Customer is King, Huh?
Ever since I started work in the tech industry — back in the early 1990’s — I’ve been bombarded with customer-related cliches. On the walls of the building at ICL in Bracknell, where I worked as a C programmer, were brown, beige, and orange posters with phrases like “Customer Is King”, “Right First Time, Every Time” and my personal favorite, “Quality Means Zero Defects”. I found them quite puzzling because my code never worked the first time, and I knew we had hundreds of product defects. Also, I’d never even met a customer! I was so far removed from the customer I couldn’t discern whether they were happy, sad, or if they’ve ever even used the product.
Some would argue that this was simply because the company culture wasn’t customer-centric. Or rather, sales didn’t have a good enough process for providing customer feedback to engineers.
Over the next twenty years, every other company I worked for had similar slogans, but all had similar issues at their core. We used various Band-Aids for these issues; NPS surveys, customer advisory councils, and even creating a “customer-centric culture”. Whatever that means.
In the end, I found that most of these efforts created more overhead and, at best, prevented deep dark holes from becoming smoking craters.
In the end, I found that most of these efforts created more overhead and, at best, prevented deep dark holes from becoming smoking craters. They never actually fixed the core problem, which was to bring the engineers directly into contact with those who used the product.
Modern Applications, Modern Problems
Now we find ourselves in 2021, where the world has become increasingly dominated by software — we simply can’t live our lives without it. At a time when it has never been more critical to understand the customer experience, we’ve come up with some incredibly innovative, and incredibly annoying, ways to get real-time feedback. The current “state-of-the-art” technique seems to be using pop-up windows to solicit feedback, usually right in the middle of an important task. Ugh.
We now live in a world where developers release code into production hundreds of times each year. Even if your customers enjoyed providing feedback in a post-process dialog box, how could you possibly correlate that to the experience they had? To take it a step further, how would you correlate that with the exact version of the software they were using — the state of the underlying infrastructure? And, most importantly, can you quickly find the root cause and do something about it?
Today, for the most part, when a company sees a new issue they create a new alert and an accompanying dashboard tile. They believe that if they can collect all known problems in one place they’ll have a — nearly — infallible product. But as time passes, one alert becomes a hundred alerts, and similarly, one dashboard tile becomes a hundred dashboard tiles.
If software changes every day then it stands to reason that you could potentially see new, and unknown, issues every day. When an issue does arise, you’re unable to discern which customers are affected because the alerting system is only aware of the metric it has alerted on. What’s missing from the equation is the full context of the issue.
Without context, you’ll never be able to understand who is impacted, how they are impacted — or why. Simply put, without context the customer can never be king.
Observability is about anything relevant to your customer.
Today, most vendors conveniently define observability within the scope of things they can do: “Observability is about Kubernetes”, “Observability is about your application”, “Observability is about your data pipelines”, etc. We don’t buy that. Observability is about anything relevant to your customer. Whether it be container metrics, browser response times, or even a broken build, if it impacts your customers’ experience you should know about it.
Modern Problems Need A Modern Approach
At Observe, we built a system that allows you to collect and analyze any kind of event data that your environment(s) generate. And we don’t just throw a search bar on top of your data and ask you to make sense of it.
Observe curates this event data into resources — things that make sense to humans — like ‘customers’, ‘shopping carts’, ‘containers’, and so on.
Best of all, we create a graph that shows how these resources are connected behind the scenes. This makes navigating copious amounts of event data a breeze, as more context to the problem is just a single click away. Gregg Siegfried of Gartner summed up Observe’s approach quite well in his recent report on “Cool Vendors in Monitoring and Observability” when he said.
“The relationships between the parts are often where the interesting things take place, and many of our diagnostic tools focus too much on the parts themselves rather than these relationships.”
If you truly want to make your customer ‘king’, then you must bring customer experiences directly to the engineers who built that experience. Only then, can they investigate the ‘interesting things’ that comprise a user experience. At the end of the day, they are the only ones who can fix it.