Posts Tagged 'Service'

October 3, 2013

Improving Communications for Customer-Affecting Events

Service disruptions are never a good thing. Though SoftLayer invests extensively in design, equipment, and personnel training to reduce the risk of disruptions to our customers, in the technology world there are times where scheduled events or unplanned incidents are inevitable. During those times, we understand that restoring service is top priority, and almost as important is communicating to customers regarding the cause of the incident and the current status of our work to resolve it.

To date we've used a combination of tickets, emails, forum posts, portal "yellow" notifications, as well as RSS and Twitter feeds to provide status updates during service-affecting events. Many of these methods require customers to "come and get it," so we've been working on a more targeted, proactive approach to disseminating information.

I'm excited to report that our Development and Operations teams have collaborated on new functionality in the SoftLayer portal that will improve the way we share information with customers about unplanned infrastructure troubles or upcoming planned maintenances. With our new Event Communications toolset, we're able to pinpoint the accounts affected by an event and update users who opt-in to receive notifications about how these events may impact their services.

Notifications

As the development work is finalized, we plan to roll out a few phases of improvements. The first phase of implementation, which is ready today, enables email alerts for unplanned incidents, and any portal user account can opt-in to receive them. These emails provide details about the impact and current status of an unplanned incident in progress (UIP). In this phase, notifications can be sent for devices such as physical servers, CCIs and shared SLB VIPs, and we will be adding additional services over time.

In future phases of this project, we plan to include:

  • A new "Event" section of the Customer Portal which will allow customers to browse upcoming scheduled maintenances or current/recent unplanned incidents which may impact their services. In the past, we generated tickets for scheduled maintenances, so separating these event notifications will improve customer visibility.
  • Enhanced visibility for events in our mobile apps (phone/tablet).
  • Updates to affected services for a given event as customers add / change services.
  • Notification of newly added or newly updated events that have not been read by the user (similar email "inbox" functionality) in the portal.
  • Identification of any related current or recent events as a customer begins to open a ticket in the portal.
  • Reminders of upcoming scheduled maintenances along with progress updates to the event notification throughout the maintenance in some cases.
  • Improved ability to correlate specific incidents to customer service troubles.
  • Dissemination of RFO (reason-for-outage) statements to customers following a post-incident review of an unplanned service disruption.

Since we respect our customers' inboxes, these notifications will only be sent to user accounts that have opted in. If you'd like to receive them, simply log into the Customer Portal and navigate to "Notification Subscriptions" under the "Administration" menu (direct link). From that page, individual users can control event subscriptions, and portal logins that have administrative control over multiple users on the account can control the opt-in for themselves and their downstream users. For a more detailed walkthrough of the opt-in process, visit the KnowledgeLayer: "Update Subscription Settings for the Event Management System"

The Network Operations Center has already begun using this customer notification toolset for customer-affecting events, so we recommend that you opt-in as soon as possible to benefit from this new functionality.

-Dani

January 31, 2013

ActiveCampaign: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome Peter Evans from ActiveCampaign. ActiveCampaign is a complete email marketing and marketing automation platform designed to help small businesses grow.

The Challenge of Sending Email Simply

You need to send email. Usually, that's a pretty simple task, so it's not uncommon to find users who think that sending a monthly newsletter is more or less the same task as sending a quick note to a friend about going to see a movie. In fact, those two email use-cases are completely different animals. With all of the nuances inherent in sending and managing large volumes of email, a plethora of email marketing services are positioned to help users better navigate the email marketing waters. It's tough to differentiate which features you might need and which features are just there to be a "Check" in a comparison checklist. ActiveCampaign set out to make the decision-making process simpler ... We knew that we needed the standard features like auto-responder campaigns, metrics reports and email templates, but we also knew we had to differentiate our service in a meaningful way. So we focused on automation.

Too often, the "automation" provided by a platform can be very cumbersome to set up (if it's available at all), and when it's actually working, there's little confirmation that actions are being performed as expected. In response, we were intentional about ActiveCampaign's automation features being easy to set up and manage ... If automation saves time and money, it shouldn't be intimidatingly difficult to incorporate into your campaigns. Here is a screenshot of what it takes to incorporate automation in your email campaigns with ActiveCampaign:

ActiveCampaign Screenshot

No complicated logic. No unnecessary options. With a only a few clicks, you can select an action to spark a meaningful response in your system. If a subscriber in your Newsletter list clicks on a link, you might want to move that subscriber to a different list. Because you might want to send a different campaign to that user as well, we provide the ability to add multiple automated actions for each subscriber action, and it's all very clear.

One of the subscriber actions that might stand out to you if you've used other email service providers (or ESPs) is the "When subscriber replies to a campaign" bullet. ActiveCampaign is the first ESP (that we're aware of) to provide users the option to send a series of follow-up campaigns (or to restrict the sending of future campaigns) to subscribers who reply to a campaign email. Replies are tracked in your campaign reports, and you have deep visibility into how many people replied, who replied, and how many times they replied. With that information, you can segment those subscribers and create automated actions for them, and the end result is that you're connecting with your subscriber base much more effectively because you're able to target them better ... And you don't have to break your back to do it.

SoftLayer customers know how valuable automation can be in terms of infrastructure, so it should be no surprise that email marketing campaigns can benefit so much from automation as well. Lots of ESPs provide stats, and it's up to you to figure out meaningful ways to use that information. ActiveCampaign goes a step beyond those other providers by helping you very simply engage your subscribers with relevant and intentional actions. If you're interested in learning more, check us out at http://www.activecampaign.com.

-Peter Evans, ActiveCampaign

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
December 19, 2012

SoftLayer API: Streamline. Simplify.

Building an API is a bit of a balancing act. You want your API to be simple and easy to use, and you want it to be feature-rich and completely customizable. Because those two desires happen to live on opposite ends of the spectrum, every API finds a different stasis in terms of how complex and customizable they are. The SoftLayer API was designed to provide customers with granular control of every action associated with any product or service on our platform; anything you can do in our customer portal can be done via our API. That depth of functionality might be intimidating to developers looking to dive in quickly and incorporate the SoftLayer platform into their applications, so our development team has been working to streamline and simplify some of the most common API services to make them even more accessible.

SoftLayer API

To get an idea of what their efforts look like in practice, Phil posted an SLDN blog with a perfect example of how they simplified cloud computing instance (CCI) creation via the API. The traditional CCI ordering process required developers to define nineteen data points:

Hostname
Domain name
complexType
Package Id
Location Id
Quantity to order
Number of cores
Amount of RAM
Remote management options
Port speeds
Public bandwidth allotment
Primary subnet size
Disk size
Operating system
Monitoring
Notification
Response
VPN Management - Private Network
Vulnerability Assessments & Management

While each of those data points is straightforward, you still have to define nineteen of them. You have all of those options when you check out through our shopping cart, so it makes sense that you'd have them in the API, but when it comes to ordering through the API, you don't necessarily need all of those options. Our development team observed our customers' API usage patterns, and they created the slimmed-down and efficient SoftLayer_Virtual_Guest::createObject — a method that only requires seven data points:

Hostname
Domain name
Number of cores
Amount of RAM
Hourly/monthly billing
Local vs SAN disk
Operating System

Without showing you a single line of code, you see the improvement. Default values were established for options like Port speeds and Monitoring based on customer usage patterns, and as a result, developers only have to provide half the data to place a new CCI order. Because each data point might require multiple lines of code, the volume of API code required to place an order is slimmed down even more. The best part is that if you find yourself needing to modify one of the now-default options like Port speeds or Monitoring, you still can!

As the development team finds other API services and methods that can be streamlined and simplified like this one, they'll ninja new solutions to make the API even more accessible. Have you tried coding to the SoftLayer API yet? If not, what's the biggest roadblock for you? If you're already a SLAPI coder, what other methods do you use often that could be streamlined?

-@khazard

July 11, 2012

Mandrill: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog with Chad Morris from our partner Mandrill. Mandrill is an email delivery platform built on and managed by MailChimp. Created for developers to set up and manage with minimal coding effort, Mandrill offers advanced tracking, easy-to-understand reports and hundreds of template options. In this video interview, Chad goes into detail about the history of the company as well as the major differences between Mandrill and MailChimp. In the near future, you'll see a separate guest blog from the Mandrill team with best practices for managing your email systems.

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
February 23, 2012

How to Get the Best Customer Service (Anywhere)

Shelves of books have been written about providing great customer support, but I haven't seen many written about how to get great customer support. Lance wrote a quick guide called "The 8 Keys to Successful Tickets" in May 2007, but because there have been over 730 blog posts between that post and this post, I thought I might take a shot at the topic again without stealing too many of his ideas. When you work with a service-based company, you're probably going to interact with customer support representatives regularly. During these interactions, your experience will not be defined by your question or the issue you have. Instead, it will be defined by how you present your issue.

It can be extremely frustrating when a server goes down or a script isn't working the way it should. When something like this happens, my gut reaction is to get upset and throw my keyboard. I've also noticed that when I am angry, I have a difficult time trying to explain my problem to technical support. I know I'm not alone in that regard, so I tried to pinpoint the most important points to remember when contacting customer support. While some of the explanations below are more SoftLayer-specific, each of the tips below can be used in any situation where you need customer support.

  • Remember there's a human on the other end. It doesn't matter where the customer support representative is; they're human, and their responsibility is to help you. I don't have any empirical data, but human nature tells me it's easier to be nice to someone who is nice to you. Once you realize there's a person on the other end of the phone trying to do his/her job, it's a little easier to thank them in advance for their help. It may seem insignificant, but if you thank me in advance for my help, I'll subconsciously work harder in an effort to deserve that gratitude.
  • Don't assume your request will be ignored. I'm surprised by the number of people who start or end their e-mail with, "No one will probably see this, but ..." or "Not that anyone cares, but ..." Don't assume that you'll be ignored. That assumption just creates overarching negative tone; it isn't a "reverse psychology" play. The support process can be defined by the expectations you set for it, so get started on the right foot and expect that your questions will be answered and issues will be resolved.
  • Don't start with a threat. "If you don't do this, I'm going to report this to my bank and other authorities," or "If you don't respond within 25 seconds, you'll be hearing from my lawyer." It's not uncommon to hear things like this in the first message in a ticket. It's much easier to help someone who seems easy to help. Invoking lawyers does not make your ticket seem easy to address. :-)
  • Provide useful, descriptive and relevant information. This tip can be tough since it's hard to understand what information is "relevant," but think about it before you send a support request. If you are having trouble logging in, then "I can't log in. Any ideas?" is not quite as clear as "Whenever I try to log in, the login screen just reloads without an error message. I know my username and password are correct. Any ideas? Thanks." That extra information will help considerably and will reduce the number of back-and-forth e-mails between you and the support representative.
  • Don't write overly detailed, wordy support requests. The longer your e-mail, the more difficult it is to read, diagnose and to respond. A representative has to read the entire ticket to find what's meaningful and figure out exactly what's wrong. Since they're trying to help you, you want to reduce their burden. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. So, be clear, concise and brief. If you've got a couple different issues for support to look at, break them out into individual tickets. Different issues may need to be addressed by different departments, so multiple issues in a single ticket can lead to delays in responding to specific issues in the ticket.
  • More Tickets ≠ More Support. The flip-side of the above recommendation is that you shouldn't create multiple support tickets for a single issue. While it seems like you're drawing more attention to the issue and creating a sense of urgency, you're really slowing down the support process. Support representatives might be addressing the same issue in parallel or information might be lost between tickets, elongating the time to resolution.
  • Escalate your tickets smartly. If you think a ticket should be handled differently or if you would like a supervisor to look into a specific issue, you should always feel free to request escalation to a manager or a supervisor. The best way to make that request is to update your open ticket, initiate a live chat or place a call into the technical support phone line. If you aren't satisfied with your support experience, then we aren't either, so we want to hear from you.

As you can see, the prescription is not too complicated: Prepare yourself to receive the best support and help us provide the best support, and you're much more likely to receive it.

-@khazard

November 10, 2011

Being True to Your Roots: SoftLayer Loves Startups

Not too long ago, SoftLayer was just 10 guys with a great idea to re-invent the hosting industry. The "Original 10" as we call them, took a huge chance by leaving the comfort and safety of their collective worlds to do something truly special. Those ten people pooled personal resources, mortgages, "Pay ya' back (someday maybe) friends and family" loans, credit cards and pretty much all they had to make this startup company dream come true: A truly automated system to provide a next-generation Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) platform, the likes of which had never been seen.

So, when I say SoftLayer loves startups, it comes from many personal and collective experiences garnered as the startup we were not so long ago. We are, in my opinion (and at the risk of sounding grandiose), one of the great technology startup stories of the current tech era.

SoftLayer knows that startups are the lifeblood of our industry, no matter where or how they got their start. Facebook began in a dorm room in Boston and we all know how Apple got its start. If it hadn't been for the drive, determination, luck, timing and chutzpa of those startup founders, we wouldn't have the thriving technology economy we have today.

Today, startups have a real leg-up towards success. Incubators and Startup Accelerators are popping up all across the country and around the world. These groups are designed to not only help startups get funded, but to teach them how to be a "real" technology company, create products and services that people what to buy, and polish them up to a high-shine with the hopes that they will be attractive to investors everywhere.

This is where SoftLayer's Community Development team comes into play. This amazing and talented team works closely with startups at famous incubators like YCombinator and TechStars during their three-month formalized programs.

In addition to those formalize programs, we also support newer Incubator and Accelerator concepts like PeopleBrowsr Labs to help startups during the most critical time of their new lives. A startup's first year will usually make it or break it, and SoftLayer wants to help those companies power through by providing free hosting, best- and next-practices, scaling and "big data" advice, marketing and pretty much anything else we can share that could be of value to these young businesses.

PeopleBrowsr

As an example of the relationships we're building with startup accelerators around the world, one need look no further than what we've been doing with PeopleBrowsr Labs (PBL). PBL is a unique concept in the growing world of Startup Accelerators. In the heart of San Francisco's down town SOMA tech district, they provide a collaborative environment dedicated to "accelerating the Social Media Revolution."

I think focusing on Social Media startups is a smart move. Trying to create another Facebook would be a daunting task, and one that I'm not sure would be "worth it." A smarter thing is probably to figure out how to create value on top of that and other social media systems via new engagement platforms, games, and other features and functionalities that take advantage of the massive volume of social data that is created on established mediums every minute of every day. The startups who work in PBL have a huge advantage here. Not only do they get all of the SoftLayer goodness they could ask for, they also are allowed to tap in to PeopleBrowsr's 100+ Terabytes of social media data. PeopleBrowsr has almost every tweet ever tweeted, a data store of Facebook and Blog data and more that are all accessible to startups in the Labs via APIs. In today's "Social Evolution" this data is worth its weight in gold.

Modx

To get an idea of what a startup we're working with look like, you can check out ModX, recently featured in our Tech Partner Marketplace. ModX is a dynamic content management platform that allows users to build highly customizable websites through an easy-to-use template engine. They've added all the requisite tools for CMS and turned it into a fully capable web development platform upon which users can extend functionality, employ custom applications and do just about anything they can dream up.

We gave them advice and the robust infrastructure they needed in order to scale globally and support tens of thousands of users. There are some really big new things coming soon from these guys, so stay tuned...

In the coming weeks and months, we will be starting a new feature here on the InnerLayer Blog. We'll call it our "Startup Series," and it will be a showcase of some of the cool and interesting startups that are building their companies, their technologies and their brands on the SoftLayer Platform. We'll also take a more in-depth look at the Incubators and Accelerators themselves. This is just another way to give back what we've learned and hopefully "pay it forward" where we can. It's great to be at SoftLayer.

SoftLayer Loves Startups!

-@gkdog

October 26, 2011

MODX: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from the MODX team. MODX offers an intuitive, feature-rich, open source content management platform that can easily integrate with other applications as the heart of your Customer Experience Management solution.

Company Website: http://modx.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/modx

Free your Website with MODX CMS

Just having a website or a blog is no longer a viable online strategy for smart businesses. Today's interconnected world requires engaging customers — from the first impression, to developing leads, educating, selling, empowering customer service and beyond. This key shift in online interaction is known as Customer Experience Management, or CXM.

For businesses to have success with CXM, they need an efficient way to connect all facets of their communications and information together with a modern and consistent look and feel, and without long learning curves or frustrating user experiences. You don't want a Content Management System (CMS) that restricts your ability to meet brand standards, that lives in isolation from your other systems and data, or that fails to fulfil your businesses needs.

MODX is a content management platform that gives you the creative freedom to build custom websites limited only by your imagination. It certainly can play the central role in managing your customer experience.

Freedom from Hassle & Frustration
The most productive tools are those that simply allow you get your work done. To make life easy for content editors MODX uses familiar concepts like a hierarchical tree – similar to the folders and files on your computer. This allows content editors to relate their content to the overall website structure. But, like everything else in MODX, you aren't limited to hierarchical content and can easily employ taxonomy-, list- or category-based structures.

Similarly, editing documents should be easy. With MODX, anyone who can open a web browser and send email has the skillset to create and edit content in MODX. Most tasks are a matter of filling out simple form fields into which content is placed and is accompanied by a sensible MS Word-like editor for your main content. Furthermore, site builders and developers are able to create custom fields for custom content types and custom data allowing non-technical employees to work in an intuitive, tailored environment.

Total Creative Freedom
Your website is one of the most visible parts of your brand and you certainly don't want it limited by your CMS. MODX makes it possible to do anything that's on the modern web now — you don't have to wait for a year or hack the core to launch an HTML5 or mobile optimized site. MODX can do it all now, and even what's coming next. It outputs exactly and only what you or your site builder dictate.

MODX uses a brilliantly simple template engine that allows web designers to work with what they already know, like HTML, CSS and any JavaScript library they chose. MODX can even output things not typically associated with most content management platforms like XML, JSON or even Comma Separated Value (CSV) files that automatically download to your desktop.

Freedom to Extend
MODX provides all the requisite tools for CMS, but it also functions as a fully capable web development platform upon which you can extend functionality, employ custom applications and do just about anything you can dream up. In fact, the "X" in MODX comes from the word "extensible". Whether you want to build a Member-only website, Client Extranet, Resort Booking and Reservations system or private Social Network, you can do it on MODX.

For developers the fully-documented Object Oriented API and xPDO, MODXs database layer, provide all you need to build almost anything with MODX, even extending or overriding its core functionality. Critically, you can do all this using the API and retain a painless upgrade path without hacking the core. The MODX API architecture provides all the flexibility you or your developer might need to make MODX your own without painting your self into a corner.

Freedom from Bottlenecks
Modern web pages are made up of many component parts – site-wide headers and footers, navigation menus, articles, products and more. At some point, all these pieces need to be put together and delivered to the visitor as a single page that users expect to load quickly or they'll leave your site.

To deliver pages fast, top-performing sites use server-side caching to take all those pieces and pre-process them for fast delivery to a browser. The problem with many CMS applications is that they manually rebuild pages every single time someone visits your site. That's fine if you only have a few visitors, but your site can bog down or even fail under moderate traffic. In these circumstances, it would be disastrous if your website is featured on an industry magazine or website, national media or on a popular TV show. Your site could literally grind to a halt, costing you customers, damaging your reputation and ultimately making a bad first impression.

MODX's native page caching delivers your site quickly by default. Additionally, MODX can use high-end caching like memcache to further improve performance under load. To handle millions of pageviews daily, you need robust servers and you need to optimize your environment ... That's where scaling across multiple servers and replication with SoftLayer works perfectly with MODX.

Free Your Legacy Systems
Keeping your data, content and business information in disconnected silos is ineffective and costly. Accessing existing systems, like an Active Directory or Enterprise Content repository, makes huge difference in getting your work done headache-free. You don't have to worry about data duplication across systems, significant extra work to make everything work or synchronization issues. A new website platform should increase your productivity and enable your employees, customers and everyone else surrounding your business to find what they need and to interact efficiently and effectively.

MODX works with the tools and technology that organizations already have in place. It can easily interact with external web services or data feeds and can drive other applications via RESTful web services.

Security and Freedom to Rest Easy
Website Security is a topic that rarely surfaces during the early stages of a web project and often never comes up until your site has been compromised.

A high-quality hosting environment like those from SoftLayer are the foundation of website security. Your web CMS and its add-ons, plugin-ins or modules should not be a liability. MODX is designed with security at its core to protect your valuable website from malicious attacks. Every input is filtered, and every database query using the API eliminates the possibility of SQL injection compromises. Most importantly, the development team rigorously and continuously audits MODX to make sure its up to date and patching any new issues that may arise.

Freedom in the Community
With MODX and the MODX Community you're not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of websites built on MODX and we have a friendly, active and growing community of raving fans over 37,000 strong to whom you can look for assistance, support, education and camaraderie.

In fact, the MODX Community is one of our greatest assets.

They provide mentorship, assistance and help make MODX software better through active reporting of issues and feature requests and contributing improvements for integration by the core team.

If you're not a site builder or developer, but you want your website powered by MODX, one of the best places to start is with a MODX Solution Partner. Our network of 90+ global Solution Partners enables you to get the right-fit expertise for your project and in many cases work locally. Solution Partners are experts at MODX and know how to do things right.

Get Free
There really is a cure for the all too often restrictive, unintuitive and frustrating experience of putting content on the web. Get on the road to content management freedom with MODX. It's easy to start since MODX Revolution itself is free to download and use.

Learn more at http://modx.com/.

-Jay Gilmore, MODX

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
October 10, 2011

A Manifesto: Cloud, Dedicated and Hosting Computing

We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the IT industry. It is forever changing the way technology is delivered and consumed. The pay-as-you-go model for everything you need in IT is shattering the old computing paradigms, from software licensing models and hardware refresh cycles to budgeting operating costs. This change is bringing about more control and transparency to users while accelerating the commoditization of IT by making it easily available through a new model.

This new model comes in three major "flavors": Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. We incorporate and enable all three by offering a unified, fully automated platform to enable greater customer control over their IT environments. The key tenants of this emerging model for SoftLayer are innovation, empowerment, automation and integration. Here's how we deliver against these four key tenants.

Innovation: We want to lead the industry by offering best of breed and proprietary cloud, dedicated, and managed hosting solutions, based on our own intellectual property. Currently, we have more than 252,000 hours invested and 2.6 million lines of code developed around these solutions. Customers can take charge of every aspect of their IT operations (servers, storage, networking & services) through our fully automated platform. Our Customer Portal and fully featured APIs give customer more control by providing direct access to more than 100 back-end systems and activities — every aspect of IT operations can be managed.

Empowerment: We turn IT operations into a predictable fixed cost. Customers can stay focused on achieving their business goals, not managing IT infrastructure. We offer expert planning and support from a certified, 24/7 support staff. Customers can deploy and scale when they want with one-day and on-demand automated provisioning. They can keep it as long (or short) as needed, with monthly contracts. In addition, customers can choose what they want to manage and what they don't, with the ability to have hybrid IT self-managed and managed environments. This speaks to the flexibility of our platform!

Automation: This is an area that makes SoftLayer stand out from the pack. We automate deployment and management of all services, accelerating provisioning time, streamlining administrative tasks, and making it all on-demand, every day and night. With automation that mitigates the risk for human error, comprehensive security practices and options, and a 24/7 team of certified engineers, we provide greater stability, a 100% Uptime Guarantee, and around the clock support for any issues or service.

Integration: This is the final ingredient to making it ALL work. We seamlessly integrate hardware, software, and networking into a unified service, all conveniently controlled through our easy-to-use Customer Portal and robust APIs. We provide full information, full-time through our Customer Portal and APIs, for every service we provide; there is no data about a system that we keep from our customers, from usage statistics to network performance and beyond. We have complete transparency.

These four key tenets are what set us apart. When SoftLayer started back in 2005, the team's goal was not to be Go Daddy on steroids. We set our sights on being the de facto platform for mainstream businesses to run all their IT operations. This means the complete gamut of applications and workloads with no compromise of performance, security, reliability and access. We are entering into a new IT era, where "connected everything" is the norm. It reminds me of the old phrase "the network is the computer" from Sun Microsystems' slogan. We have the foundation in place, which will make for an unforgettable journey. Let us know what you think.

-@gkdog

September 21, 2011

UserVoice: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from UserVoice CEO Richard White. UserVoice offers a complete customer engagement solution that gives businesses a simple process for managing customer feedback and support functions all from a single, easy-to-use environment.

What NOT to Do in Support

The fact that you're reading this blog post means you probably understand social media. You probably also understand why providing great customer service is important, so I'll spare you that as well. What you may not know is that there are much better tools to provide outstanding customer service than the ones you're already using. Here are four big tips for you as you're planning your support channels:

1. Don't build a custom contact form.
Building a custom contact form on your website takes valuable time and resources away from your core business. Instead, sign up and get a widget from UserVoice (or one of our competitors) and in less than 30 seconds you'll have a contact form that supports any number of custom fields you want to add, allows you to append your own customer-specific metadata, supports attachments and, most importantly, will auto-suggest relevant FAQ articles even before the customer submits the form.

2. Don't use shared email for customer support.
It's true that you can take managing customer support via a shared email inbox pretty far. You won't really feel the pain until a couple of issues slip through the digital crack because it wasn't clear who on your team was responsible for following up with the customer. But why go through that? These days you can choose from a number of inexpensive, purpose-built tools, like UserVoice, targeted at companies that want to provide better customer service. Starting at $5/mo you can have a complete support solution that will grow with your business when you are finally ready to add that 2nd or 3rd support rep to your team.

3. Don't waste time gathering feedback on message boards.
Scanning message boards to gather user feedback sounds like a good idea, but it's really painful. Forums are both noisy and insular. Someone posts "I want you to add X" then a few people reply "+1" but then someone else says "I think X is good but only if you do Y to it." Very quickly you don't know what anyone really wants. And you especially don't have an easy way to follow-up with people directly. Worst of all, you're only hearing from a vocal minority. Casual users won't go into your forums and won't wade through 10 pages of +1's to add their voice, they'll just give up.

UserVoice Feedback gives you a better way to harness customer feedback and turn it into something useful. It starts with a simple prompt: How can we make ___insert_your_company___ better? Customers give their feedback and vote up the best ideas. It's easier for customers to get involved and give you feedback, and it's much easier for you to follow-up and keep these important customers in the loop.

4. Don't hide from your customers.
This really should be the first recommendation. The sad fact is, people still don't expect great customer service, and they certainly don't expect you to be ready and willing to listen to their feedback, especially with that small gray "contact" link buried in your footer. Show customers that their experience and their feedback is important, nay, vital to your business. Put a big link at the top of the page, or a widget on the side of it. Something that tells people you're not "business as usual." Show them you really care.

I started UserVoice because I wanted to make doing all of these things simple so that companies could focus on what really matters: building their products and communicating with their customers, not setting up all this stuff. I hope you'll find it as useful as our thousands of existing customers have in getting you back to work. :)

-Richard White, UserVoice

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
September 6, 2011

Emergency Response Services

When people ask me what I do for a living these days, I tell them I provide emergency response services. With this answer, I usually get very surprised and intrigued looks as they probe for more details about the excitement of saving lives. For those that have known me for a while, they are especially shocked since my career until recently has always entailed sitting in a cubicle, crunching numbers and manipulating spreadsheets.

I don't actually provide ERS, and I don't "technically" save lives during my work days, but I do provide emergency services for our customers, and if you ask them, they'll probably tell you I'm a little like a life saver. I tell people I'm an emergency responder as a bit of a joke, but it's actually a great way to start explaining what I do at SoftLayer. When a customer's service is disrupted (preventing them from conducting important business), we need to respond immediately and knowledgeably to get everything back online as quickly as possible.

As Server Build Technicians, we have to be alert and ready for situations where a server goes down and affects the availability of a customer's site. Being offline can often translate to the loss of revenue and this I completely understand: If I wanted to buy something on a site and I find that the site is offline, I'll probably fire up a search page and look for another vendor. The first store loses my sale because I'm so conditioned to everything being available right when I need it ... And I'm not alone in this mentality.

When I started writing this article, we were gearing up for natural disaster to hit the Washington, D.C. area over the weekend (for the first time in my career). We had to plan what needed to be done at home and work ... Because SoftLayer provides web hosting services that must be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we have to do our best to minimize any service impact. We were lucky to have avoided much of the damage from Hurricane Irene, but we still treated it as though it was heading right toward us. In addition to the employees on site, everyone was on call to be ready to come in and help if needed. For those who have never experienced a hurricane, just think of a severe thunderstorm that lasts 8 to 12 hours, resulting in widespread power outages, flooding and wind damage.

A hurricane is scary for everyone in its path, and to a certain extent, all you can do is be safe and have a plan of response. Our data center has extremely reliable power generators and staff to handle these kinds of situations; we're always prepared for the worst case scenarios for your servers so you don't have to be.

-Danny

P.S. If you've never thought about becoming a "Server Emergency Responder," I'd recommend swinging by the SoftLayer Careers page to learn more about becoming a Server Build Technician. As of right now, there are SBT positions available in Dallas, Seattle, Amsterdam, Singapore and Washington, D.C.

Subscribe to service