Customer churn has serious costs for a business - not only is it expensive to acquire new customers, but a happy customer’s word of mouth can be the best source of marketing. A satisfied customer base can evangelize products and services and offer a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, customer annoyance with poor user experiences or application performance is a key reason they switch vendors. The most recent “Voice of the Connected User” survey from 451 Research found that 76% of customers are likely to cancel services or switch to a different provider if an application or service performs poorly. On the other hand, satisfied customers have financial benefits; happy customers are more likely to add additional services or upgrades, and 43% of all consumers would pay more for greater convenience in their products (via surveys from McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers, respectively).
One major way that businesses can reduce the churn is by improving the IT team’s visibility into the network so they can monitor performance at the foundation layer and solve potential problems before they affect the user experience. The result is happier customers all around.
This visibility is critical as there are a number of trends making it harder for IT to maintain high levels of application performance and end-user experience. These include ever-increasing 24x7x365 connectivity, bandwidth with very low latency and jitter, and an acceleration of trends around bring-your-own-devices (BYOD), software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, remote work (especially since the outbreak of COVID-19), and shadow IT. Also, the operating environments that IT has to support are being increasingly driven by application developers and non-technical business leaders, who rarely consider IT’s need to manage and monitor the environment when they make their decisions. In fact, the Covid-19 recovery and move to work from home has put additional pressure on IT to support high levels of application performance from outside the corporate network (i.e., the same perspective a customer would have). All this means that application or network downtime is more expensive than ever, and ensuring consistent access to mission-critical applications and good end-user experience are essential for customer loyalty and employee productivity.
Getting better visibility into network performance can reduce churn in two ways. First, it lets IT see what the user experience is really like, rather than relying on trouble tickets. This lets IT predict issues and address them proactively, rather than waiting until a user complains. Second, better network visibility can reduce the mean time to resolution by speeding up network troubleshooting or quickly proving something isn't a network issue and can be passed to the appropriate team.
Network issues that can affect application performance and cause churn include:
- Network configuration errors that cause delays and jitter in video calls.
- Network traffic forwarding and routing issues and suboptimal routes (such as routing traffic across continents) that slow down application response time.
- Congestion at the VPN gateway, which can significantly affect overall network performance.
When network admins are equipped with the right metrics, they have the end-to-end insight and network visibility they need to optimize network performance and prevent or fix these issues. Key metrics for IT to understand the user experience include latency, jitter, web page load time, application, network, and server response time, and mean time to resolution. Monitoring more specific networking metrics will also help IT find and resolve potential user experience issues quickly. For example, IT should measure link utilization to see when specific routers are becoming more congested. TCP retransmissions are another good indicator of network health – an increase in this metric will negatively affect application performance.
To track these metrics, IT needs access to data from multiple different sources. The network is a major part of this; IT organizations should have access to network metadata and packet data from physical, virtual, and cloud-native elements of the network deployed across the data center, branch offices, and multi-cloud environments. Instrumenting the network to obtain this data requires a mix of physical and virtual network probes, packet brokers, and capture devices to gather and consolidate data from the various corners of the network. Network packet and flow data is extremely helpful for monitoring user experience and simply can’t be obtained any other way. Data from other sources, such as end-user monitoring with an agent or custom browser code, is also very useful to determine the actual user experience.
It is up to IT to manage and maintain consistency across a wider range of hybrid environments to deliver a high-quality user experience that reduces customer churn. Reigning in this chaos is a difficult but solvable problem. By instrumenting the network, including physical, virtual, and cloud-native elements, and incorporating additional data sources as discussed above, IT teams will have the information needed to maintain high-quality access to mission-critical applications, create a positive end-user experience, and ensure lifetime value.