The ICT and hosting industry tends to use the word “service” quite a lot; terms like Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) have been a part of our vocabulary for some time now and are all leading to an Anything-as-a-Service (XaaS) model referring to a wide array of Information Technology utilities over the Internet instead of the on-site location.
The truth is that these solutions can be and sometimes are provided in an almost a fully self-service model, but there are moments that will require human interaction and however brief it might be this contact can make or break the customer-provider relationship.
What really is this “service” that we speak of? According to dictionary.com :
“Service is an act of helpful activity; or the supply, installation, or maintenance of goods carried out by a dealer.”
Seems pretty clear and straightforward right? Well not quite.
Although the names above directly refer to technology solutions as provided services, this technology is being used by people and it is being provided with the aid of people.
An IT solution has no value in itself unless we use it to solve some kind of problem or satisfy a need that we have, which brings us to a point that the actual service is delivering technology for people by people.
People are much more complicated than machines; we have feelings, preferences, moods, motivations, opinions and needs, thus providing any service to us shouldn’t really rely exclusively on technology to keep us content. There has to be a layer between the technology and us, a layer of human interaction. Whether it is in a time of need or someone just checking if everything is OK we always appreciate human contact and interest taken in us, it makes us feel special and appreciated.
This personal relation space is where there is a lot of room for service providers to show their qualities in today’s very crowded IT industry market. This is where a provider can truly stand out above all others.
From my experience the word service is interpreted very often differently by the providers of the said service than by the people on its receiving end. We the consumers don’t want to be treated as a number no matter how big or small of a customer we are. We want to always be taken seriously and our complaints to be treated with urgency disregarding personal views of people handling our complaints.
While the service providers differentiate very much in the details on what is included in their services, how and when they are provided; the customers who receive those services and pay for them have usually the same expectations.
As customers of an IT service provider we want and expect:
- Services to be operational
- Transparency and honesty
- Quick response time and urgency when problems arise
- First contact resolution (not always possible and yet we count on it)
- Knowledgeable, polite and understanding representatives
- Treatment like we are the most important customer
- Reasonable pricing and balance between costs and provided value
- Accessibility: we want assistance when we need it 24/7 NOC availability is the preference
- Advice: we want experts’ advice, one that gives us best fitting IT solution not most expensive product
If a provider fulfills these needs and expectations they will earn our trust, loyalty and in the end our money.
Underestimating customers need for service will have disastrous consequences for any business, from losing customers directly to gaining bad reputation. With access to Internet and social media consumers have more power in their hands than ever before. Businesses that don’t learn from mistakes end up coping with descending popularity and distrust in their products and services.
“Let’s entrust our own customers’ data and our business continuity to this Hosting Provider, they have horrible reputation, you can read all about it!”
– Said: No-one Ever
….. Well you get the point.
So how can you go about providing the ultimate customer experience, how can you make sure that your customers’ services are up to expectations? There are quite a few steps a business can take to make sure that their customers are content with the services.
- Be proactive: Gather customers’ feedback all the time not only when there are complaints, asks for observations and suggestions. All feedback is valuable as it often can prevent problems allowing you to avoid complaints all together.
- Be transparent: When you experience service interruptions inform your customers and keep them informed, never keep them in the dark and avoid at all costs speculations on what went wrong. If you made a mistake admit to it, apologize and learn from it so it isn’t repeated in the future.
- Be honest: Don’t make false promises and don’t offer people solutions they don’t need so you can make money, this will always backfire. Instead give advice and offer them choice based on your experience and expertise to make sure that it meets their needs and expectations. Their success will be your success! If you are not able to provide a suitable solution be open about it and refer them to someone who possibly could, someday they might repay the favor.
- Plan ahead: Even when you don’t expect problems always be prepared to handle them. Remember that your customers use your services to host their own products and therefore their environments are always changing. Establish emergency procedures and contacts in case of system failures and make sure the right people are aware of them.
- Hire professionals: The staff you hire will face your customers from the very small to your biggest ones. Their code of conduct speaks of your company and thus has direct influence on your reputation and your customers’ experience. Make sure that your staff has the required experience and knowledge, but also personal characteristics that you seek as they will be a part of your image on the outside.
- Don’t sell – advise: Your customers don’t need to be sold to. With the public access to Internet they have a whole world (and your entire competition) at the tips of their fingers. They can compare prices and products without your knowledge, so when they do give you a chance to win them over remember that in almost all cases they have already made the comparison and what they are looking for is a partner and an advisor. Leverage this opportunity and use your team expertise to provide your prospects and customers with best suitable solutions for their current and future circumstances and don’t push any products just for the money as this kind of approach is very short lived.
- Be there: There is nothing as frustrating as service outage (for whatever reason) and no one to reach out to for help. Make sure your customers can reach you 24/7 for assistance. It shouldn’t be a shocker that this availability is required as you are in the service industry and your customers’ business continuity is in your hands so act like you understand that they trusted you with their most valuable data and be ready to service their needs day and night. This is what you get paid for.
- Be kind: I can’t stress this one enough. The politeness, kindness and patience of your staff on all levels is an absolute necessity in all situations. There is nothing else that leaves such a bad taste afterwards then an encounter with an employee who couldn’t handle the customer’s impatience in a time of need. There could be dozens of reasons why your clients call upon your assistance and no matter how trivial or disastrous the reasons are your employees need to respond with understanding and sympathy.
Customer Service is neither a fad nor a department, it is company’s mentality and culture, it is a part of what the company stands for, it must never be separated from the technology and instead it must be in synergy with delivery of technology. Focus on customers’ satisfaction must be set in company’s vision statement and fully embraced by its staff.
Saying “we care about all our customers” doesn’t necessarily make it so. Customers service is a state of mind of employees on all levels from the reception to the CEO, this is when an organization can truly say we are customer oriented. The best proof by far is customers’ positive opinion, testimonials and loyalty.
The hosting industry market being as crowded as it is today with fierce competition from multinational giants employing thousands of people to startups running with a staff of three and technology evolving at an amazing rate, one thing remains always the same: it is created by people for people and as long as humans remain part of this equation the customer service part will play a key and a differentiating role in separating providers to do business with and the ones that should be avoided. No matter what label we put on it and how advanced the technology gets it will have no purpose unless it fulfills people’s needs. With the Internet being a gate to almost unlimited source of information we can choose and pick our service providers almost anywhere in the world, we can give them thumbs up but we can also warn others who to avoid.
If you depend on a hosting provider to guarantee your business continuity and you seek partnership and not just to be another number, do your homework, contact them and have a talk, ask for advice and by all means see what others are saying about them before you commit and put your company’s future in their hands.
Written By: Martin Wielomski
My Google profile.