The importance of being reliable

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Updated  Sam Jenkins

When choosing a product that best suits your needs, it is good to think about how well it can hold up in certain scenarios, such as planning long-term to see how a product will hold up over time. We wanted to focus on another important area: what happens when things don't go as planned and how you should approach efficiency savings.

Let me tell you a story that is as sincere as it is fabricated. A few years ago I was looking to buy a new car and had narrowed my choice down to two options. Car A by was reliable from what I had heard but was more expensive upfront and to run. Car B seemed like it had everything I needed and was much cheaper overall.

There didn't seem to be a good reason to not go for Car B, and so I did. After having owned it for a few weeks a couple of problems crept in. Every so often I would get warning lights flashing up at me and the engine seemed to get awfully hot. So I did what most reasonable people would do and got it looked at by the team at Car B. I was not totally reassured by their service, I didn't get a straight answer about what the issues were and they told me not to worry about it, did a few tweaks presumably and sent me on my way.

So here, I was thinking that on the balance of things, I was receiving the level of service which I had paid for when I went with the Car B. But that's not the end of the world, I was making a good saving and I could live with some reliability blips here and there… right?

How wrong I was.

Should I have seen this coming?

Of course, when I had just done a full round of grocery shopping I had a total engine failure. To say this was an inconvenience is an understatement and my plans for hosting a dinner party were in tatters… Those reliability issues really should have rung alarm bells with me both when they happened and when I did not get the best response from the service provider. Did I really save money given this situation as opposed to paying extra for Car A which I had a reputation for reliability and good service?

Personal meets the professional

In a personal setting, this caused great inconvenience. In a business setting, this scenario could be catastrophic. Maybe a delivery company failed to get you the relevant parts as ordered, or maybe your cloud based platform somehow went AWOL. The efficiency savings from going with a cheaper option as opposed to a more expensive and dependable one are simply not worthwhile and your company and your clients could be vulnerable. The issue is not that something has gone wrong, which is often out of everyone's control, but that something went wrong and I did not act responsibly, which is very much in my control. The manufacturer did not reassure me as to what the issue was and the steps that they were taking to prevent it from reoccurring, and I did not then use this information to make an informed decision on how to best protect myself and my precious groceries.

Keeping costs down is sensible. But the areas where you keep those costs down have to also be logical.

At TutorCruncher, we have experiences on both ends of this scenario:

  1. A consumer who faces disruption when one of the components of our service has problems

  2. A vendor for whom sometimes things do go wrong in our service delivery

We would like to share our experiences in these areas with you to highlight how reliability and efficiency savings are essential to be considered in equal measure. This is about TutorCruncher the vendor and also as TutorCruncher the consumer.

We’re never to be caught napping when it comes to ensuring a reliable and consistent service.

TutorCruncher the consumer

To provide the service as we do, TutorCruncher is a client for some other SaaS companies along with PaaS businesses which facilitate our software. We will therefore think about what is the most effective service that suits our needs and its cost. Generally speaking, SaaS companies spend 90% on developers and 10% on hardware, meaning that you can go with a company that uses significantly better and more expensive hardware without dramatically increasing the cost.

We work with Intercom, a customer messaging platform, who provide us with an effective solution to power our sales, marketing, and support conversations with our users. This is a vital part of our business infrastructure and so having an effective service is essential to smooth day to day operations. They offer a smart interface and a positive user experience at a price point we are more than happy to work with. Perhaps most importantly, interruptions to Intercom's availability have been minimal. When things do go wrong for whatever reason, they always let us know and offer sincere apologies for any downtime. No problems here!

We also offer integrated payment gateways, working with Stripe and GoCardless to allow our users to process card payments and direct debit payments respectively. Again, the end user experience for these is vital to make sure that the process of taking payments is as simple and as streamlined as possible. GoCardless offers a smart interface and integrates well with TC and can be particularly cost effective as their rates are capped. Stripe performs extremely well in this respect and offers a great experience to our users and us as a company. Their price point is higher than most, but more to come on that in a future blog post on alternative card payment options… All in all, the payment processing side of TutorCruncher is essential to its utility to our users, and the disruption we have had from these providers has been minimal.

To effectively manage both Socket and our email service we deploy them on infrastructure as a service platforms. We used to use Scaleway to manage both of these areas before our proverbial groceries spoiled when our proverbial car broke down. In these instances with Scaleway, we weren't actually notified that there was a problem, and when we approached them about it, we weren't able to get any further information beyond “it's broken”.

Scaleway was cheaper than other options, but after a couple of issues and very unsatisfactory response from the provider, we had to take steps to make sure we could deliver our service. In this case, it meant moving off Scaleway to a more expensive provider in order to get a more reliable service. The kind of intermittence we got perfectly illustrated to us the point that any kind of efficiency saving is eliminated when a service is unreliable. The responses we got from Scaleway were the icing on the cake in terms of having little faith in their ability to prevent such issues reoccurring. It was a shame because their concept was innovative yet poorly executed. Had we got an apology and an honest explanation this probably would have ended differently.

Our two main takeaways from this are:

  1. Cost reduction and innovative solutions are null and void without reliability

  2. Action when things do go wrong is vital to ensuring a positive working relationship

TutorCruncher the vendor

We at TutorCruncher offer business management software to tutoring companies. Our product is designed to facilitate the daily administration required to effectively manage and grow a tutoring company, including databasing, scheduling, CRM, accounting, and many more areas. In short, TutorCruncher is all about saving time and money to undertake the relevant administrative management as well as offering services which would not be available without a system in place, such as online payments and SMS reminders.

Having an extensive feature set is a huge focus of our appeal, but we always ensure that reliability and consistency is not compromised whenever we regularly update the system

We operate on a Test Driven Development basis, so that whenever we make improvements to the system we will also write extensive tests to help identify problematic areas. Even still, very occasionally things do go wrong. This might be with instances above where a third party provider has issues which have a knock on effect on our service availability. Other times the problem might come from an oversight on our own part. Whichever way, we will take responsibility for any downtime or interruption to our service.

We will always let our clients know as soon as we have encountered a serious issue and update them as promptly and effectively as we can when we have more information. We have found that a sincere and honest apology for things going wrong, no matter the cause, can go a long way to building trust. Along with this we will also explain the steps we are taking to ensure that the possibility of such an issue re-occurring is minimised, perhaps by changing service provider or by implementing a more rigorous hands-on testing approach. Additionally, the channels of communication with TutorCruncher are such that should you have a question, you can get an honest answer without being pushed from pillar to post to get the information you need.

I think it makes sense that we can learn lessons from our own experience as a client to make the experiences of our clients a much more positive one, come rain or shine!

We build business management software for tutoring companies. Whether you are a small team or an established company, we can help you give your clients a 5-star service while spending less time on administration.

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