How bulletproof is your cloud? Part 1: A Customer-centric Culture

If I were to ask you to name the top five factors of cloud service robustness, you’d probably rattle off some combination of scalability, uptime, high availability, speed, and security. It’s no coincidence the converse of this list corresponds, one for one, to some of the biggest and most newsworthy failures since the advent of the cloud.

When you talk to a cloud services provider – whether it’s a datacenter, infrastructure as a service vendor, platform as a service vendor, or software as a service provider – these five items will be the basis of their value proposition, I guarantee it.

Should the cloud service provider you choose have all of these factors in spades? Absolutely.

Is it possible to have a horrible experience with a provider in spite of their presence? You’d better believe it.

The 4 Must-haves

The aforementioned aspects – stellar scalability, uptime, availability, speed, and security – are requisite. If a provider demonstrates a problem in one of these areas, I’d advise you to head for the nearest exit.

But they do not assure a bulletproof cloud offering alone. What does, then?

Encryption? Monitoring? Disaster recovery?

Let’s pull our heads out of the “cloud” for a moment and consider quality.

There are four cloud must-haves that rarely make it into the headlines:

  1. Customer-centric culture
  2. Compatibility
  3. Stability
  4. Compliance

You won’t see them in marketing collateral, nor will most providers think to point them out. But if you know how to spot them, I guarantee you’ll suffer far fewer sleepless nights at the hands of your cloud service providers.

In this four-part series, we’ll take a deep dive into these important aspects – starting with a look at how your vendor’s culture can affect your cloud solution.

A Customer-centric Culture

Here’s a common scenario: You find yourself making frequent calls into a cloud services support line. One of the engineers stands out among the crowd – we’ll call him “Bob.”

As long as your calls get routed to Bob, you know you’ll be well taken care of. He’ll resolve issues in an efficient manner, your users will be happy, and the cloud service you’re consuming will maintain the strong ROI you expect of it.

You might even say to yourself, “Now there’s a company with great customer service.”

But there’s a good chance you’d be wrong.

Replace “company” with “person” in that sentence and you’re closer to the truth. How would you rate your experience when Bob doesn’t pick up the phone, and how can you find a vendor with stellar customer service across the board – a vendor staffed entirely with Bobs?

Here’s the key: Pervasive customer satisfaction-driven services are not a function of individual people like Bob. They’re a product of a rare company culture that subscribes to a customer-centric services paradigm.

Why rare? It’s all about incentives.

What Are Your Vendor’s Incentives?

Across the corporate landscape, commissions drive sales teams, utilization rates drive professional services teams, closure rates drive support teams, and everyone is subject to pressure from looming business-wide targets. While this is a significant oversimplification, it serves to illustrate a critical point: Businesses can (and do) exist, function, and thrive with incentive frameworks that have nothing to do with customer satisfaction or retention.

As a cloud consumer, you are a commission, part of a utilization rate, a closure number, and a piece of someone’s margin. Sobering, I know.

If you want to be more – perhaps even a valued customer – you’ll need to find providers who place emphasis on customer service across the customer lifecycle and above all other incentives. These are the vendors who have reached a level of maturity in understanding the substantial associated benefits. These are the vendors to whom you should give your business.

So how can you identify these companies before you sign a contract?

It starts with Sales.

Companies that don’t subscribe to a customer-centric paradigm might be lucky enough to employ a “Bob” or two. Meanwhile, companies only interested in applying a customer-centric paradigm where it will give them the quickest returns simply drop the concept into Technical Support services.

On the other hand, companies with a pervasive customer-centric paradigm will show signs of it all the way up through … that’s right, Sales.

How To Find a Winner

Here are a few ways to spot a winner. See if you can get your salesperson to:

  • Speak intelligently about customer satisfaction numbers within his or her technical support group. Salespeople are more likely to have this knowledge if they – and everyone they work with – understand the importance of care throughout the customer lifecycle.
  • Entertain suggestions for <<< insert an outlandish development or contractual request here >>> and respond to you with solid explanations as to why or why not the organization can fulfill your request. This works because a customer-centric paradigm is one that applies respect and empathy to all customers, even those with unattainable expectations.
  • Talk specifically about company culture. A customer-centric paradigm is an extension of a healthy business environment. If they don’t have one, they won’t want to talk about it.

The bottom line: Cloud providers with the right mix of internal incentives and a customer-centric culture understand that your success is the key to their success. Build your business upon those relationships.

My advice: You get what you pay for. Making room for a customer-centric lifecycle model comes at a price to your cloud provider. Don’t be afraid to invest in someone else’s exceptional culture.

In part 2, we’ll take a look at how your cloud vendor – and its solution – needs to have compatibility with your business operations and goals.

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