Supporting the Inaccessible
Throughout my time with Gemstone, I have been privileged with the task of client support.
With locations ranging from the most northern parts of the hemisphere, to the middle of a desert in the south our vast knowledge of the culture, environments and struggles for our North American clients has made this job fairly easy. Fast forward a couple years and Gemstone ventured into a new area of business; providing our Camp Accommodation software to camps that are always on the move. For the first time, we provided our services for ships that provide workforce housing in the middle of seas and oceans.
This experience has opened our eyes to a whole new array of challenges that most of our clients do not face on a day to day basis.
We have always been able to provide support for our client’s various needs in their remote locations. But adding a moving target, plus a time difference of almost a full working day, this was unchartered territory for us.
As always - we were up to the challenge.
Providing solutions for remote workforce housing projects is our thing. And we do it well. How could adding a minor thing like time zones change anything for us? And a site that is constantly changing locations is just a technicality.
Waiting for anything adds frustration to any problem.
For most of our clients, we are within a one to four hour window of their local time and our support staff are always within a reasonable response time. However, with our new clients overseas, we had to adjust to the fact that our normal work day starts when they are wrapping things up for theirs. Add in the limited network access at sea made it very difficult for us to isolate the technical issues.
It did take us some time, but we realized that the typical approach we use to support our clients wouldn’t work here. There were too many factors out of our control as we worked to identify what was causing the majority of their issues.
We found that, just like most things in life, it was a break down in communication.
The main issues routed from our inability to get a hold of them quickly and their inability to use our methods to communicate with us. Typically, we use support phone lines, on-call support rotations and an email ticketing system to log and track issues and communication back and forth. This works for almost everyone but this was a new breed…and in this case, it couldn’t. Our support lines became ineffective. When they called our after-hours support lines, it would most likely be 1:00 am in the morning. If it was a serious issue, our development team wouldn’t be in the office until about 7 hours from when they called.
So, email should work, right?
Email would quickly allow them to send us all of the information needed to resolve the problem. We could immediately forward this to our development teams for when they come in. That was great! Until we had to start communicating back and forth… Due to their limited internet activity, an email conversation could take hours! Just waiting for our email to send to them, have it download, receive it and then send their response. Quite simply, this was the cherry on the cake of frustration.
What did we do to get around this?
We figured out what works best for them!
We worked with them to identify what technologies they use to communicate with the world while they are sailing the seas. Instead of trying to force them to use our normal methods, we switched course and adjusted to their needs. While they are out at sea they have limited connectivity but are able to send short messages to their staff around the ship using Whats App.
So we added this application to our list of support methods for them.
We created a Whats App support account and linked it to our regular support system. Because of this simple change, we were able to communicate effectively and efficiently. We reduced the amount of time it took for responses significantly. We were able to work with them as soon as problems occurred and have a steady flow of communication back and forth.
How did we come up with this solution?
We had to see first hand what they are facing. As our CEO likes to say, "No plane, no gain!"
Our clients give us the opportunity to support and help them in their business ventures. And in turn, we get to learn from our clients and become better as a company. So, we went to them. We will always go the extra mile for our clients.
What the limitations they face on a day to day basis are and what kind of environment do they work in. On paper, there is nothing that they do that is that different from our existing clients. But from meeting with them at their operation in the North Sea, I discovered that they face obstacles that we have never experienced before.
Why did we need to go?
They were dealing with a pretty severe technical issue and despite our efforts we simply could not recreate it in our office.
A major need of their business was not working as expected and they could face severe penalties if it wasn’t resolved quickly. Through our usual problem solving methods, we were having a difficult time discovering what the core issue was. We would get their system up and running from over here, only to have it go down again. Leading us right back into the frustration cycle all over again.
We decided that the best thing to do was to go to them – and the time was NOW!
I came into the office Monday morning, found out their issue was still persisting, and I was on the next flight out that afternoon!
Because of this trip, I was able to get a better picture and understanding of their world.
I was fortunate to be able to go and to spend time with them and learn about their business. I was able to see what they do on a day by day basis and why their business was so much different than any stationary mining or oil camp. Instead of forcing them to use some cookie cutter method, we were able to identify a solution that worked for them and make their lives easier – after all, isn’t that was client support is all about? This face to face opportunity and clearer understanding of their operation allowed us to identify the root cause of the issue and quickly resolve it, once and for all!
My Take Away
At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel valued. At Gemstone we will do everything in our power to make sure that our clients are not only supported with a degree of excellence, but that they understand that we value their business.
Making sure that we are using the tools that work best for our various clients is of utmost importance to us.
With the right tools, we gain the ability to easily assist and work with all our clients. Providing solutions for them that are in line with their current processes and to use the same tools that they already have in place is one of the easiest way to show that we value them.
If it takes traveling across the world to figure out a solution, we will do it!