Covid 19 Forcing Data Centers to Find and Focus on Key Differentiators
As Covid-19 continues to spread, enterprise and government organizations are reevaluating business processes and technology models to minimize impact. With a goal of increasing focus on their core business, they are less interested in managing their own data center and more interested in migrating their IT infrastructure offsite to reputable multi-tenant data center providers. The highly competitive data center industry has been increasing its focus on identifying key differentiators for customers and Covid-19 has only added to this competitive dynamic.
From the outside looking in, data centers and outsourced IT infrastructure may appear commoditized, but behind the scenes, in an industry not particularly known for innovation, some remarkable developments are taking place.
Now more than ever, customers want to consume data center services digitally with remote visibility, flexibility and control. In response, data centers are evolving to leverage advancements in digitization and software, connectivity and environmental sustainability as key differentiators in the eyes of customers. Ultimately, delivering these within an end-to-end and intuitive customer experience may be the biggest differentiator, and also one of the most difficult to achieve and deliver.
Powered by People
QTS Realty Trust is a data center company founded by Chad Williams in 2003. Williams strongly believed that it is possible to build a successful company based on higher principles than just profit alone. He believed then, as he does now, that the highest performing organizations have a purpose-driven spirit and an obligation to the communities in which they operate. He is vocal in his belief that its people are the company’s greatest strength, and he has inspired them to step up to challenges and offer their best to its customers and communities, demonstrating a firm commitment to a culture of service.
Williams instilled QTS’ Powered by People culture that empowers every QTS team member to do what is right for the customer. Along the way we made significant investments in our overall learning strategies and believe that our development capabilities are now among the highest in any industry. The result is a dedicated community of IT professionals who seamlessly collaborate and partner with our customers to achieve success in their business goals.
Customer Service That You Can Measure
Since the beginning, QTS has committed to provide exceptional customer service. Williams instilled a culture of service committed to a high touch, collaborative approach. Based on this philosophy, we developed the 24-hour Operations Service Center (OSC) to be the central point for all customers. The OSC is staffed by a team of highly trained experts who resolve over 90% of the 120,000 requests received annually. When needed, the OSC dispatches to a four-tiered response organization composed of IT engineers and on-site technicians to solve any customer request with speed and quality.
QTS’ Powered by People culture and world-class service organization have led to sustained excellence in customer service. In 2014, we contracted with Satmatrix’s benchmark Net Promoter Score (NPS) an ongoing independent survey of our customer base that has become the leading indicator of customer service across industries. NPS surveys and judges the likelihood that QTS customers will purchase again or recommend QTS services to another company. Customers rate QTS in a range of service areas, including customer service and responsiveness from staff, customer onboarding, physical facilities, security, and the QTS Service Delivery Platform (SDP).
2019 marked the fourth consecutive year QTS has led the data center industry with an NPS over 80. QTS’ target of 80 or higher is in line with NPS scores of companies well known for their customer service including Starbucks Corporation and Apple Inc. and is approximately double the average NPS score for data center companies (42).
From Reactive to Proactive
We treat every NPS survey response as an opportunity to learn what our customers value about their interactions with us, with action items flagged and tracked until appropriate investments in processes or technology are made to improve the interaction in the future. This has enabled our service organization to shift from a reactive to a proactive posture, and be seen as an organic extension of our customer’s operations teams.
With each customer, we start at the beginning and look at our relationship like a lifecycle. From contract terms and signing, to implementation, to production support, to quarterly check ins. We match our team and expertise with their goals, and our high tenure means our customers develop personal relationships with our QTSers. We constantly question and evaluate how we are innovating and digitizing their experience. We become a highly valued, trusted member of our customers IT team.
Across our entire service portfolio, operations leadership assesses key indicators such as service availability, customer renewal rate, response times, survey results, and information from quarterly business reviews. Each becomes a feedback channel with its own set of goals and metrics for improvements.
Customer service teams are incented to be proactive in the monitoring of a customer’s bandwidth and power requirements, networking capabilities, systems and compute performance, storage and backup. This evolved into the deployment of QTS’ digitized platform that would automate alerts in conjunction with outreach from the OSC regarding impending problems before they occur. This evolution recast our customer interactions with QTS using technology, which has required us to advance our approach to customer experience.
Software-Defined Data Centers - Investing in Automation and Visibility
Technological innovation plays a key role in our customer’s experience. Starting in 2016 we invested in fully digitizing all of QTS’ and our customer’s data. This data is now being analyzed and manipulated by technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics to enable all kinds of new automated processes and services for our customers.
The best example of digitization benefitting our customers is QTS’ fully digitized, API-driven Service Delivery Platform (SDP). SDP is enabling new levels of visibility, control and innovation in how customers interact with their data contributing to even higher levels of satisfaction. It enables remote provisioning of services such as cloud connectivity, remote management of services and resources, and can monitor bandwidth usage and power capacity thresholds and be alerted before there is any impact. It also represents another feedback loop carefully analyzed for customer experience improvements.
This was particularly apparent following the COVID-19 outbreak as average session time on the SDP platform doubled compared the year prior. QTS reported significant increases in use of remote access capabilities including provisioning of multi-cloud and site-to-site connectivity and real-time bandwidth management, viewing and managing real-time power utilization, full visibility of customers’ inventory of assets within the data center and executing online ordering.
Today, we view the Customer Experience as the sum of interactions across the entire journey customers have with QTS – pre-sales thru renewal. As such, we are expanding our focus beyond NPS and customer service metrics by managing the entire customer lifecycle to create experiences that are unparalleled by competitors. We evaluate data around a wide range of issues to create a 360-degree picture of how a customer grows with QTS. How was their on-boarding experience? How well do the teams synch? How responsive was the sales team? And ultimately, does the data center solution solve a business problem?
NPS is, and will continue to be important for brand awareness and benchmarking, but we are also building a next generation metrics framework for better business visibility. With more leading indicators such a Customer Satisfaction, Customer Effort Score, and First Contact Resolution, we are building a bridge from leading-to-lagging metrics to have better visibility into how our customers are valuing their experience with QTS.
Looking forward, we are focused on advancing from #1 in Customer Service to #1 in Customer Experience. It starts with leveraging the data within our platform while looking for ways to innovate our proactive approach, industry best practices and technology advancements that further increase a customer’s visibility and control over their data center environment.
In the highly competitive data center industry, we believe the ability to extend beyond great customer service to a customer experience is becoming the critical differentiator as customers make more value-decisions broader than just service transactions, and QTS is ready.
Always measurable. Always accountable. Trust is more than a word at QTS.
** This article is part of a series on QTS’ Collaborate. Innovate! initiative. For more information, check out our C.I. website here.