Customer service and cloud computing

While a lot of functionality is making its way to the Internet through the various forms of cloud computing, support for customer service varies widely.

What is the core value proposition of cloud computing today? What is it that your public cloud provider is providing? What does your private cloud environment allow you to provide your own IT customers? Why are end users in the know so excited about the new capabilities they gain from using various cloud offerings?

I'll give you a hint. The three acronyms by which cloud fare is usually categorized all end in three letters: "aaS," short for "as a Service".

Service is the name of the game in cloud computing. It is at the heart of why end users can worry less knowing that their providers are doing most of the worrying for them. Treating customers right is a differentiator; in fact, it is probably the most critical differentiator in the relatively crowded Infrastructure as a Service market.

Yet, I have long observed that customer service is an afterthought in the design of cloud-related hardware, management software and even many online services. So much emphasis is put on functionality and "self-service"--in the mechanics of provisioning and elasticity--that often some basic support for customer care is left wanting.

I'm not so much talking about the "premium support" services offered by the likes of Amazon and most of the so-called "cloudcenters." There is a reason that they cost money; if someone is going to spend time on your case, they have to be compensated, which means the vendor has the right to charge you for the service. This is not a diatribe against for-fee support services.

However, I know of no cloud platform vendors that have built customer service into their platforms. In my mind's eye, it should be simple for the average Joe to:

  • collect data when a problem occurs
  • report the problem with a click of a button
  • have a "self-service" case created with fields where customers can track the progress they are making against issue resolution--and which can be "mined" by the vendor's support organization to discover trending bugs, etc.
  • search documentation for workarounds or solutions without having to jump through hoops
  • have the option to jump to a chat session or forum where he or she might get some help
  • have the option to select a one-time premium support option if a case warrants it

Now, I've been in the enterprise software business long enough to know that making support profitable--or even sustainable--is more complicated than it sounds. But how hard would it be to give customers a clear sign that their issues are of concern to the vendor, whether or not they are a premium support customer?

I think the first cloud infrastructure vendor that puts a big effort into treating the end-user right through software will have a tremendous advantage in both enterprise and service provider settings. Integration with Remedy for that "self-service" case creation and tracking, for instance.

What do you think? Is there a need for customer service to be built into your cloud-computing platform? What features would you like to see?

About the author

    James Urquhart is a field technologist with almost 20 years of experience in distributed-systems development and deployment, focusing on service-oriented architectures, cloud computing, and virtualization. James is a market strategist for cloud computing at Cisco Systems and an adviser to EnStratus, though the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.

     

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