The revolution that has effected a long and brutal assault on businesses and their IT departments has ended. Software consultants and vendors pushing large scale implementations that take years are no longer fighting against cloud based options. They aren't fighting because they're too busy trying to remain relevant. The cloud revolution is dead because it has run its course, and it has been a success.
Why would any business want to maintain racks of expensive hardware, running operating systems and networks that need to be maintained, secured, upgraded and load balanced, when it could pay a relatively small cost for another business to do the same? And not just any business, but a business whose whole model depends on them taking care of those things, and a business that hires the best people in the world to ensure its success.
Here and Now
A couple of weeks ago in New York, Marc Benioff presented his vision of the 'Customer Company', and this is a powerful concept to grasp. The world has changed at a mind numbing pace in the recent past, and with the ever faster and ever more inclusive sharing of information the speed of change is only going to increase. Over the course of human history, better communication has facilitated faster learning; from speech to the written word, from the telegraph to the internet, technology has fuelled its own advance. Today we communicate constantly, we rarely stop in fact, and the scope of our communications has grown to levels that would have been unfathomable just ten years ago. I can tell the approximate time in many parts of the world just from the content of my Twitter feed, from who is saying what. We can all communicate at a persistent and global level and, crucially, we are all customers. A customer company is not a company that merely pays lip service to its customers, it is a company that listens and joins the conversation, via whichever channel those customers choose to use.
Simply monitoring Twitter and other such services to catch certain words only to respond with a self-promotional message is not conversing. Responding to a customer query with a phone number for customer support is not good enough. If a customer reaches out on a particular channel for support they are likely expecting assistance via that channel. Customers do not want to spend hours on hold, listening to low-fidelity music while a customer service representative makes multiple internal calls; such tasks can—and should be—asynchronous. Customers can shout louder than ever before, but the key thing to realise is that they can broadcast the good as well as the bad. People are more likely to shout about the exception rather than the norm, and this is unfortunate for companies in that good service is expected; only exceptional service stands similar chances of being broadcast as bad service.
A Customer Experience
A company is going to have a very hard time trying to provide an excellent level of service if it doesn't have the systems to back it up, and if those systems fail to adapt as fast as the rest of the world then the outlook starts to look bleak. Systems in this context refer to hardware, software, and processes put in place.
Over the last few months I've endured incredible ineptitude from a telecommunications company. The original issue smelled strongly of a poor data model, and the resolution of that issue resulted in further problems caused by legacy systems (I know this because I was told an account opened in January was on such a system). Several times I was referred to different departments because the person helping me was unable to access all the information they needed. The social media team for the organisation in question reached out a few times and always promptly, which is to be lauded, but process and procedure meant that they were powerless to do much more than provide numbers to call. I'm sure that everybody I've dealt with so far has done their utmost to help me, but the problems and experience have been exasperated by disconnected, uncooperative systems, and procedures that create restrictions instead of solutions.
Be a Customer Company
In order to be a customer company you have to be a responsive company: responsive to your customers and to world as it changes. Using cloud based solutions is now the de-facto way to ensure your technology choices can keep pace with consistently changing demands, and their pervasive, always accessible nature ensures that your staff can always reach what they require to best serve your customers. Constantly applying bandaids and clinging to an old, inflexible system, is a sure fire way to prevent your company from ever being regarded as a customer company.
This past week we publicly revealed our new company, the S. P. Keasey Trading Co. while simultaneously releasing our first two apps for the AppExchange. Needless to say, being recognised as a customer company is a goal that we will strive to achieve.