How I found Peace and Love in an Ecommerce Startup

Once upon a time in a land far far away we owned a startup at the cutting edge of ecommerce. In an unlikely series of events I learned all about peace and love!

We were a typical startup with a new technology. We built our App, executed our sales and marketing plan and we serviced our early adopter clients.

Our team worked hard to keep these precious early clients happy. It was a new technology and it was fragile. Our systems crashed 24/7, our clients systems crashed and general mayhem became part of our daily routine.

We were living life at the “bleeding edge” of technology!

The price any tech company pays for innovation is measured in lost sleep, horrific system failures and frayed nerves.

As the CEO and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of a small startup, I reached the point where I just couldn’t face another day. It was a miserable existence.

So I decided to delegate the misery to my team. We developed and installed a monitoring system that polled all of the major systems and processes in our company every few minutes. Any time a computer crashed or a client’s data wasn’t moving quickly enough, a text message (in those days a pager message) was sent to the team members who were on-call.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect anything special to happen. I was just spreading the misery around, because I couldn’t take the stress anymore.

At first, the team responded by dealing with the individual problems more promptly and I didn’t need to handle all the cases myself.

But something magical happened. I found peace and love!

As the team got these pager messages at all hours of the day and night, the whole team experienced the hellish nightmare of constant outages. They began to suggest ways to fix the underlying issues that caused these problems. The system quickly became more robust and in some cases “self healing”. Peace was achieved.

But love came in the most unexpected way.

As we improved our monitoring systems and our system’s quality improved, we found our customers were the primary cause of 99% of the remaining problems that continued to occur.

We actually found ourselves calling our clients and telling our clients their server had crashed BEFORE our client knew they had a problem.

Prior to this development, the evolution of a client’s problem was as follows:

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1. Bliss – Client is blissfully going about the day, presumably happy with our service.

2. Problem – The problem occurs, no one knows it’s happening.

3. Client Notices – The client notices a problem (usually because the client’s customers were complaining) and goes into battle mode.

4. Client Calls – The client decides we are the problem and calls us with an air of urgency bordering on hostility.

5. Service Recovery – We go into crisis mode and discover that the problem is happening on our client’s server. This is sometimes called the “Service Recovery Phase” – during which companies spend a lot of money recovering the lost good will of the customer.

6. Resolution – Difficult conversation with client during which the client feels awkward and we’re not having a positive bonding experience.

7. Bad Feelings – Problem solved but nerves are frayed and client isn’t harboring a positive feeling about our company.

8.  Fall Out – For a few days or weeks after the problem is resolved the client blames every system failure on us, because they assume we’re incompetent.

After we installed the monitoring system:

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1. Bliss – Client is blissfully going about the day, presumably happy with our service.

2. Problem – The problem occurs, no one knows it’s happening.

3. Monitoring System Alert – We receive a notification from our monitoring system within seconds of the problem being detected.

4. We Call Client – We call the client before he\she knows the problem exists.

5. Service Recovery – We suggest the solution to the client (we know the cause of the problem because our monitoring system has identified the issue). The client is NOT in battle mode and is relaxed and happy to be in the hands of people who care. After all, when was the last time any service provider contacted you when you were having a problem?

6. Love – The client, who has just experienced a problem, actually loves us more than ever before.

Yes, we actually found our clients loved us more when problems happened. We’re talking about true love, the kind of love that strengthens in adversity.

I describe this situation as the race to the telephone.  If the client calls us before we call the client, we lose.

We use a similar system for MondoPlayer. In a Business to Consumer setting we don’t contact the client, but we respond behind the scenes to make the problem go away before the client notices.

My advice to any company:

1. Get real-time monitoring systems that notify everyone in a position to solve the problem quickly.

2. Include senior management in these alerts, so front line personnel know these problems are being noticed by their supervisors.

3. Be proactive and treat your client’s problems as though they were yours. I can’t emphasis this enough. Even if the client is causing the problem, they are having the problem on your turf and you need to own it.

4. Find ways to eliminate problems from reoccurring. A zero tolerance to problems should be your goal.

5. Make sure the monitoring system is designed to send out an “All Clear” message when a problem is solved.  Keep track of the time it takes you to solve it.

And don’t be surprised if you find peace and love along the way.

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