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Building a World-class Customer Experience from the Ground Up

BetterCloud Monitor

July 30, 2014

7 minute read

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Two years ago we launched FlashPanel in the Google Apps Marketplace and just eight months prior, we founded BetterCloud. Over the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve grown to a team of 75 and have built a customer base of more than 40,000 organizations spread across the globe. Throughout this rapid growth, we’ve never lost sight of our mission – always put the customer first. To thank our customers and emphasize this mission going forward, blog content over the next month will focus on our commitment to providing a world-class customer experience. To keep up to date, be sure to subscribe to the blog and follow us on Google+.

Last week, our CEO David Politis pledged to deliver a world-class customer experience to FlashPanel users. In his pledge, David defined three key principles around which this world-class experience is based:

1. Deliver a product that really solves our customers’ problems
2. Provide support from a team of true experts
3. Invest in our customers’ long-term success

While David promised publicly to deliver on this mission, the truth is, we’ve been focused on providing a world-class customer experience since the very beginning. For the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve gone above and beyond to build a product that not only meets the needs of its users, but delights IT admins and helps them save time every day. With the help of our customers, we’ve built a product that gives admins the tools they need to better manage and secure their Google Apps domains. Here’s how:

Project Titan

Project TitanBefore writing a single line of code for FlashPanel, we set out to collect as much information as possible on our future users. Too many enterprise technology companies build their products in a vacuum without taking into account what really matters – the true needs of potential users. Instead, we actively engaged with Google Apps admins, resellers and Google Enterprise professionals to really uncover the tools IT admins were after.

During this research phase, dubbed Project Titan, we scoured support forums, administered our own dummy Google Apps accounts and our CEO and CTO each spent dozens of hours on the phone with IT admins all in effort to better understand the needs of our intended user base. After months of research, we’d gathered the basic requirements, built out a rough feature roadmap, put some wireframes and color schemes together and landed on a name – FlashPanel.

User Testing

With an official name, some wireframes and design comps in place, it was time to put the earliest version of FlashPanel in front of IT admins who’d been dealing with the pain of operating on Google Apps without a true management suite.

We held wireframe reviews and user experience sessions that ended up providing invaluable feedback – from minor suggestions like changing the edit button, which transformed over time from a wrench to the word “edit” and finally to a gear icon, to broader ideas like giving admins the ability to take actions in bulk (currently one of our most popular features). Colors were changed, layouts were altered and eventually we ended up with a product ready for a broader audience.

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Evolution of FlashPanel Color Scheme

FlashPanel 50

Confident that we had something admins could actually use in their own Google Apps domains, we opened a very small alpha test of FlashPanel. On April 11, 2012 School of Rock became the first of 50 organizations to join the alpha. By keeping this initial test group small, we were able to work closely with each of the 50 administrators. We held weekly one-on-one calls to initially get everyone set up and up to speed, then we would check in regularly to gain feedback on what we were missing, what was working and what could be eliminated from FlashPanel.

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Wireframe vs. Completed Feature

Throughout the alpha, we were extremely honest with our customers – there would be some unavoidable bugs, the UI wasn’t perfect, and the product might not always function as expected – and in return the alpha testers were just as (brutally) honest with us. While we had some painful and drastic improvements to make, working closely with a group of 50 customers provided us with feedback we would never have received from a larger group. Some of these FlashPanel 50 members are today our most loyal customers.

FlashPanel 500

Following the alpha test and leading up to our public launch in the Google Apps Marketplace, we expanded our initial test group from 50 to 500. With a broadened user base, we were now able to garner feedback from every type of potential customer – large, small, enterprise, non-profit, EDU, US-based and international.

This group of 500 really went above and beyond to provide feedback on FlashPanel and we wanted to treat them in kind. We sent t-shirts around the globe to customers in the US, Mexico, South America, Australia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands and beyond.

FlashPanel 500

FlashPanel Feature Contest

After many months of surveying and speaking to potential and new FlashPanel users, we had finally launched the product in the Google Apps Marketplace – a big accomplishment for sure, but certainly not an end point. Over the next few months, thousands of organizations installed the product and we saw usage and satisfaction rates skyrocket as improvements and enhancements were continuously made.

At this point, we certainly could have put the product in cruise control and sat back to enjoy our hard-earned success, but doing so would have ended the continuous dialogue we had with our customers and hurt the utility of FlashPanel in the long run.

To ensure we remained accountable to our ever-expanding user base, we decided to hold a feature contest in which the winning feature (or as it turned out, features) would actually be built into FlashPanel. The contest not only gave us great feedback and input for our roadmap, but was the literal embodiment of our promise to build functionality based on users’ needs and requests.

Customer Advisory Board

Just as we’d done previously with FlashPanel 50 and FlashPanel 500, following the product’s official launch, we sought to establish a more formalized community from which we could gain feedback and go to with new design comps and feature mock ups. This group, known as the Customer Advisory Board, is comprised of 50 large and small FlashPanel Enterprise customers who regularly provide valuable input and suggestions to our product team. The group has helped shape the FlashPanel roadmap and is able to test out new features in beta before they’re released to our wider user base. While the Advisory Board certainly helps us build a product useful for our users, members also benefit from having direct access to one another, giving them the ability to share and learn best practices for administering and securing Google Apps.

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Customer Advisory Board Care Package

A Dedicated Team

As FlashPanel has continued to grow, both in terms of functionality offered and user adoption, we’ve maintained an open and honest dialogue with our customers. We’ve even dedicated an entire team to ensure this dialogue continues. Our Customer Success team is solely committed to the success of our customers – from installation, to optimization and beyond, Customer Success Managers work closely with FlashPanel Enterprise customers to ensure their satisfaction with FlashPanel. These Customer Success Managers are also our customers’ direct line to the product team. We continue to hold regular wireframe reviews and feedback sessions with Product Owners as features are added, gleaning valuable advice along the way.

360° Support

While our Customer Success team leads FlashPanel customers from installation to optimization, more pressing needs are handled by our Support team. The Support team has steadily worked to open an array of channels in order to provide our customers with real-time and efficient resolutions and valuable advice. Today, these channels include live chat within FlashPanel, a Google+ FlashPanel User Community, email and web ticketing, phone support, office hours, live product status updates and an extensive knowledgebase, which has even been featured by Zendesk for its intuitiveness, design and emphasis on community. Through these channels we not only provide 360° support, but we’ve created a truly enjoyable experience for ours users – the Support team consistently boats a 96% satisfaction rating.

Google Apps Admin Resources

While we’ve made it a priority to connect regularly with our customers and create a two-way dialogue, we’ve also invested heavily in building BetterCloud into a thought leader in the Google Apps space. Through the BetterCloud blog, white papers and Google Gooru, we’re able to provide in-depth content on best practices for managing and securing Google Apps. We also regularly feature information about other Google Apps Marketplace applications and work closely with our ISV partners to surface valuable tools to our customer base.

Take a look at these resources to bolster your knowledge of Google Apps:

Ecosystem Resources

In addition to building a product that helps ease the day to day tasks of Google Apps admins, we’ve worked hard to contribute unique and informative resources to the ecosystem that serve to educate and build a community around the Google Apps platform. Through regular customer surveys, we not only gain information about our product, but uncover findings about the overall use of and attitudes towards Google Apps and the cloud. In turn, this information helps us better deliver the tools IT administrators are looking for now and in the future. We’ve also made a point to host bi-monthly meetups for Google Apps admins, in addition to our own FlashPanel customer user groups,  in order to build and promote a community around the platform. These meetups are a great way to bring together industry thought leaders and allow admins to network with and learn from one another.

FlashPanel is a true product of collaboration between our team and our customers. We are excited to have built a product in use by more than 40,000 organizations and look forward to continuing to serve the needs of our expanding user base. To participate in a feedback call with our product team or to give your input on FlashPanel, please email us at feedback@bettercloud.com.

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