November 2, 2012
This post about us going dark during business hours of our US-based clients is a mixture of two issues I personally enjoy heavily: improving customer support in our offshore rails development agency and utilising SaaS tools to provide more „international” experience.
One of the most painful parts of working as/with an offshore company is fighting with the timezone difference. It can be neutralised with a good process - having frequent status update calls, using proper PM tools and organising work in, for example, weekly sprints.
But, as usual, this stuff doesn't matter much when there's a crisis: with recent outages like the ones caused by Sandy hurricane - nothing listed above can help. There are just times when a client has to get in touch with the provider. What should happen if usual (Skype, email) ways fail?
This is obvious for local cooperations: grab a phone and dial someone. Everyone who received an email from us should have our +48 phone numbers, and while the cost is quite manageable when contacting from inside of the EU, it can get quite expensive on the US <-> Poland line.
I had set up a US-based toll free number for our long-term US-based clients to contact us in cases of emergency. There are couple ways to do this - we went with Grasshopper. It was as simple as registering and contacting their support to launch international number. It's $12/month for a number and a varying rate for incoming calls, but this cost compared to what losses could be caused by us going completely dark for our customers could be, is like nothing.
I forwarded the number to my cell phone (which is always with me). There, it's done. Then it was a matter of communicating this to our clients with a huge disclaimer saying it's for critical purposes - and guess what? They did realise it from the very beginning and so far are very reasonable about it.
we can handle emergencies better
our services are getting more of the local (or international) sense
our clients can be less worried about not being able to contact us during their peak hours
There are, of course, other ways to handle this kind of stuff - SLAs and such, but it's a different matter. For us, it's another small milestone achieved.