6 Jan 2011

On Support

Author: q | Filed under: Frustrations, Observations, Support

I”ve had two very different cloud support experiences today, and it really highlights the VAST difference in how cloud-based organizations support their customers.

First, the bad. I have several customers signed up for web services through a shared web hosting provider (who shall remain nameless). We ran into a problem this morning that impacted most of those customers, and I went straight to the company web site to start a support incident. I first clicked on their “Live Chat” icon, only to be told that no one was available for chat, but was offered to leave a message. (Ironically, every time I”ve tried to access their “Live Chat” feature in the past 6 months, I”ve yet to have anyone actually be available on the other end.) Next, because this was impacting at least one customer”s ability to conduct business, I called in for support. I”m in Central time, and the hosting provider”s offices are headquartered in Eastern, and it was well after opening business hours here,but no one was available to answer the call. No big deal,if they”re having a major problem, I could see how all their phone support agents were tied up at the time I tried to call. So, I left a voicemail. A few minutes later, however, I recalled that last month when we”d run into an issue, I called and left a voicemail for support and never got a call back. So, I decided to go ahead and fill out an online support request form. I submitted the URLs of all the sites that were impacted, error messages seen in the web browsers, and sent it off on its merry way. Sure enough, almost immediately, I received the obligatory “we received your support request, and here”s the request number.” Good, at least the ticketing system is working.

Just a few minutes later, I received an e-mail from a technician who said they were aware of the issue and working towards a resolution and would let me know when it had been resolved. Great! That”s all I can really hope for at this point. And sure enough, about 30 minutes later, I get an e-mail saying all had been fixed and should be good to go. I checked on a few of the sites impacted, and while some worked, others didn”t. Long story short, I ended up with multiple messages back and forth with their support team. We finally had all sites but one up and functioning, and even though I asked several times what had actually happened and what was done to resolve it, I never got an answer. I finally sent in a long error message for the site that was still not working along with another request for what the problem and solution were, and two things happened. First, a different technician responded to the request. Second, he actually told me what had been the problem and what they had done to fix it. He also said that he was looking into it and would let me know when it was resolved. I ended up Googling the error and found several references to problems resulting from the exact thing they had done to resolve the initial issue, and send links with those items back to them. Over the next several hours, we went back and forth, with the new support guy saying they had fixed the issue, and me replying with updated errors when it clearly wasn”t fixed. Even though this was significantly impacting one of my customer”s ability to work, I never felt a sense of urgency on their part. Ultimately, I think the problem was resolved (at least is hasn”t cropped up since the last set of changed made on their end), but not without a LOT of time on my part and a lot of research that I provided to them on topics that I”m just not that familiar with. Frustrating.

So, imagine my surprise when I got a call from my contact at Inbox Solutions (http://www.inboxsolutions.com), our hosted Exchange provider of choice, a few minutes after I sent in a non-critical request for assistance related to a spam filtering issue. Not only did I get a call, but he had understood my request and provided an immediate workaround to present to my customer having the issue. I wasn”t needing or expecting a response until tomorrow, but because he got back with me so quickly, I was able to implement the workaround with my customer this afternoon and got his issue resolved. This is on par with the level of support that I”ve received since I started working with Inbox Solutions, but it was still a very pleasant surprise after dealing with the other support nightmare of the day.

This is ultimately the crapshoot of dealing with cloud providers. You may have some that can provide excellent support while others don”t have the same focus. As we work with our customers who are contemplating moving some of their business processes into the cloud, this is a significant part of what we look for. Since we can”t put our hands directly on some of the cloud pieces that our customers will be using, it becomes paramount for us to align ourselves with cloud vendors who we can easily work with to resolve issues when they arise. I can honestly say that in the 9 months we”ve been dealing with Inbox Solutions, we”ve received zero customer complaints, we”ve had exactly two support calls (one that we were able to resolve internally and the other which was addressed today), and the response time we”ve received to our queries with them has been phenomenal. In the two years we”ve been working with this web hosting provider, we”ve sen an increase in downtime, longer support response times, and a lack of urgency to our support needs. Guess which vendor we”ll be sticking with and which we”ll transition away from…

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