200 Westside Square, Ste. 600
Huntsville, AL 35801
"The goal in blogging/business/inspiring non-fiction is to share a truth, or at least a truth as the writer sees it. To not just share it, but to spread it and to cause change to happen."
Years ago, API Digital decided to build a better business model, one that truly solves technology problems and offers real value to the customer. We decided to take a critical look at technology management processes and call center operations. These are the key problems we uncovered:
Call centers are efficient, but not necessarily effective. Call centers are set up to take calls, take record of problems, and forward this information along to a separate group who then works on a solution. In essence, A call center resembles part of a factory line. They carry out a specific role, but have limited involvement in the overall solution.
The motivation of a call center directly opposes the goals for having a call center--providing customer service excellence through solving technical problems. The majority of outsourced call centers are paid per call. Thus, call center representatives are motivated to get off the phone as quickly as possible in order to take more calls. The result of high quantity pressure is low quality customer service.
Call centers are reactive only. A network problem has already occurred by the time a call center representative is involved.
In essence, call centers neither solve problems nor provide good customer service.
API Digital made it our mission to find a better way to support our customers. In doing so, we came to the understanding that businesses do not need a call center, they need a customer solution provider.
A customer solution provider genuinely cares about helping a business reach their goals through providing excellent customer service and significantly improving the technology process.
We decided to go back to the drawing boards to find a more effective technology support model that actually solves technology problems and provides excellent customer service.
Here’s what we came up with:
Effective technology support services have knowledgeable, technical representatives answering every call. Not only do they have the technical chops to walk the customer through an issue, they are involved throughout the entire solution process; including taking extra steps to follow-up with the customer once a solution is in place.
Solution providers need to be motivated to solve the root of the problem. If we solve technology problems all the way down to the root of the issue, our customers experience a quieter, more reliable technology experience. Additionally, if our motivation is to take the time to solve the core issue, it changes the way we talk to the customer; resulting in a better customer experience.
Customer solution groups need a proactive education component. A call center that only reacts to issues is not enough to keep up with the high demands of business technology requirements. You need a smarter solution. API Digital digital addressed this need with our very own proactive component to technology support. We believe it is essential to catch issues on your network before they become service impacting. Our NOC continuously watches your network to solve problems fast. They also serve our customer solution representatives by educating them on network related problems. Should a mass issue occur, our staff is already aware of the problem and working on a solution, often times before our customer calls in to report the issue.
This technology support strategy proved to be a huge success for API Digital. Our genuine approach to customer care was immediately attractive to the rural telecommunications industry, who not only entrusted us with their own technology support but also with supporting their hundreds of thousands of customers. Likewise, large enterprises are partnering with us for their daily technology support operations. They are attracted to our multiple carrier bandwidth options, our continuously supported colocation facilities, and our ability to effectively monitor and support numerous technology components for their hundreds of locations across the country.
We are committed to finding technology solutions and have a vested interest in helping your business technology run effectively.
We take our technical support seriously, but today API Digital asked our staff to show off their technical genius in a slightly different way.
Trends in Twitter gave us a little inspiration for a fun Friday post.
API Digital staff had some pretty smart ideas for #nerdierbands!
Here are our favorites:
We would love to hear your genius #nerdierbands ideas! Mention @API_Digital with your #nerdierbands tweet. Happy Friday!
- A Dell
- Maroon 404
- Ne-Yoyo mode
- U10, via@benstein, twitter follower
- Fleetwood PC
- Tiddly ;)
- Black IPs
- Lady Antivirus
- Johnny Cashe
- Foobar Fighter
- Air Supply
- AC or DC
- The Black Keyboards
- Def Leopards
- Motor <head>
- Programmer None the Richer
- #ff69b4 Floyd
- Bare Naked DSL A dies
About API Digital:
Founded in 1999, API Digital is a networking communications and managed IT services provider supporting hundreds of thousands of users across the US and internationally. Leveraging our own network and data centers in cooperation with the world’s leading network providers, API Digital delivers carrier-class connectivity and collocation. From our 24x7x365 Network Operations Center, API Digital also provides live support services including proactive monitoring, engineering, and end-user support.
Every business is unique, as are its technology requirements. Regardless of size, industry, or geography, API Digital employs solutions that individually maximize business continuity and network performance for each customer. By focusing on continuous improvement and continuity of business operations, API Digital makes technology work for its customers, not the other way around.
"When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."
-Steve Jobs, Apple Co-founder
Your customer doesn't see all of the technology your business uses. But they do experience it.
API Digital ensures the quality of your technology is carried out all the way through, day and night.
While you soundly sleep, API Digital has eyes on your network. And in the morning, API Digital continues to watch your technology so your business can stay focused on what is most important to you.
2012 was a productive, prosperous, and humbling year for API Digital. We would like to take a few minutes to say thank you to our Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook followers and express our sincere appreciation to our blog readership for actively joining in our conversations last year.
You encouraged us as we sought new ventures, and challenged us to provide you with simple and revolutionary ways to solve the network problems that are most important to your business.
We took a look back at our conversations over the last 365 days and came up with our five most talked about technology topics of the year.
#5: Jumpstarting your IT department. Our fifth leading topic of the year came from our first blog leading into 2012. IT departments face increasing workload due integration of technology into the core business function. Meanwhile, IT department managers are under constant pressure to cut costs and increase productivity. We took a look at ways to maximize your investment and decrease risk. Considering lean IT principles brought to light the value of eliminating or outsourcing tasks that distract or delay project implementation.
#4 The value of colocation. Continuity of operations is key. In the event of a disaster, we found that it is possible to recover--sometimes before the event becomes service impacting--when you:
- hire the right people who act quickly
- focus on policy and accuracy
- have a well defined plan
- carefully follow detailed procedures
#3 Forward thinking help desk and technology support. We considered the true cost of in-house support and discussed how eliminating transfers, minimize wait times, and finding smart solutions help improve customer satisfaction and employee productivity.
#2 Our first runner-up topic focused on proactive vs. reactive network monitoring. More specifically, a lot of you were not only interested in discussing what technology endpoints need to be monitored, but also the methodology for responding to network issues (proactive vs. reactive approach). We found that a reactive approach can be costly due to loss of revenue and employee downtime. An effective proactive approach to monitoring relies on three action steps:
The common theme of each of our network monitoring discussions was: systems do not solve network problems, people do.
Regardless of how much you invest in monitoring software, equipment, and data center accessibility, having the right people actively responding to issues at the earliest stage possible best results in continuity of business operations. This year, join in our conversations:
- Building a stronger network for businesses with multiple locations across the country
- The point when monitoring becomes a workday distraction: unnecessary alarms and rapid escalation processes
- Where and how: network monitoring for IT project planning
#1 The number one technology topic for API Digital in 2012 is:
IT Management Challenges and Best Practices
Infrastructure and operations (I&O) managers faced a lot of challenges in 2012. They withstood the demand to “do more with less” resources. In the meantime, IT complexity increased due to continuous technology integration as well as the phasing out of old systems, replaced with new ones. It was noted how easy it is to focus on the system itself and make lean IT principles and value demonstration an afterthought.
Our leading conversations on the subject of IT management drew hundreds of viewers that led to numerous comments throughout our various social media platforms: Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Thank you for joining in our conversations on today’s business technology management and customer service improvement. We invite you to join us again this year as we dive deeper into the challenges and rewards that come from business technology management.
Here’s a sneak peak at what to expect from API Digital in 2013:
- Revealing your OASIS: Discovering your full operations and support potential
- Understanding your connectivity personality: What kind of bandwidth user are you?
- What exactly are you getting (and giving up) by moving to the cloud?
- Changes and challenges for the Telecommunications industry in 2013
- Tips for seamless connectivity for multiple business locations
IT departments have more responsibility for critical aspects of business in 2013 than they had even three years ago.
The core of enterprise business today is integrated with technology. Even a simple change in technology function can improve work quality and flow. It improves business operations, support, communication, and market measurement. Regardless of the level of complexity, what should you consider when determining how technology changes impact the workload of your IT department?
A common mistake for IT projects is the failure to plan for the true impact a project will have on an IT department. Your IT department will influence many phases of the project; having a hand in the research and planning, training and implementation, as well as technology support. It is easy to focus only on areas where the impact of technology change will improve business function. Not considering the full workload a project will require of your IT department has the potential to overload your valuable technical employees, resulting in a diminishing project return.
3 things to consider when planning your next IT project:
- The amount of additional workload your existing IT department can productively absorb
- The financial burden on your IT department budget
- Activities and projects that are at risk of being neglected when a new project is underway
How do IT managers face this challenge? Under the demands of an increasing workload today's IT managers:
- Prioritize Tasks. Workload delegation is key. Managers are tasked with continuously challenging their employees. Key to this task is keeping higher skilled workers off of tasks that have little effect on the bottom line.
- Become More Specialized. Strive to make smarter hires. Managers invest in employees that are not only the top of their trade but they invest in people that really understand and value the core of their business.
- Value Partnerships. Tasking necessary processes to specialists outside of your company (processes that are important to carrying out business in general but not necessarily the focus of your business) frees your company to stay focused on the core your business.
How do you know if your IT department is experiencing workload strain? Warning signs that your IT department may be producing inefficient or diminishing returns include:
- Missed or delayed project deadlines
- Under challenged employees
- Decrease in creative solutions
- Stressed or overworked employees
- Compromised customer service
API Digital is an IT services partner. We take care of recurring tasks so that IT departments can focus on what is core to their business. Our enterprise and telecommunication technology services include 24x7x365 network monitoring, help desk and engineering support, a suite of connectivity and bandwidth options, and colocation facilities in Chicago, Atlanta, and Huntsville (AL). Find out more information on how API Digital can supplement your existing IT department at API Digital Core Services.
You may also be interested in:
Proactive or Reactive? The Smartest Strategy for Network Monitoring
Attractive Network Strategies: How Peering Helps You Stay Connected
The Key Benefits of Netflow Data Analysis for Enterprises
API Digital is proud to have sponsored and participated in the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce first annual Technology Summit held this week at the Jackson Center in Cummings Research Park. The event attracted some of the brightest businesses and individuals who influence technology in Huntsville. The focus of this year’s conference was “Commercialization: Transitioning your business from Federal to commercial marketspace.”
Five speakers spoke candidly about their experiences of crossing this chasm -- sharing their stories of success & failure alike. Representatives from several notable Huntsville based businesses and federal programs lead two panel discussions from impromptu audience questions, moderated by Gary Tauss, CEO of BizTech and Stephen Hassell, President of Emerson. Panelist Jeff Gronberg, President of deciBel Research, discussed a partnership that his business has going with Baron Services that will improve weather prediction accuracy.
The Technology Summit showcased technologies developed by Huntsville companies. PeopleTech demonstrated a robotic simulator that leveraged off the shelf consumer-level components. Their robot used an XBox Kinect, among other consumer-level technologies, to navigate around obstacles. We also heard about a technology developed by Carina Technology, Inc. that promotes energy efficiency by programming your key appliances (dishwasher, washing machine, etc.) to run during hours of the day when consumers are using less energy.
Partnership was the overarching theme of the event along with people, preparation, and proactivity. Dr. Mark Bendickson noted in his presentation, “Partnerships are key to staying competitive. They offer fresh, expert insight on specialized areas of your project.” His reasoning was simple. All businesses have specific areas of expertise yet all projects require a wide range of skillsets, some of which are outside of the focus of your business. To remain competitive, companies should leverage the talents and expertise of partners that specialize in areas outside of their own core focus.
This message of leveraging partnerships to prevent being distracted from your company’s core initiatives is a key philosophy of API Digital. API Digital provides the operational IT support. Our support enables our partners to move forward to the next key technology; allowing them to focus on business results in real time. The idea is to leverage existing technologies and capabilities to help bring Information Technology under control freeing partners to learn, exploit, and implement new innovations to maximize customer impact.
API Digital applies simple, proven methods to get the job done; enabling partners to create an organization that masters innovation, rather than becoming a slave to technology.
For many businesses, your customer service is the “face” of your business.
In fact, today’s technology driven buyer is even more apt to commit to a contract through electronic communication, sometimes eliminating the need for a face-to-face, pen-and-ink deal. Once the transaction is made, your customer service becomes the main representation of how your customer perceives your business. It also is the single most important factor in sustaining your customer base and getting repeat business.
First, lets take a look at what is going through your customer’s mind when they take the time to contact your customer support center. For the sake of this example, lets say they are making a call to your staffed call center. It is important to remember that people usually call because your organization has let them down in some way. They may even have a chip on their shoulder about it. Nonetheless, there is a real opportunity here to make someone's day and even improve the way this customer perceives your business.
There are 3 key ways to accomplish this:
1. Eliminate transfers
2. Minimize wait times
3. Solve their problem
Sounds simple, but you would be surprised at the number of businesses that are not disciplined by these three customer call center best practices.
You customer service team is the face of your company, not your CEO.
Excellent customer service builds confidence in your customer to believe that if they picked up the phone and called the President of your company, the President of your company would drop everything to help them solve their problem. The reality is, your President or CEO will not be the one answering your customer calls. Let’s hope not! What is important here is to create a process that gets your customer directly connected with the right person to solve their problem.
Think about how pleased you are when the person that answers your customer care call is the same person that is able to help you solve your problem. It actually does build confidence in your customer about your business. The reason is, a one-touch support call:
- makes your employees seem more knowledgeable
- tells your customer that you care about not wasting their time
- eliminates the risk of dropped calls and incorrect transfers
- makes your customer feel like their call is important to everyone in your company
This last bullet is worth repeating: It actually makes your customer feel like their call is important to everyone in your company. If your customer service person listens to your customer’s problem, acts on it, and walks the customer through a solution that customer will have confidence that everyone in your company cares about their business.
Your customer has the patience to wait for their Doctor, and that is about it.
There are only a hand full of appointments on my calendar that I allow a one-hour grace period for waiting. And I’m about fed up with these businesses too. I sound like my sweet Southern Grandmother when asked how a visit to my dentist went, “Well, it was alright. I had to wait 20 minutes after my appointment to get into the waiting room. Then i waited there 15 more minutes for the nurse. It took 30 minutes for the Doctor to finally see me, but his news was good so I’m happy.”
Seriously? Not many other businesses can survive making their customer wait over an hour to get what they are willing to pay for---and these same customers actually call you to make the appointment for the sale. Can you imagine how unbelievably incredible it would be for a Doctor’s office to understand this concept? Their practice would explode if they revolutionized their customer service practices.
Fixing only the surface of the problem is like putting a bandage on a leaky faucet.
If a customer has a problem, don’t be satisfied by simply making the pain go away. If you solve only the surface of an issue, the problem will come back and may be bigger (and more costly) the next time around.
We at API Digital believe that a problem is only fixed from the root of the issue. We have built a business around having the right people performing a root cause analysis of all network and customer service related issues in an effort to find permanent solutions for problems. Our customers genuinely appreciate the time and attention that we afford to our customer service and we credit the success of our business over the last decade to our commitment to providing dedicated support services to our customers and to their end users also.
In partnership with Hy Creative, engineers at API Digital develop a method for testing Appleton’s revolutionary web application, geniuStyle (TM).
All three companies were founded in Huntsville, AL in the last 15 years.
"We put a lot of work into our website designs. Our interactive tools have to be functional, attractive, and user friendly," says Nevin Langdon, CEO of Hy Creative.
Veteran web developer and CSG Manager at API Digital, Eric Johnston, developed and directed the project. “Our testing provides a third party opinion. We find breaks in the application design and provide an accountability list for the problems that we see. The rest is up to them.”
The application test was designed in 2 phases. The first phase consists of a functionality test and a user experience summary. The second phase tested online payment processing for the application.
“We examined its functionality on various platforms [PC, Mac, and Mobile], and operating systems. We also tested the application on multiple browsers...From these tests, we were able to determine a minimum requirement recommendation for running the application.”
The entire staff at API Digital was recruited to help test for user experience.
Scott Pell, CIO of API Digital, made the request to have all employees take part in this portion of the testing. “It was a win-win for all of us. They [Hy Creative] get a functional web application, we get a better understanding of our employees and Appleton gets a cool website. I look forward to getting Appleton’s final evaluation of our company profile.”
This is the first test of its kind for API Digital, but Mr. Johnston isn’t a stranger to the challenge. “I’ve designed application testing many times before. We have all the capabilities here to do it.”
“It gave us valuable unbiased feedback on user experience” said Langdon. “We’ll work with API Digital on more projects like this one in the future.”
You may also be interested in:
My first few jobs were in retail, restaurants mostly.
I have a mental library of stories from my experience in the food industry. The bad experiences are usually the first to come to mind.
One of the most chaotic and least profitable work days that I recall happened during a busy lunch rush. The restaurant was packed and I was responsible for attending to more guests than corporate would have approved.
But so was the rest of the staff. We had a very lean shift that day.
Then the computers crashed.
Our restaurant relied on this computer system for every aspect of operation. The most immediate problem was the communication block between the kitchen and the staff. We couldn’t place orders, prep food, print bills or close tabs. Business was at a standstill.
Our manager quickly pulled out an “emergency kit.” It was a plastic box that contained archaic tools for operation such as a calculator, a manual credit card swiper, and a tax and tip calculation chart.
Servers had to look up prices in menus and calculate bills. That is, for the fraction of customers that were patient enough to stick around.
Before long the managers started telling customers that their meal was ‘on the house.’
New orders had to be written down and handed to the kitchen staff who taped them in a row across the hot window. One by one the cooks attempted to read what the servers had written. If they couldn’t figure the ticket out (we all had our own shorthand styles) the server had to go back and explain it.
Our vibrant restaurant slowed to the pace of a mom & pop diner. And that is not what our business lunch customers expected. And they let us know. Like I said, bad experiences are usually the ones that stick with you. We lost some customers that day.
One of my regular customers, a friendly sales guy that came in at least once a week, was extremely frustrated. He had brought a potential client to lunch that afternoon.
Employees made minimal tips that day and the store lost thousands of dollars in revenue. On the back end, managers had a huge task ahead of them coming up an accurate report for the day. How could they know for certain how much inventory, taxes, and tip-share to record? The computer system normally tracks that for them.
The trickle-down affect of that day was painful. Because inventory was unaccounted for, the next truck shipment was off, resulting in the store running out of food & supplies for weeks to follow. The store dropped dramatically in sales numbers, prompting a visit from corporate.
All because the network went down for 4 hours.
You may also be interested in: