Client Wants Vs. Needs: How Agency Barrel Got Opinionated about Infrastructure

“The customer is always right.” It’s an ancient proverb trotted out when customers and businesses have a difference of opinion. No matter what, defer to what the customer wants, or you risk losing their business.

This proverb may still hold true for certain industries, like retail sales. But for web agencies, the idea of “the customer is always right” can be a liability. In fact, it can actively keep the customer from getting what they really want—even what they desperately need.

When they first started out, interactive design agency Barrel followed their customers’ lead on infrastructure. Some opted for managed hosting solutions, some shared hosting, and some went with bare-bones hosts to save costs.

That variety led to headaches for Barrel’s development team. It became difficult for the team to excel: Security, deployment, and configuration started to eat up time needed for development.

Barrel logo graphic w/ question marks

Barrel Partner and Director of Technology, Wes Turner-Harris, puts it bluntly: “We’re not experts on every type of hosting. We’re experts on building sites,” he says.

Turner-Harris and his team turned to Pantheon to eliminate their infrastructure woes, provide security and support, and help the agency lock down best practices.

Here’s how Barrel grew beyond “the customer is always right” to become a strategic infrastructure advisor to their clients.

What does Barrel do, and what sort of clients do you serve?

Turner-Harris: We’re an interactive creative agency in New York. We combine design, development, and strategy to help brands build engaging websites and web applications that help our clients achieve their goals and build their brands. Since 2006, our company has established a strong culture and process to deliver effective solutions for clients that range from global brands to startups and nonprofits.

We focus mostly on websites—whole sites, redesigns, landing pages. But we also do digital marketing, custom apps, and digital displays. We have fewer than thirty people on our team, including six web developers.

What problems were you having with your infrastructure before Pantheon?

Turner-Harris: For a while, we went with whatever the client wanted for infrastructure. That meant every time we started a new project, we had to make sure the servers were set up the way we needed them to be. It could take a week or even a couple of weeks to get everything set up properly.

Because each project was different, it was getting hard and tedious to manage updates and keep everything secure.

We started developing a list of minimum requirements to cut down on the lead time. We needed to educate clients, let them know some hosting solutions were going to cost extra time and money set up and maintain.

What led you to Pantheon?

Turner-Harris: We were working with another agency on our first really big client, the first at our Elite service level. The partner agency recommended Pantheon and gave us a demo.

When we started working with Pantheon, my site engineer and I just looked at each other and said, “Yeah, this is what we should be using.” Pantheon’s tools and workflow were right in line with what we wanted to be doing, so we took it and ran with it.

How does Pantheon figure in your conversations with potential clients?

Turner-Harris: We now include Pantheon in our standard requirements. We let clients know they’re free to choose a different solution, but they have to be prepared for additional costs and delays. We can show them how the cheapest hosting solution has these hidden costs, and that Pantheon tends to win out in the long run.

There are still some clients who choose to go another route for hosting due to one variable or another. We still use Pantheon for development and testing, though.

How did moving to Pantheon change your workflow?

Turner-Harris: It helped us realize the standards and best practices we had been trying to develop for the agency all along. There’s a very specific way of doing things on Pantheon, with the Dev/Test/Live workflow. It could seem limiting, but really it means we can rest easy knowing our live sites can’t be compromised.

The time to set up a new site has changed drastically. We can spin up a new site in minutes instead of weeks.

What are some of your favorite features of Pantheon?

Turner-Harris: We love New Relic. On the rare occasion something goes wrong, we can pinpoint the problem and decide whether to roll back recent changes or restore from backup. We also get a lot of use out of Terminus, Pantheon’s command line interface.

We’ve also gotten involved in the community, contributing to the community-based documentation and experimenting with plugins our fellow developers have coded.  

How has your business changed since you started with Pantheon?

Turner-Harris: I do believe we’ve taken on more client work because of Pantheon. It’s enabled us to forget about the challenges of setting up a web server—dealing with several layers of infrastructure—and instead focus on the business challenges for each of our clients

For Turner-Harris and his team at Barrel, Pantheon provides a way for the customer to get what they truly need: a secure, reliable platform with development best practices built in.

To learn more about how Pantheon can help your digital agency, check out Pantheon for Agencies.


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Topics Agencies, WordPress Hosting, Digital Agencies, Drupal Hosting, Agency Partners, Drupal, WordPress