The customer comes first, and there’s no industry where that saying rings true like in information technology and services. Perks that were once regarded as exceptional, such as 24/7 support and real-time responsiveness, have become the de facto standard. On top of that, customers are becoming increasingly critical of the services we offer them. A missing feature or temporary outage is sometimes enough reason for customers to switch over to a competitor.
In 2013, the experience management firm Walker predicted that customer experience would overtake price and product as the key differentiator in 2020. Two years later, it’s clear that they were on the right track. The so-called digital customer experience is more important than ever. Customers have a lasting impression after interacting with digital interfaces, and it often determines whether they will return for future transactions. In what follows, we will look at how using PaaS and cloud-native development can improve those digital experiences.
Gotta handle ’em all
First, let’s look at an interesting case study. When software development and publishing company Niantic launched Pokémon Go in 2016, the engineering team thought they had made the necessary preparations. In the weeks leading up to the launch, they load-tested their software stack to handle up to five times the highest estimated number of concurrent users. Little did they know that in the weeks following the release, the actual number of users would reach fifty-five times that estimate.
While this is an extreme example, the same might happen to your business to some degree. Infrastructure teams being lifted from their beds in the middle of the night to deal with some sort of unpredicted influx are no longer an exception by any shot. On the other hand, expected but equally difficult to deal with peak loads still occur. Examples include an e-commerce website during Black Friday, an online tax registration site on the day before the annual deadline, and time registration during a large sports event.
Hardware only goes halfway
How can you prepare for situations like these, keeping in mind that service interruptions are potentially disastrous to those first impressions? One way of handling it is the tried-and-true hardware route: simply buying some extra servers and other necessary components. However, there’s two disadvantages to this method. First, setting up this extra hardware requires time and expertise — and therefore money. Second, it is hard to predict actual usage. Peak moments and dull periods may skew your expectations (and corresponding investments) so your hardware will never be utilised optimally.
In other words, a classic infrastructure will never achieve the required elasticity. The only way to go about this is abstracting the infrastructure layer. Instead of being physically represented as a data centre, the infrastructure should be built on top of scalable platform components provided by the cloud. Their pay-per-use business model ensures near limitless scalability without idling costs.
The world is your operational oyster
If your company, like ours, is in a small country such as Belgium, one way of growing your business is to expand geographically. From a technical point of view, nothing is stopping your digital services from crossing borders. However, what about the customer experience when it comes to latency? How do you make sure that customers connecting from Brisbane have the same experience as those tuning in from Brussels?
The answer is yet another feature offered by cloud solution providers: GEO optimisation. This ensures that content is placed as close as possible to your customers. With most providers, turning this on requires a mere click of a button. Static content like pictures and CSS style sheets are delivered with the help of Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). Data is synchronised between multiple databases across the globe. Apps can be hosted all over the world, depending on your customer’s needs. Providing a seamless experience like this will do wonders for those important first impressions.
Staying ahead of the game
If you want to provide a best-in-class digital customer experience, a lackadaisical attitude just won’t cut it. The key here is continuous improvement: you should constantly improve the service you provide. Updated functionalities should be put out quickly, frequently, and with a consistent quality. Again: customers nowadays expect nothing less.
Your developers should no longer be troubled with hardware spec sheets like in the days of yore. Instead, their valuable time should be spent on what they are best at: writing code and innovating. Relieving them from infrastructure burdens by moving to PaaS will do just that and more. More, because using cloud-native development in conjunction with PaaS gives you an edge over your competitors.
By providing your developers with the best possible development experience, their work will be faster, better, and less prone to errors. You will be able to deploy and test these faster, resilient iterations in a fully automated and integrated environment, preventing even more potentially fatal mistakes.