We all know how important it is to be customer focused.  All too many organizations do a great job of providing lip service, but don’t live up to their promises.  Being customer focused means you need to have the capacity to place yourself in the shoes of your customers and understand their needs.  Doing so, will help you set yourself apart from your competition, build a loyal customer following, and generate more revenue.

Remember, for many businesses, moving to the Cloud seems to make sense but there are many concerns.  Aside from the standard legal considerations such as overall liability, 3rd party indemnification, and data confidentiality, businesses are very worried about uptime availability and your responsibilities – and their remedies – if your application goes down.  Understand that your clients may depend on your application to facilitate mission critical processes.  If your application is unavailable, then you are damaging your customer’s business.  Since the perception of many businesses is that when you move to the Cloud the risk of an application outage increases – you should then begin to understand that your client’s concerns are justifiable.

With an understanding of your client’s application availability concerns, you can either ignore them and fight over contractual remedies as your client brings them up during your SLA (Service Level Agreement) negotiation – or you can proactively address their concerns.  Ignoring them isn’t a customer-focused approach.  Demonstrating that you understand your client’s concerns and addressing them before your client even needs to ask is a customer focused approach to SLA negotiation.  This modus operandi will get your relationship with your client off on the right foot.

To help, here are some key SLA benefits that you should proactively provide to address your client’s application uptime concerns:

1)  Effective Communication Methods – Ensure you have a communications platform in place to effectively alert your customers of service performance issues.  This means more than just posting individually to twitter or Tumblr.  If your customer’s employees are forced to take time out of their day to call your support staff and wait in a support queue then they are wasting corporate dollars and they will become frustrated with your organization.  Minimally, you should provide application uptime status by having an end-user facing, self-serve status page with the ability to subscribe to SMS, Twitter and e-mail alerts.

2)  Well Defined Service Levels – At the most basic level, a decent SLA should define how long it will take for you as the provider to give an initial report of a suspected issue.  Sometimes you won’t proactively know that there is a problem unless your end-user submits a ticket.  Once this initial response is received, or an issue is reported, you should continue to report how much time has elapsed since the last action took place and ultimately until it is closed.  Critical issues should obviously get faster response times and have escalation procedures in place, whereas minor service impairment would allow more leeway and slower resolution times.

3)  Uptime Percentages There are many different ways you can calculate your actual uptime statistics. Be as clear as possible about what metrics you use.  Describe how you factor in emergency vs regular outages, scheduled maintenance, and what application features are critical to your formula.  Depending on the service you provide, your minimum uptime guarantee should be relevant to your average customer’s need.  We recommend that you try to guarantee 99.9% uptime or greater. However, if your internet hosting provider, such as Microsoft Azure, can’t guarantee more than 99.9% then you have a problem since you can only be as good as your slowest link.  Don’t provide a metric you’ll never meet.  This will only result in an expectation mismatch and will fuel a lack of trust.

4)  Eliminate Inaccurate Calculations To gain an advantage, make your potential customers aware of the inconsistencies existing in your competitor’s agreements.  For example, if you count scheduled maintenance and emergency service after a certain amount of time passes and your competitor doesn’t, their uptime stats will look better. Don’t play that game.  You need a balanced approach – if you promise the world but don’t make your metrics, your customer will probably leave you; on the other hand, if you don’t maintain a reasonable uptime you’ll never earn their business.  Make sure your customers can easily compare apples to apples.  In other words, your 99.9% uptime might be higher than a competitor’s 99.98% if they are able to deem all emergency downtime as a non-included uptime metric.

5)  Enforcement Live by your promise.  You may need to provide higher uptimes to more elite clients.  Don’t be afraid to charge premiums for this – it is just like insurance.  For example, perhaps you perform most of your scheduled maintenance on non-business hours (such as late Sunday) but you have a customer who absolutely needs 24 hours per day without interruption.  In today’s world it’s possible to roll these customers over to temporary virtual environments that will not be affected.  If you have any outages that require billing credits, make sure your SLA outlines that distinctly (for example, in red).  Even though theoretically each customer can have different uptime metrics (based on their usage and a particular feature set and/or server locations) it should not be the duty of the customer to ascertain the billing.  Work with your customer and be generous if you mess up. It might just save your renewal the next year.

Developing a customer-focused SLA that includes the elements mentioned above will set you apart from the competition and will help you to establish a more trusting, lasting relationship with your clients.  Remember, your customers are becoming smarter every day, and many of them are learning to never accept the standard SLA.  They know that in most cases the standard SLA is vendor-focused.  They know that there is always something better – if they fight.  Why make them fight?

 

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