In late 2018 when we opened TRG, we decided to make remote hands-on and cross-connects free (see this article on why we do cross-connect connects free). Free remote hands-on was met with bewilderment, and at times skepticism. Admittedly, this thought initially emerged simply as a concession in our goal to eliminate nickel and diming our customers. Still, it has evolved into a much nobler purpose with far-reaching consequences, which we explore in-depth.
How We Do It
We offer a non-emergency, non-SLA’d “best Effort” free remote hands-on tier that is entirely free. We additionally provide a paged SLA’d emergency ticket queue that is $250/hour billed in 15-minute increments. Over the last year, we have recorded ZERO emergency tickets, and we have recorded three tickets since the inception of the facility.
We will explain the profound ramifications of this design below.
Solve the classic “ticket queue” problem
Almost every IT person has answered a support ticket. Whenever I discuss free remote hands-on with customers, I ask them two questions:
- What do people set the ticket level? The answer is always “HIGH” or “CRITICAL.”
- Whose ticket do you answer first?
We find that, given no incentive to do otherwise, people always seek the quickest resolution benefiting themselves, and thereby entirely defeat the purpose of the “Importance Level.” This “Always Critical” mindset is something that we will come back to discuss shortly.
So, if five people submit tickets at the same time, who gets a response first and in what order? We often find that, with a traditional data center or IT approach to tickets, the answer quickly becomes tribal. Highest revenue client, personal relationships, loudest client, etc. are all excellent examples and use cases in current practice.
By separating the ticket queue, we can focus on solving tickets in the non-emergency queue in a practical way, and jump on the extremely infrequent emergency ticket when it does occur.
Set mutual expectations
When customers fill out a ticket, it returns a receipt stating NON-EMERGENCY TICKET OPENED. When we onboard clients, we go through great effort to explain the ticket queue system we operate and how it works. The non-emergency is best effort, usually, pretty quick, almost always the same shift, while the emergency ticket is an instant response with paged escalation throughout the organization.
By opening a non-emergency ticket, through training and affirmation, they UNDERSTAND WHAT TO EXPECT. What we have found is that setting and meeting expectations is the most important activity to a successful relationship, not some arbitrary SLA that cannot realistically be met with traditional staffing models and always fails.
Reduce alarm fatigue & Protect Our Employees
As a leader in my organization, it is my deep understanding that I work for my employees and customers. I need to serve both to be successful. Alarm fatigue is a significant issue in our industry, and when everything is an emergency, people become numb and calloused to those emergencies. This lack of empathy on one side can cause MAJOR customer service interaction issues, but it can also cause unnecessary stress and turn-over within an organization.
Staff turn-over and training is one of the largest and riskiest issues in a mission-critical organization. Having a deep understanding and filter of qualifying emergencies and properly applying pressure to your team members is incredibly important. The reduced emergency ticket volume and building a truly fault-tolerant infrastructure (read more about that here for understanding the cornerstone of digital transformation and any transformation efforts) have almost eliminated the “interruption emergency culture” that is pervasive and problematic in NOC’s today.
Our job satisfaction and hybrid NOC member models create higher-paying NOC Jobs (our average is currently 25% above the industry average for our city). Building long term members, at the most basic level of the organization, is a crucial building block for educating and creating a successful organization. These NOC members are often non-traditional hybrid candidates instead of the old “Help Desk Guy” model, contributing to the TRG Difference in a large plurality of very diverse ways.
Our NOC team has become a defining feature of our organization in many ways, where the rubber hits the road for TRG.
Free resources for actual emergencies, high-value activities, and customer evangelism
Eliminating the constant state of alarm and unclear priority system within the ticket queue allows us to be extremely “Johnny On the Spot” for actual emergencies. What is beautiful about the term actual emergencies, is these aren’t dictated solely by us either. Suppose a customer deems something is an emergency to them. In that case, they can submit a paid escalation emergency ticket, and under the circumstances, they are happy and thankful to do so and pay for it. Since our free tickets capture >99% of ticket volume at TRG, these emergency tickets are extremely infrequent, so our team reacts strongly to them.
Getting away from the mental static and alarm fatigue allows us to look beyond the NOC room desk and continue to think about improving the customer experience. Making remote hands-on free has empowered us to think about what else we can do to help our customers, since its free anyways!
Foster Collaboration Between My Employees and Customers
If we remove the mental block from billing our customers like lawyers whenever they pick up the phone, we become empowered to think outside of the box to provide value-added services in other ways. Instead of leading with accounting, we lead with experience and engineering. IT Departments are willing to pay for the actual value. Our transformation has led to several successful additions to our organization, such as Colo+ and the data center’s thinking as a delivery model versus just a place.
We have embraced the concept of ourselves as “Hoteliers, ” creating an internal 24 point training system inspired by the Ritz Carlton.
How Can We Apply This To Industry? Internal IT Departments?
Many IT teams become 24/7 without having a real 24/7 team. We have staff here 24/7. An internal accounting system to charge departments for emergency tickets, including application support and back end support, will provide a foundation for executing this vision. At its most basic level, the internal team at many of these Internal IT Departments should be non-emergency and see how the ticket volume works. To supplement, external resources to provide that emergency response may be the best solution which will already be paid for by the accounting system. This type of method will provide surge capacity and a healthy working environment of mutual expectations for IT teams.
There is a major opportunity here, and we believe that transformation starts at the most basic levels of things, such as fault tolerance and ticketing systems. Technology should serve the people, not the other way around.