For Cox Automotive, customer experience is the most important metric to monitor, and Catchpoint’s pervasive synthetic monitoring is helping it capture – and ultimately optimize – that experience.
Everyone agrees that customer experience is the most important thing. But measuring customer experience online is a daunting task.
Cox Automotive, based in Atlanta, is a collection of companies that help people buy, sell and own cars. The company is also known as Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book or any of dozens of well-known online brands.
“It’s my job to make sure our applications are up and running as our customers expect,” said Charles Conley, Cox’s Manager of IT Operations Technology. “And, in today’s online world, that means I need to know how the applications are performing from anywhere – not just from our corporate offices.”
This is difficult. First, Cox doesn’t control every aspect of the solution. Because we live in a world of microservices architecture, some of Cox’s applications are supplied by third parties. Cox has no direct visibility into these third-party services.
Further, it isn’t enough to monitor each individual component. All the specific resources and microservices may be performing normally, and yet an end-user in Terre Haute, Indiana, may still be experiencing poor performance.
“We need to know how our applications are running at every location we serve,” said Conley. “That’s a very complex task.”
Traditionally, the answer to this kind of problem is something called synthetic monitoring. That’s where there are bots continually monitoring applications using precisely the kind of traffic and interaction that a real user would.
The application provider knows what kinds of response times are required, and if a bot sees slower responses, it sends an alert to the provider. This enables the provider to triangulate in order to identify the issue and fix it before users ever experience the problem.
This makes sense in practice, but not all synthetic monitoring solutions are architected the same way.
“Many of the synthetic monitoring solutions place all of their bots in the cloud,” said Conley. “But what if one of my users is experiencing a slowdown that is between them and the cloud?”
When a synthetic monitoring solution places all its bots in the cloud, they will miss the problems users out in the field commonly see.
“They miss problems in what I call the ‘digital wilderness’,” said Conley. “That is all the routing points between our user and the cloud.”
Monitoring the digital wilderness
Cox Automotive selected Catchpoint as its monitoring partner. Catchpoint has an extensive network of bots not only in the cloud, but also out in the digital wilderness, i.e., at backbone sites, BGPs, last mile and wireless. It can also place bots inside the provider’s site, at headquarters, branch offices, data centers and so on.
This means providers have a full perspective of their customers’ experiences.
“We are able to continuously see what kind of user experience our customers will receive from anywhere,” said Conley. “This allows us to fix issues before our customers even see the problem.”
Proactively spotting hard-to-find issues
The value of Catchpoint’s pervasive synthetic monitoring is illustrated in a recent episode at Cox.
“We had a situation where we were sharing loads between two data centers,” said Conley. “Catchpoint alerted us to an intermittent slowdown, but we had to figure out what was causing the issue.”
Cox Automotive quickly found that these issues were all coming from one of several data centers that shares its application traffic. One of the data centers had an issue with its local service provider, while the other data centers were fine.
Cox was able to route all traffic from that data center’s faulty service provider to the other, healthy data centers and user experience issues stopped. Cox was able to solve the carrier issue at their leisure, confident that their users were unaffected.
“With most synthetic monitoring solutions who base their bots in the cloud, we would have been blind to this issue,” said Conley.
Data or answers?
“Becoming aware of issues quickly, i.e., before they impact our users, is important. But being able to find what is causing the issue is just as important.
“In my job, I am often presented with reams and reams of data. Data isn’t the same thing as an answer. What I really need are answers.”
Catchpoint takes the massive volume of data it gathers and distills it into insights that lead to answers.
“For example, imagine looking at raw data showing user experience data from our Terre Haute site,” said Conley.
“Would you be able to know whether that performance was excellent, merely adequate or abysmal?
“Now imagine seeing that same data, but in comparison to the ‘normal’ performance, best-ever performance and worst performance. Now you would have the context that allows you to quickly decide if there is a problem or not.
“One thing I love seeing is Catchpoint’s BGP monitoring. I see precisely how my customers are routing through the digital wilderness to get to our applications. Even better, I can see when changes to that routing take place and how that impacts user experience.”
Keeping the customer front and center
For Cox Automotive, customer experience is the most important metric they monitor. Catchpoint helps them capture – and ultimately optimize – that experience.Click below to share this article