Cloud has of late been marketed heavily as the panacea to every potential business problem. Lured by the ease-of-use and agility moving to the cloud brings in the business processes, SMBs are very eager to buy cloud services. This creates an enormous opportunity for service providers in the market, and they try to exploit it very aggressively. Only, it’s not as easy as it seems.
Most SMBs find cutting through the fog and hype surrounding the cloud very difficult and struggle to get to grips with the new concept. They’re intrigued by the cloud, but also confused and wary of it. Moving to the cloud involves a very large, expensive and difficult set of problems, and SMBs simply don’t have the skill, resources and most importantly, time to understand every nuance and permutation of the whole process. Even if they buy into it, dealing with the technical issues that come with migrating to the cloud is too uphill a task for them, and they simply end up abdicating the services they bought.
This is where a little more effort needs to be put in by the service providers. A vast majority of SMBs qualify as, and are staffed with, IT novices. When they try to adapt to a new technology, they need help and guidance. However, providing constant quality support is a laborious and time-intensive process, which most service provides are not adept enough to provide.
This is where customer on-boarding platforms and services provider Mural steps in. It works with service providers and small businesses in tandem to accelerate the cloud implementation process.
Steve Zimba, President of Mural, spoke to us at length on how Mural educates SMBs about the cloud and helps them relieve the pain points they most often experience. Support is however a very small subset of the services that Mural provides. Read away as Steve talks about the rest of them.
As we on-board customers, we work to capture deeper profile information about them and we reach a point where we actually understand a lot more about the service provider’s customers than the service provider does, and we use that data to work with the service providers on product planning, engagement programs and up-selling activities.
– Steve Zimba, Presiden, Mural.
Q: Let’s begin with a broad overview of Mural and the entire ecosystem of solutions it provides.
A: We see that a lot of SMBs want to move from traditional IT into the cloud, and they clearly see the benefits of doing so, and they don’t feel that there is any risk or downside of moving to the cloud. However, they find it very difficult to make the move. They lack the internal IT skills, and frankly they don’t have a lot of time.
We at Mural work with SMBs, and help make it easy, fast and economical for them to move to the Cloud. We provide our Platform MaaX and integrate our on-boarding capabilities to a cloud or managed IT service provider’s offerings.
As an example, a service provider selling a Hosted Exchange solution to a small business also adds on our on-boarding services. After the customer buys Hosted Exchange, we take over and help them migrate. We move all the data, set up all the clients, software, service configurations and we also do all the end user training, on-boarding and adoption.
Q: Many SMBs have a multitude of concerns related to the costs of moving to the cloud, flexibility and data safety. Since you happen to be in the Cloud Industry since long and provide customers with end to end cloud service implementation platforms now, can you tell us some of the most common concerns you come across?
A:I think over time we are actually encountering very few concerns. If you were to look back just a couple of years, some of the main concerns SMBs had about moving to the cloud were around security, reliability etc.
Now SMBs are concerned with having to upgrade or change their existing technologies because a lot of them are quickly becoming outdated. With all the promotions and expansions in the cloud capabilities, communications, collaborations, security, backups, servers etc., what we’re finding is that the SMBs now don’t really care about some of the concerns they might have had in the past, and frankly, they are just ready to get to the cloud and their biggest concern is – “who can help me get there because I don’t have the skills internally to be able to do it myself.”
Q: Do you think that there is a significant lack of awareness in the industry regarding the role post-sales customer support plays in customer retention?
A:Since we are working with service providers of all shapes and sizes, we come across two different approaches.
Some service providers give a very basic customer service, they help SMBs figure out how to get moved over and give them a little bit of direction, via knowledge base, instructional documentations etc., but in the end SMBs are pretty much on their own to get everything set up and working for them. Most of the SMBs contract an IT guy who they think can help them, and that IT resource takes a lot of time, costs a lot of money, and finally he or she either doesn’t get the job done or doesn’t get it done the right way. This is where they throw their hands up in the air and say -“you know what, real nice that we bought it but we can’t get it up and running so we’re quitting,” and they drop the service and the service provider never ends up making any money off them. So this approach has poor activation rates.
Second scenario we often see is that service providers try to do what we do. They offer support and on-boarding but theydon’t have the right platform and resources needed, and they’re not properly trained and certified to do so, hence they make at least one, two or maybe three attempts at it and they fail.
In both scenarios, this is where they contact us and say – “this is what you guys specialize in, you do this day in and day out in a uniform way, so we’ll just work with you on it.” This is one of the main reasons why our business has grown so fast.
Q: Can you tell us the whole modus-operandi of Platform MaaX ,as in how exactly it helps cloud and managed IT providers maximize customer engagement, drive growth, reduce churn, increase future sales etc.?
A:The platform is made up of several components.
The first major components are our programs. We’ve developed very unique programs for:
- on-boarding customers for cloud services,
- educating customers on how to use and manage those cloud services,
- and helping service providers up-sell the same customers through additional cloud services.
When we go to market with a service provider partner, we bring all three of those programs to create a full life-cycle experience for customers.
The second component we have are methods. We’ve invested significantly to create very specific workflows, dialogues and scripts, which are unique to individual cloud products, and are used on a repetitive basis to on-board customers to cloud service with all set-ups done, data migrated and end-user training completed.
The third components are our tools. We have invested in several applications, like an ‘activation scheduler’ which enables end-customers to schedule their activation appointment. We have a very elaborate workforce management system which aligns people who have the right skills to the right appointments. We have remote log-in tools which allow us to take control of the end-user devices and to do their configurations for them. We also have data migration tools, advanced multi-mode communications, customer interaction tracking etc. So our investment in these tools and platforms is pretty significant from the customer interaction point of view.
Beyond that, we also have our Analytics platform. As we on-board customers, we work to capture deeper profile information about them and we reach a point where we actually understand a lot more about the service provider’s customers than the service provider does, and we use that data to work with the service providers on product planning, engagement programs and up-selling activities.
The last piece is our content platform where we have a really rich, user-centric knowledge base that any of the users who’re on-boarding can access and learn about the services and how to use them better. We have also built a lot of sales and marketing content that our service provider partners can use to position their solutions in the marketplace effectively and try to drive demand creation for them.
Q: What are some of the cloud services that Facilitated Adoption supports as of now?
A:It’s a board range of services. To name a few, we do Microsoft Hosted Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Office 365, WebEx, Mozy, McAfee, Symantec, Asigra, GoMobi etc., and we’re constantly adding more services. We just recently launched on-boarding services for Infrastructure as a service(IaaS) with one of our partners. We are also beginning to look into on-boarding services for Desktop-as-a-Service, which we think will be a really big opportunity for us.
Q: And earlier this year you launched Mural’s Parallels APS package too.
A: Yes, now we are part of the Parallels marketplace and ecosystem. We have done two implementations with Parallels so far and through that we have developed our Parallels APS package. Now anybody can just install the APS package from the Parallels marketplace, integrate our on-boarding service with their product catalogue, and quickly get it up and running.
A:EduSelling and Campaign of One are our core up-selling programs. After bringing customers through our Facilitated Adoption and Onboarding, we collect and profile their data, which we put through our up-selling programs. We do up-selling right at the point of activation. For instance, through our activation process, SMBs become pretty open with us about their other needs, and if we happen to have immediate solutions for some of those through our other partners, we try to add those on to the initial sale at the point of activation.
We also run a whole series of educational programs like email campaigns, landing pages, webinars and even events, where we take our educational approach to the market, and teach the SMBs about what other cloud services they could be taking advantage of, and through that we continue to collect more and more profile data. We mine that profile data to the point where we see a point of interest, which we call the ‘Interest code’. Once we see the interest codes we make a concerted pitch and offer that customer one of our partners’ products.
Q: What is the process that you go through to recruit quality workforce at Mural’s Customer Experience (CX) Lab?
A:We’ve built a training certification program. We pride ourselves on providing a customer experience rather than customer service. We are working to drive a certification for customer experience professionals throughout the industry. And we believe that we’ve created an industry leading program to do that. We’ve invested heavily in training and creating technical content.
We’ve also developed pretty unique profiles for the different types of people that we recruit, with respect to their skill sets and backgrounds. We tend to focus on hiring college kids who’re either in an IT profession or are seeking an education to enter the IT profession, and who ‘get’ the cloud and really understand it.
So we are sticking to combinations of hiring profiles together with our training certification program to create a whole generation of customer experience professionals in the marketplace, who can on-board and up-sell customers in an innovative, helpful way.
Q: Let’s talk about the recent case study you published on how a big telecommunication company in the United States implemented Mural’s Facilitated Adoption™ platform to reduce churn rate and increase activation rate.
A:Yes, they’re a large US Telco who sells a bundle of SMB Cloud services together with their voice and broadband services. We handle the on-boarding work for all of the Cloud services in that bundle, like Microsoft Hosted Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, data backup, security, web hosting, and web commerce services, for about 5,000 SMBs every month at this point, and we’ve had some great results.
The early focus with this partner was on churn reduction. They had a problem, where they were selling the bundle to a lot of customers but nobody was activating the services. Shortly thereafter they were seeing a very high churn rate, because the customers thought that since they were buying something, they’ll get a whole lot of help getting it up and running, and when they didn’t, they just left.
So mission ONE was to get that churn under control and drive up the activation rates. We’ve seen great results, their customer churn has decreased by up to 80 percent, the activation rates have gone up over 200%, and interestingly enough, the support costs have also gone way down.
What we found is that if we set the customer up right to begin with and get their services up and running, they don’t need to call the help desk.
Also, we just recently started our up-selling campaign with them, and we are currently up-selling to about 40 percent of the customers that come for activation, and we are driving about a 20 percent uplift in ARPU from the original sale. Our Net Promoter Score (NPS) on that activation activity is over 80.
We’re very encouraged by the early results of the up-selling program and we are going to do a lot more as we go forward.
Q: What are some of the developments at Mural we can look forward to in the coming months?
A: We are in deep discussions with our first couple of partners regarding some exciting opportunities and I certainly hope that together we will make news about that soon.
We are looking to expand into Asia-Pac and Europe. We are also continuing to invest heavily in the platform and I think you will hear more about extended capabilities in the Analytics area and the Content area soon.
Also, traditionally we have been offering our service as a turnkey managed service out of our operations facility in Tucson, but we have just signed our first licensing deal, where we are licensing our platform to another provider. We’ll be training and certifying all the staff of that provider to deliver the customer experience just like we do out of our center in Tucson. So we think the licensing side of our business is one that’s going to grow quite a bit.