to improve the visitor experience. Having information on how online behaviors lead to decisions about visiting facilities, we’ll be able to tweak the user experience to increase shelter visits.
Author’s Note: Read Part Two of this post, an interview with Paul Sorenson from AHS.