Tear down the wall: Why do cloud companies hate their users?

The forward-looking business mantra in today’s cloud-connected world seems to be this: automate or die. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the basic idea behind automation. It’s efficient, it scales easily, and it has tremendous power. After all, wasn’t it Albert Einstein who once said that “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.” Regardless of whether or not this is an authentic quote of Einstein’s, I think we can all agree that the ability to put your money in an interest-bearing account and let it automatically grow over time can be a truly wondrous thing — as long as the interest rate you have locked in his higher than the current rate of inflation.

That’s the essence of automation and the holy grail sought by today’s cloud services businesses, namely to set up a self-service storefront for customers and then sit back and watch your company’s bottom line grow steadily over time. The problem comes with how this seemingly simple model is implemented. While automation can bring a windfall in terms of business efficiency for your cloud services company, it can also end up alienating your customers and driving new business away if it’s not done properly on your part. To see this let’s look at some common frustrations when using the web storefront of cloud services companies that may end up aggravating us to the point that we walk away taking our business elsewhere.

No free samples without creating an account

Ever been frustrated because you can’t even sample or test-drive a cloud service unless you first fill out a detailed form that includes your great-great-grandmother’s maiden name? The requirement of needing you to create an account before you can even see or experience what the provider has to offer your business is a turn off that can quickly drive the potential customer away from your offerings. And the more information you need to provide when setting up an account or the more steps you need to walk through to accomplish this, the greater the probability the potential customer will simply give up and walk away in disgust.

I’ve even seen examples where you can’t even know exactly what services the company provides or how they can benefit you unless you first go about the laborious process of filling out page after page of forms and then wait for the promised confirmation email so you can click a link to activate your account. Then after finally logging on to your newly created account you discover yet another form or questionnaire you need to complete before you can begin to examine what services the company can provide for your business. And don’t even get me started about asking me for a credit card number just so I can sample what you’re offering with your services. What have you got to hide?

Error creating account, please try again

cloud companies hate their usersIn this agile, scalable, Dev-Ops enabled world, one might assume that any new cloud services company would invest sufficient startup resources into their accounts management infrastructure that any attempt by a customer to create a new account would work quickly and flawlessly. Why then do I get “system error” or “server too busy” or “something happened” or some similar message when I finish filling out the new account form and press “submit”? How can this kind of thing happen in today’s web-savvy business world? With compute resources so cheap nowadays regardless of whether a company uses AWS or Azure or some other cloud platform, how can a new provider of services possibly fail to build a sufficiently robust and available account management system for their customer portal? What are you doing with all that seed money you’ve raised?

Help that’s no help at all

Whether you have a problem with your account or with trying to get one of their offered services to work properly, it’s almost a given that at some point in your “customer experience” you’re going to need some help. If help is almost certainly necessary to be needed like this, why conceal it behind a FAQ and search box? OK, I’ve read through the eight questions in your Help FAQ and no, not one of them has any relationship at all to the type of problem I am experiencing. So now I need to “type your question” into the Search box on your Help page. OK, I’ve done that, and none of the first three pages of responses I get give me any help at all with the problem I’m facing. In fact most of the responses seem to have nothing to do even with the question I have typed into your Search box!

Why can’t you just shown be a complete list of ALL help topics stored in your support database and just let me scroll through them so I can look for one that might be relevant to the issue I’m facing? Why hide your help from me like this? Maybe because you haven’t invested any money or effort in building a help database for your customers? What do your devs spend all their time doing anyway, playing foosball?

What, you want ME to help?

And you want me to upvote the solution that helps me solve the problem? Oh, I get it — you don’t want to invest ANY of your company resources into helping your customers. Instead, you want to crowdsource all help, making use of how one customer helps another. I get that, peer help like this is a common feature of forums for open source and even proprietary software. But seriously, you’re just starting out with your cloud offerings and trying to attract customers and you haven’t yet built a core community of expert customers or offered them much motivation for sharing their knowledge with newcomers to your services. Plus you’re constantly changing your services, adding new features and removing others, even changing the underlying access control and authorization systems, so apart from your own in-house developers there really are no experts who can tell us why something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to or the way we think it’s supposed to. Maybe your devs don’t even know what your platform does — they’ve just automated everything and gone on to other stuff. I’m busy as all get out trying to build my own business and you want me to help you build yours? Are you serious?

I know where you’re going

cloud companies hate their users
Flickr / Cory Doctorow

Yes, I admit I didn’t read your customer licensing agreement before I signed up and created an account with your company. Really though, I know why you don’t really care about us as customers — you just want to sign up as many of us as you can so you can market yourself as an attractive asset that can add value to some larger enterprise. You really don’t want to build a business, you just want to sell out and take the money and run. And you wonder why I haven’t shown any interest in the exciting cloud services your company is offering us.

Life is too short and my business is too precious for me to waste time trying to figure out what it is you’re actually offering me as a customer. So I refuse to create an account just to try out your services. I refuse to provide you with any personal information and especially my credit card. I refuse to let you use me to help build your Help FAQ. And at the merest sign of session timeout or service glitch, I’m abandoning any use I’m making of your services. Or did you really think my goal in life is to help you cash out and retire?

A word of advice about your business model

I was going to end this article by saying that I’m the new customer, I’m angry, and I won’t take it anymore. But then I realized I’m not really angry about the way you promote and offer your highly automated but poorly implemented cloud services because I really am too busy with my own personal business affairs to care. But I will end up by offering you one small word of advice. If your cloud services company ends up failing (which is about 98 percent certain in today’s dog-eat-dog world), then you might want to turn your automation skills towards a career where automation is actually making a difference: engraving tombstones. And while you’re at it you might want to engrave a tombstone for your own company before it bites the dust.

Photo credit: FreeRange Stock

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