Finding the right service provider

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I am sitting here writing this with steam rising from the crown of my skull, so understand where this is coming from. When finding a service to provide a particular function, all of the marketing materials are oriented towards things the potential client thinks he is looking for -- for example, cost or functionality or flexibility or extensibility. Obviously the reputation of the brand has an impact as does the availability of reviews of the service, and hopefully some of those are independent. Perusing the web site might tell the prospective customer something, and of course talking with existing customers is a valuable source of information.
Currently I am having an issue with an online backup vendor. The vendor shall remain unnamed, and I have hope that the problem will be resolved. But it may not be resolved, and I am trying to figure out why I am so exercised about this experience, as in the 25 years I have been doing this this isn't my first rodeo.

And I think the problem is this. The source of almost all of a reputation for a particular product is not what the product does when it is working, but what happens when there is a problem. And unlike an off the shelf product, which either does what it says it does or doesn't, a service can have good days and bad days (although hopefully not many). When a product falls short, there might be calls to make and training to do or updates/improvements to be acquired, but generally speaking it is what it is. When a service doesn't perform (and generally it either is working or it isn't), then it is time to make contact and find out what's up.

And the first tripwire on the reputation slope is how hard it is to find out what's up. An illustration of what I am talking about is getting information about the status of telecommunications at a location. You're sitting in your home office, working away on something or getting ready to, when you notice "No Internet". What could it be?

Nobody I know who has done this more than once wants to call a provider, ISP or telecomm as the very first step to solving the problem, because it can be a painful and pointless process. Proceed through Menu Hell, followed by first line support shenanigans, which ends with who knows what. I normally recommend walking out to the street and seeing if there is a truck roll first, followed by a perusal of the online status page.

What, there is no online status page, or it literally has never indicated a single problem in its entire existence? (BTW, where do I sign up for any service that has never ever had a single problem.) I have never understood why a front-line service status page isn't Job One for technical support. How many phone calls or other contacts would be prevented with a well publicized, current and truthful service status page? Maybe it is too much to ask.

But knowing before I start that they know there is a problem, (and are consequently probably working to solve it), and there isn't anything I can do, and should in fact not do anything right now (because it was working, and then it wasn't, and might just start working again) is a quick way to mollify the customer.

But if there isn't any easy way to find out what is going on with a service, then aggravation goes up and reputation goes down, fairly or otherwise.

And I think that is where my aggravation is coming from, the not knowing. First level technical support says the problem has been referred to a higher level, or more technically specific parties, and they will get back to you. By email. With no Estimated Time to Resolution. And time passes, going on a full day now, with no update.
And then I discover another related problem. And another with a completely different account. And I start to think that the problem isn't me, but that no one is willing to admit there is a Larger Problem. Especially since some accounts I deal with are doing just fine.

And this is when I start to really question the efficacy of cloud-based services. One would think that if a service can scale-up properly, economies of scale should really kick in, providing ample opportunities to fund product improvement and improve the response to problems. I understand the race to attract customers with low service prices, but how much churn is created by a bad customer experience?

So what is missing in the purchase process for cloud-based services? Reviews can tell us what a service does, but not how reliably it does it. An outlier to this paradox is the anti-malware sector, which comes ready-made with testable objectives: Finds this / misses that, measurable both as a single data-point and over time. Telecoms used to provide SLAs and arguably specific remedies. These days you have to spend a lot of money to find Internet services that are not Best Effort or Really and Truly Very Best Effort.

I haven't looked hard enough (yet) at the agreements for cloud-based services to figure out the impetus for the provider to actually provide stable and reliable service. Other than a besmirching of reputation, what is the impetus to make sure technical support is available when it is needed? All the experiences of unhappy customers can only be anecdotal and ineffective as a cudgel to improve service. Appealing to a sense of professional integrity only goes so far if management isn't willing to provide the resources.

The issue with online and cloud based service acquisition is that the most important information about the purchase is not available, and until you have actually had to deal with a problem you cannot know how equipped the provider is to actually solve the problem and satisfy the customer. If anyone can refernce resources to mitigate this apparent quandry, I for one would like to hear about them.

Expert Comment


No idea if this is Carbonite or not but if for any reason it was and there was a way I can help feel free to contact me via PM on the site. Otherwise I'm really sorry, that is an awful situation to be in with a vendor who you invested trust and resources in.
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Expert Comment

A sad tale indeed when somebody in a role of trust fails to be trustworthy. Regrettably I know of no absolute solution. One tries to do some "due diligence" when choosing but professional reviews aren't free from bias and user reviews can come from any source.

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