Creating great Client Experience
As service providers, cloud companies often strive to become invisible: a miraculous helper that makes sure clients’ IT provision, storage, disaster recovery and whatever else, runs smoothly, with barely a murmur on a day-to-day basis.
That’s fine: and it’s an aspiration to aim for, if your ambition is to become an everyday utility provider, akin to a company’s choice of electricity company or mobile phone network.
The problem with that model is that clients only ever even think about you when something goes wrong. As an analogy, ask people about their mobile phone network or TV provider, and all you’ll ever hear is complaints about the last time they had a dropped call or the picture wasn’t up to par.
It also puts a cap on your relationship with clients. You’ll only talk when they’re angry and frustrated. Once they’re happy again, the communication ends.
It could all be so much better: in every dimension.
Clients’ businesses will improve in measurable ways if their cloud solutions provider is a bit more invested in their businesses. Cloud computing companies can add a lot of value in all sorts of ways, and believe it or not, the best of them will be thinking about how existing provision and workflows might be extended and further optimised, even while everything is hunky-dory.
When cloud computing companies have the opportunity to listen to our clients, we get to understand their requirements and their aims better. We begin to understand their business objectives, over and above the bare bones of the service contract. We start to become partners, rather than just that utility that they only think about when something goes wrong. To deliver a great client experience, providers have to know more about the business they’re serving. But it’s a long road before they can get to that point.
Reliability is, of course, the backbone of what engenders client trust. Providing that reliability is a largely unspoken imperative, but providers will never be able to create trust, or move towards a partnership if levels of reliability are less than sterling.
It’s not plain sailing: keeping the lights switched on can be hard work. Even in the best of worlds, things will go wrong. It’s technology: it happens. That said, if you deal with those issues properly, nearly every client understands that it’s one of those things that form the complex texture of reality. What’s important is that the providers’ reliability extends to the way we deal with incidents, too. That when there is an incident that creates an interruption to a client’s service, it’s actually an opportunity to increase trust.
The manner in which a provider manages to recover from incidents is what will be remembered. If it’s effective, professional and involves full and open communication for the incident’s duration, clients will be reassured. We don’t try to hide behind problems created by third parties. We take ownership; get the job done and offer empathy throughout. We ensure they understand that their business is important to us in every way.
What we find is that clearly documented procedures, followed to the letter and with an ongoing thread of transparent updates is the key to gaining trust.
Similarly, you keep to your promises. If a change in their system was promised by a certain time, then it will be. If a project was agreed with a due date, then that’s exactly what happens. Once again, it’s something that clients will remember and provides the context for any future conversation.
That sense that a cloud services provider is reliable and trustworthy creates the conditions required for a meaningful dialogue about how the provider can help further.
The best underlying practices for cloud computing companies, and other IT providers, is to follow the ITIL industry standard guidelines. These aim to align all IT procedures with the objectives of the client’s business as a whole. They’re regarded as best-practise, but to be able to implement them requires a close relationship and an in-depth understanding of the processes, flow and risks faced by our clients. Not the relationship organisations have with typical utilities.
To do our best requires us to dig deep into clients’ work.
Try to open that dialogue through whatever channel works best for each individual client. A weekly check-in; a quick email when something relevant crops up; a call to dig deeper on a recent change request or incident. Keep regular, open touch points when nothing is going wrong – but don’t try to set the agenda for those conversations and certainly don’t be salesy. Their purpose is to help understand the clients’ businesses better.
That understanding then sets the stage for future interactions. If your client is a retailer, for example, you may well discover they do more business in December than the other 11 months combined. You’ll then know that there’s one month of the year when any outage, for whatever cause, will not be acceptable. Let them know you understand that and the client experience improves that bit more.
With larger clients, there will probably be lead, or even dedicated, contacts. We try to split that out a little further. There’s a main commercial contact, but also a technical lead. The technical lead’s aim is to become a trusted advisor to the client’s own technical people. Someone they can ask ‘Hey, we’ve heard about this technology [which might not be something we even offer], what do you think about it?’ And they’ll get an honest, expert opinion. Each of these conversations improves our understanding of the client’s key business objectives, and enough of these conversations opens the doors to further conversations about how their provision might be improved. Our aim is that the client will naturally pick up the phone when they need anything new or different from cloud-land.
Even with the smallest clients, a better understanding of their business will almost always lead to a better service. Knowing their stress-points, the busy times of the week, the applications that are the most mission-critical to their work. But also with smaller clients, that honest, open communication is key. Making clear who is responsible for what, is particularly pertinent: when we’re entirely clear about those delineations, then it bodes for a much more successful relationship going forward.
A great experience is key to transitioning from provider to partner. It’s worth every moment spent on making clients’ experience no less than amazing.