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One Size Does Not Fit All: Examining the Pivotal Role of Customer Experience in Data Centers

One Size Does Not Fit All: Examining the Pivotal Role of Customer Experience in Data Centers
Stream’s Jose Ruiz, addressing DCAC 2023 attendees at the Hispanic & Latino Impact in Digital Infrastructure panel in Austin, TX

Statistics and reports about how the customer experience is king are not hard to come by. Yes, it’s common knowledge that most buyers (Salesforce claims 88%) say customer experience matters as much as a company’s products or services. At Stream, we really do believe that procuring, deploying and operating data center capacity should be a great experience. So, in this huge, high-value and mission-critical industry, why do we see data center providers sticking by their same old sales-focused perspective to lease space and sell inventory? It turns out that statistics and numbers like the 88% mentioned above can tell us a lot about the current customer experience landscape — but they miss a lot too.

Data center providers are often large organizations operating on a large geographic playing field, and demand has made them this way. They’re offering more locations, more services, more space, power, density and all the rest. Many don’t like to acknowledge it, but massive scale  can result in the one thing we don’t want: Sluggishness — particularly when adopting and solving for rapid market changes such as AI adoption, and future development planning. Of course there are advantages to scale, it’s undeniably easier to deliver the same product (with maybe a couple options for tailoring for more specific customers) than it is to approach every deal and every customer like a brand-new thing that’s all its own. However, this push towards uniformity is also where many data center customers now find their customer experiences falling short.

Multi-hundred megawatt power commitments, 100+ acre campus-sized requirements, aggressive and sophisticated applications — this isn’t the stuff of yesteryear that could be met with by-the-book, cookie cutter/“Model-T” options. There is a time and place for standardization in the data center (such as supply chain,) but the customer approach is not one of them — not even close. We all know logically that customers in this arena don’t want to just be sold to.

We’re here to state unequivocally that the complexity and exacting requirements of our global customers dictates that they can’t  simply be sold to — they need to be collaborated with. Today, the customer experience goes far beyond a well-worn statistic about positive sentiment. Now, it’s a key performance indicator for both operators and customers that tells us all one mission-critical thing: Have you developed a transparent, high-touch and consultative care model that produces solutions capable of doing more than “just work?”

Building Experiences Beyond the Statistics
While statistics are great, we think they don’t really capture why a great procurement experience is important to a data center customer. With 24 years serving a customer base comprised of more than 90% F100 clients, it has become too clear to Stream that delivering tuned-in experiences has gone from a soft skill to a hard skill in the IT infrastructure space.

In the earlier stages of our industry, enriched account experiences were “nice-to-haves.”  They were the touchy-feely, non-mission-critical part of a deal that happened outside the parameters of the product, service or outcome. Qualitative, not quantitative. If an experience was great, great. If not, well, at least the project was completed to some degree of success. This is an attitude of the past. Now, customers are coming to the table with massive  capacity requirements for new workloads like AI, all of which are business-critical and represent massive financial commitments by our customers. Failure of these initiatives will make or break their competitive edge. Depth of partnership, trust and understanding defines the ability to not only meet current growth requirements, but anticipate future needs as well. This is why customer experience — once looked at as icing on the cake — is now the cake itself.

Exceptional customer experiences and product or service specs have a direct impact on one another — we might even say they’re the same thing. If a customer doesn’t have regular discussions with a data center provider, doesn’t feel like the provider really understands their individual goals or challenges, and isn’t closely aligned with their provider for the entire journey, how can a right-sized, unique and future-proofed solution be provided? Transactional approaches might help providers move on to the next deal faster, but they don’t help customers redefine what’s possible for their long-term strategic objectives.

When complexity and scale ramp up, that’s the time to lean in with creative solutions informed by high quality and transparent customer relationships — and is not the time to lean on formulaic methods. The massive growth of complex IT infrastructure means customer experiences can’t be relegated to the feel-good box at the back of the business closet. They must be front and center as a metric of the project itself that tells us how successful data center projects can or will be—it’s not enough to deliver a data center and walk away.

Building and Balancing Better
Of course, no matter how aggressively you work on your customer engagement or how established your reputation is for exceptional experiences, you don’t suddenly arrive at perfection one day and decide it’s a job well done. At Stream, the reason we’re known for delivering powerful (and enjoyable) experiences and solutions is because we’re always finding ways to make the customer journey better. For Stream, every customer interaction is an opportunity to deeply engage, discuss, collaborate, consult and apply new knowledge and care methods. We believe in a proactive engagement model that anticipates challenges, locates opportunities, and aims beyond satisfaction toward true and long-lasting success and mutual understanding.

To pile onto the experience factor, is the need for agility. In a fast-moving market, staying agile is vital, and getting stuck down deep into every deal can be good for customer morale, but isn’t always workable. At Stream, the key for us is integration: Incorporating customer engagement into every facet of our customer delivery so it comes naturally and efficiently is our goal. We’ve invested in (and are still investing in) processes, product, technology and people that help us adapt quickly to market changes while maintaining deep relationships with customers — all of which supports my team’s core commitment to a ‘no surprises’ approach as our primary goal.

This carefully honed and integrated approach enables us to respond efficiently to immediate customer needs and plan for tomorrow’s collaborative conversations — without sacrificing on the depth and quality of that dialogue. Meanwhile, strategic expansion of our customer experience leadership brings in fresh, diverse perspectives and skills that drive innovation on behalf of customers. We believe that diverse teams make better decisions. Complex data center projects benefit from teams bearing wide variety of experiences with individuals committed to transparency, customer intimacy and a commitment to rethinking assumptions we evolve.

Ultimately, the success of the industry and of our relationships here at Stream is about creating meaning, not just delivering technology. The right connections have always been crucial in this world, but for data centers, that applies not just technically but interpersonally. That’s why we’re building a better-than-ever platform and service delivery strategy — and it’s why customers should be looking for a data center partner that is intentional and cares about customer experiences beyond whatever stats are out there.

This is how we go beyond being a vendor to serve as a trusted partner — and yes, if we could bundle up this complex, carefully created method into a glance-able statistic, we would.

To learn more about Jose Ruiz, and Stream’s account and platform strategy, read the news release here.

About Our Contributor

Jose Ruiz

Senior Vice President, Global Accounts & Platform Strategy
As Senior Vice President of Global Accounts and Platform Strategy, Jose is a key contributor to Stream’s customer experience, product alignment, and long-term growth trajectory. Read More