Cloud Winning on Customer Service

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A popular misconception about cloud services and providers is that they can’t compete on customer service. We want a throat to choke not a website. There are three reasons why this conclusion is wrong.

1. The idea of customer service is changing

2. It’s not the throat we want, we want less frustration

3. By avoiding intermediaries, cloud providers have more control over the experience.

Because of these reasons, not only can cloud providers match customer experience of traditional in-person alternatives, but beat them. The game has changed. particularly in e-commerce, but the lessons apply to all forms of cloud services.

Customer Service is Changing

Amazon, Google, and many other ‘new’ firms don’t list phone numbers. Only charlatans and and fly-by-night operators avoid listing their numbers – at least that was true. Today the idea of calling an airline, bank, or government office causes one’s blood pressure to rise – my call is important to them, but clear the calendar just in case.

Voice is important and many cloud based firms offer it. But it’s just one modality. Modern cloud-based firms offer all kinds of customer service paths including email, live chat, screen control, and video. Amazon’s Mayday is impressive, but not technically difficult -solutions such as Cisco Jabber Guest and WebRTC make similar services accessible to most sites.

Have you ever tried getting pre-sales technical assistance at a Best Buy? Compare that to Mayday.

I actually did have an issue with Amazon recently. I don’t have the new Kindle, so Mayday wasn’t an option. Instead I resorted to the customer service tab on the site. It took a few levels, but I eventually got to a spot where I could click-to-be-called (who needs a toll free number?).

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The agent immediately called me (no hold queue), was extremely knowledgeable, and surprisingly addressed my concerns.

What we want is less frustration

Cloud models are winning on customer service partially because there’s less need for customer service. Cloud providers are enabling rich self-help and self-provisioning portals, many provide detailed posted public updates on outages should they occur.

Generally speaking, customers need customer service when there is an exception to the process. The bill is incorrect, the service isn’t working correctly, there is confusion about how to access a feature, etc. The cloud model understands what’s now referred to as cloud scale. This applies to the core service as well as the exceptions.

Traditional vendors don’t see cloud scale because problems are distributed. I realized this recently in a returns line at Kohls. I hit a peak period, and the line was pretty long. Each customer had to present their receipt and tell their story. The only solution to scalability is more un-cashiers. Conversely, online returns tend to be fairly quick, and sure online  merchants may require a shipping stop, but it’s going to be a quicker stop than this line.

Intermediaries Result with Inconsistent Experiences.

Most of us largely associate the vendor with its channel.Such as not purchasing a car because of distrust/dislike of the dealer or salesperson. The channel is an independent third party that wildly affects the customer experience.

Costco offers Lennox heating and cooling products through a network of subcontractors. I bit, and the dealer quoted Mitsubishi equipment saying it was a better fit for my needs. I suspect Lennox had a different suggestion.

The beauty of cloud self service is the direct nature of the business relationship – even when sold through a channel partner. I don’t mean to belittle the channel, their role remains important. An advantage that Google Apps has over Microsoft Office was Google can see exactly how customers use the service. Google knows which features are popular, and which are confusing. Microsoft has no way of knowing this with Office other than surveys. With Office 365, Microsoft is finally learning how customers use Office, and Office will be significantly improved as a result.

Consistency is one of the key components to quality, and cloud providers are in an excellent position to deliver consistently repeatable experiences.

Dave Michels