Proactive Customer Service in the Subscription Era

As-a-service technologies and subscription models are changing customer service. In this Tech Barometer podcast segment, the Head of Nutanix Customer Success Inder Sidhu explains the importance of shifting from reactive to proactive customer service.

By Jason Lopez

By Jason Lopez April 16, 2021

Established in 2003 by loyalty guru Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company, the Net Promoter Score is a metric that describes — on a scale from -100 to 100 — how likely customers are to recommend a business to others, how satisfied they are with the company’s products or services, and how loyal they are to the company’s brand.

Net Promoter Score begins with the customer and looks backward, said Inder Sidhu, Executive Vice President of global customer success and business operations at Nutanix, in a podcast interview recorded at .NEXT 2019 in Anaheim, Calif.

But for the technology industry wasn’t always so customer-centric until recently.

“Technology — for all the wonderful new frontiers that we’ve discovered and will continue to discover — is fantastic,” Sidhu said. “But you ultimately need to bring it back toward the customer.”

Companies that want to deliver a positive customer experience must understand their customers’ pain points, and then build their business in a way that addresses them, he said. Not just functionally — with a discrete customer service department or executive-led team — but also culturally.

He said the advent of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and subscriptions turned the industry on its head. Nutanix is in the thick of it, because it recently moved to a predominantly software subscription model.

“Customer centricity must permeate everything,” Sidhu said.


How Tech Turns Customer Service from Reactive to Proactive

Transcript (unedited):

Inder Sidhu: Customers get really mad if they encounter a bug, not because it's a bug, but they get really mad if, to find out that the bug was known, bug had affected other customers implemented it, but nobody told them about it. And there was even a field advisory for it.

Jason Lopez: That’s Inder Sidhu, who oversees customer service for Nutanix. He reminds us that as an organization grows, providing good customer service can get misplaced and gets harder to pull off. Especially when a vendor grows fast or big

Inder Sidhu: Customer centricity becomes front and center. Everything we do has to be a customer in as opposed to factory out. And that site thinks perhaps one of the biggest transformations that we have to make as a company begins with the customer, totally understand what their needs are, what their pinpoints are, and then cater to that and do that. Not as a function within the company, but as a philosophy across the company.

Jason Lopez: Customer service has evolved. It used to be it. Vendors could essentially be order takers. A vendor would sell a major install of hardware or software. And in a few years when those assets had aged and depreciated, they'd circle back for a new purchase order for new gear, this service model has all but disappeared.

Inder Sidhu: Think changed in the industry. And that's called a subscription. People realized as a result of software as a service, that subscription could be turned off. Like if you're getting Time Magazine and you find that you're not reading it, you can turn off the subscription at any point in time. Well, the same thing happened to technology. A subscription can be turned off at any point in time, which means if your product isn't good, if it isn't delivering the outcomes, if it isn't satisfying, the customer's need, then they can turn it off at any time. So you need to continuously get users to customers to adopt your product. Number one, very key to drive adoption. You need to train people on how to use it. So that, that adoption is good. You need to make sure to have a good experience with it. You need to make sure that they're continuously getting value out of it so that when it comes time to renew that subscription, it's a nonevent because they're getting so much value out of it. They're delighted as heck, right? It's an entirely different ball game compared to transactional POC seeking relationships that use to characterize IT vendors of the past.

Jason Lopez: Sidhu says it takes tools like AI. IT vendors can mind client usage, data accumulating on their platforms and create things like knowledge base articles.

Inder Sidhu: The customer is trying to type in and create a case even before they're finished typing in the case, we've shown them the two or three answers to that case so much so that in about 35% of the time, they don't even file a ticket because we've already told them what the answer is based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. So those are examples of how we're leveraging information, machine learning, et cetera, to do things more proactively.

Jason Lopez:  But this is where customer service having a bigger impact on ROI when the vendor's hardware or software is smart enough to send back information about the customer's environment, that data can be used to be predictive.

Inder Sidhu: We're continuously monitoring and saying, look, here's a piece of Nutanix gear. That's about to reach capacity. Here's a piece of Nutanix care. That's about to fail for whatever reason, let's automatically generate about 10% of the cases that we receive. The customer hasn't generated. The system Nutanix has automatically created a ticket and log the case saying that a customer is about to have an issue. That's not reactive. That's proactive, that's predictive in terms of, and so over 10% of our cases are auto-generated before the customer even knows.

Jason Lopez: Analysts say that about 80% of IT, budgets go toward maintenance, hardware, performance, declines over time. And software is in need of updating and patching, especially in terms of security. Customer service is critical to maximizing return on investment. What's happening in the industry is that many IT vendors are making customer service. Part of the fabric of how a customer uses a product. The paradigm has shifted from reaction like when your device goes down and then you call customer service. It's shifted from that to things like recommendation engines, analyzing a customer's clusters, their platforms, their assets, and providing field advisories, upgrades and alerts before problems, mountain

Inder Sidhu: That's predictive in terms of looking at their environment and telling them what to do. So instead of being reactive, which is something broke that the customer calls you, you can be proactive in terms of monitoring their environment and then beyond proactive. The third step is you could be predictive. You could say, look based on our best practice, based on our past patterns, we know that this trend is moving in this direction. One week from now, your cluster is going to be full. Your storage is going to be out of capacity. We think you should do this. So predictably, we think here's the remedial action that we're recommending, right? So when you go from reactive to proactive to predictive.

Jason Lopez: Says a company like Nutanix is moving toward platform as a service, especially as the container movement continues to grow. He believes in becoming hyper-focused on the customer experience. And so his messages live the lives of developers, know their pain points, listen to what they have to say

Inder Sidhu: To our customers. And there are times where I'll ask them, how many people do you have working in the IT shop as engineers? And they'll say we got 50. And I say, how many developers do you have? Who could potentially use our technology? And they say 2000, it's a factor of 10, 20, sometimes 50 times as many people whose day to day lives, we could make far more productive, far more effective, far more engaging through our technologies, which is why. When I look at products like carbon, for us in the container space, the whole containerizing movement that is occurring, it's going to be far, far bigger than what happened with virtualization. And that's to me, an area where we need to learn even more because our products and technologies are actually relevant in that space.

Jason Lopez: Inder Sidhu is the executive vice president of global customer success and business operations at Nutanix.

Jason Lopez is executive producer of Tech Barometer, the podcast outlet for The Forecast. He’s the founder of Connected Social Media. Previously, he was executive producer at PodTech and a reporter at NPR.

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