20 Months 3.5 Minutes - Building A Great Customer Experience
In the winter of 2009 I moved to the west coast, where I spent 5 years as a professional ski instructor working with children and adults in a dynamic and sometimes nerve wracking environment. That time helped shape my approach to customer success. I found that learning about the client and their goals was much more important than trying to show them how great our mountain was or how I was an excellent skier - worthy of their large investment in lesson(s). Making this early distinction between listening to what the customer wanted vs telling them what they needed was an important building block that’s helped shape my current approach.
Around 2014, Cycle’s founder and CEO Jake Warner was also learning quite a bit about experience. He was running his own software development company and kept running into the same issue over and over — it was taking far too much time to set up new projects. Coming from an infrastructure background, he was able to quickly validate this problem and the need for a solution by reaching out to industry peers. During Cycle’s earliest days, containers were thrust into the mainstream by a company called Docker. Jake saw containers as a perfect way to deliver, becoming an early adopter and proponent of containerization.
The first version of Cycle was a public cloud CaaS, aimed at individual developers. It quickly gained popularity at hackathons and events, exposing an opportunity for the team to collect feedback on quality and direction. Individual developers liked the setup, but companies wanting to use Cycle in their business had hesitations about not owning the infrastructure. That feedback was used to help drive the platform forward. Now, the user owns the infrastructure, and Cycle is installed during the provisioning of the server. By improving the business model and delivery, Cycle was in position to become an early leader in multi-cloud orchestration.
When I first met Jake, he was deep in a major build phase. He had this vision of a simple scalable platform and his story really made sense to me. The thing that stood out most was how he’d been listening to a wide range of customers and collecting their feedback. This acted as the north star for building the customer experience. Around 8 months after our first meeting, I joined the team and for the last two years I’ve been working to continue progressing our customer centric philosophy.
One of the first things I learned when being onboarded to the Cycle team was the value of being available. There are two main components to availability that I think are worth exploring here.
- The concept that you are reachable
- Understanding the goal vs the objective
The first concept of being reachable is pretty obvious. Being reachable is key to getting work done, issues resolved, and communication. I can say with confidence that we have executed on this. During the last two years, our average wait time for a customer who has opened a ticket through our in-app chat support is 3.5 minutes. That’s an average that includes nights, weekends, holidays, and this year — a pandemic.
The second concept is a bit more subtle because the objective - “Be available” is daft and lifeless when measured at face value - “Did the customer get a timely response”. The goal, however, “Customers are able to successfully use Cycle” is abstract and organic - not easily measured.
Our team approaches this by, first, consistently executing on being reachable, and then, when we do have the opportunity to interact, looking deeper into the root of a customer problem. If the port configuration on a container is incorrect, for example, we will first tell the customer where the issue is, but then check to see if they’re aware of other settings that can have an impact on port configurations at the container level and how Cycle handles networking from a high level.
This is also an opportunity to make a note on where your users are getting lost and mark places where the content and message supporting correct use can be displayed or linked. The theme here, and something I’ve been able to learn in my time here is - there’s always something to learn from the customer and spending a bit more time with them will not only help develop their skills as a user, but also shed valuable insight on the product.
Those who master process are holding the keys to incredible efficiency gains, many of which are being used as a competitive advantage. Apple has recently brought the manufacturing of all their CPU’s in house, tripling down on the mantra they imposed on developers for years - the Apple way is the best way. Elon Musk has gone from payments, to cars, to rockets and among all these things created new, exceptional processes in each company, specifically in technical manufacturing. There are so many companies over time that have mastered processes and used that process as their product, Cycle carries this love for process and uses it as a part of our customer experience strategy.
As an abstraction, the platform provides a way for developers to interact with their cloud resources in a way that drastically reduces complexity. Our goal is to provide 80% of companies the tools they need to fully automate their entire cloud ecosystem.
For example, creating a cluster of servers from multiple providers takes about 2 minutes, but in order to automate the provisioning of the infrastructure and make sure that Cycle is installed, the user needs to add provider credentials to a hub and deploy the infrastructure using either the portal or API.
Overall this task is simple. It only takes a few minutes and it’s done for good. However, there are many things that I’m currently working on to help explain this process, because when coming from other offerings and services it can be unclear exactly what is happening when you deploy a server or why you’d want to enter your API key instead of just deploying from the provider directly. Even questions about who owns the infrastructure needs to be addressed and billing explained.
Part of our ongoing effort to build an exceptional customer experience is letting customer interactions shed light on where we need to bolster content, documentation, and UX design. In turn we hope to make process adoption feel less like a change and more like a new solution. In my experience, some customers will be reluctant to adopt your process or just leave altogether because of it, however, we treat the process itself as a product and do not change it whimsically. A great customer experience will never be the right fit for everyone.
In the book Chief Customer Officer 2.0, Jeanne Bliss covers a huge array of enterprise-level customer success strategies. The one thing that always gets repeated, and is relevant for anyone trying to craft a customer experience and success strategy, is, “you have to get the top-level executives on board and committed”.
Our current implementation takes this a step further. When we bring on a new team member, we spend extra time working through the platform, doing group demos, checking for understanding, and setting the expectation that if a new ticket comes in it’s not just going to sit there while we all play that’s not my job. We have a company wide customer first culture, that originated from the top and has been reinforced every step along the way. Across every ticket that I have missed, our team - and especially Jake - has been there to make sure that the user is taken care of. So I challenge you to take things a step further when executing your customer experience and success strategy - to make it a part of every team member’s responsibility and put your customer first as an ethos beyond your objective.
We’ve been fortunate. Over the last couple of years the customers that have been attracted to our platform have been incredible, resilient, future focused, and passionate engineering teams. Building a great customer experience is much easier when you have the opportunity to interact with different clients on a daily basis. It’s incredible to hear someone explain how they’re using a feature on your platform, especially when you’ve never seen that implementation or strategy before.
The journey to a great customer experience will always be a moving target. As our customers grow in number and their teams grow in size we will face new challenges and have to continue to make improvements. While being available can be a great way to increase customer experience, great processes, a powerful tool for value and efficiency, and alignment from the top a must - one thing will always lead the way: Being truly interested in building a product that makes your customers lives better.