The state of being “on cloud nine” is described as blissful, euphoric, elated—like floating on air. Cloud-based technology is designed to make life easier by removing the burden of costly, high-maintenance servers. Out of these ideas, the company Cloud 9 and its cloud-based practice management software was born to bring ease and efficiency to the orthodontic industry.
History of Cloud 9
In 2009, banking and other industries were adopting a form of cloud technology. Ann and Ken Swinney had spent many years in the orthodontic space and saw the advantages of the cloud but didn’t see any products for orthodontists that were truly cloud-based. Meanwhile, orthodontics practices were becoming larger and more complex with additional locations. It was then the Swinneys decided to write the first practice management system that was 100% browser-based.
“It was their vision in understanding the importance of the internet in the continued evolution of orthodontics that led to the creation of Cloud 9,” said Mike Ressel, the chief executive officer of Cloud 9 Software.
Weathering a Pandemic
The benefits of switching to a cloud-based technology were plain to see during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. The world came to a screeching halt and virtually all business, including orthodontic practices, had to shut down for an unknown period of time.
“COVID-19 was very scary for everybody, especially in the beginning, because there was so much we didn’t know about the virus,” recalled Kevin Simmons, Director of Product Management for Cloud 9. “We knew ourselves and our customers were locked down from physically going in to locations, but because we are cloud-based, it was very easy for practices to stay in touch with their patients.”
Situations like the pandemic lockdown and severe weather-related events where people can’t physically get to the office prove the case that being tethered to a server-based system is just something that’s not manageable anymore, according to Kelsey Phillips, Manager of Training with Cloud 9.
“Being cloud-based allows doctors and their staff to have that freedom of continuing patient care without having to be in the office,” she said. “As long as they had a device with internet connection, they had the full access they needed.”
Practices that were working from server-based systems quickly realized that trying to log in remotely was not a viable solution. They needed their staff working from multiple locations, and able to access patient data easily.
“Something that came to the forefront during the pandemic for a lot of practices was that if they had ever even considered it or not, it was time for them to look at cloud technology,” said Robin Norfleet, Director of Sales at Cloud 9. “Doctors realized, ‘I need a cloud-based system. What I’m doing is not efficient and I don’t know how long this pandemic situation is going to go on, but even once we’re past it, this is where I need to be.’ That is a huge efficiency for them.”
A New Norm
Because practices still needed to see patients, the team at Cloud 9 was there to support them in the new, all-virtual environment.
“From our standpoint, because we operate in the cloud, we have the ability to also operate as a company in a more remote structure,” said Ressel. “And so we’ve been fortunate in terms of being able to really minimize impact to our operations, which in turn means that our platform has been consistently up and available and ready to serve the needs of our customers as they serve their patients.”
As practices began to reopen, they needed to put strict safety protocols in place to protect patients and staff from exposure to the virus. As a result, they couldn’t have anyone in the waiting room. Patients with appointments were asked to wait outside in the parking lot, and guardians could not accompany their children inside. This called for a more robust communications process that was touchless.
With Cloud 9’s services, staff could not only efficiently communicate their new safety protocols, but they could also make it easy for patients and family to stay in touch about the appointment status, get updates on treatment, as well as schedule new appointments—all from their digital devices.
Staying in Touch
“The pandemic was something that no one had been through before, so we were really all in the same boat together, trying to navigate our way through not knowing exactly what the other side was going to look like,” said Norfleet.
Cloud 9 found ways to remain in close contact with their clients, both existing and prospective, through a number of communications methods, including webinars, videos, calls, emails, text messages, and social media. The traditional 9-to-5 business hours were no longer the norm, according to Phillips.
“When doctors were done with their family during the day or just trying to survive through those initial couple months, they were getting in contact with us however they could, whether it was 8:00 at night, 6:00 in the morning, or 5:00 in the afternoon,” she said. “That’s why we prioritized communication over everything.”
Supporting customers has always been a central piece of the business for Cloud 9, and being available to them to assist is important not just when customers are evaluating and implementing the software, but for any time they need it as they use the software.
“We have a dedicated team of individuals who are really focused on making sure that the practices that use Cloud 9 are getting the most out of the experience that they can,” said Ressel. “Between continued refinement and expansion of our customer service, we are really making efforts within Cloud 9 to strengthen that aspect of our offering in an effort to enhance the relationship and experience that our customers have with us.”
How are we doing?
Getting regular feedback from customers is a way for Cloud 9 to ensure the software continually evolves to meet practices’ needs. Annual users’ meetings and quarterly customer advisory board meetings are one way to hear direct feedback.
Cloud 9 receives product enhancement requests through a direct dedicated support line and a support email account, but it’s often the more proactive steps, such as sending out surveys regularly and checking in—via personal phone conversations, emails, and virtual meetings—that make a big difference.
“A lot of times I ask the simple question, ‘How are things going?’ said Norfleet. “They will tell you. They will tell you when it’s really great and they’ll also tell you if something’s not going so well. I really appreciate that.”
Phyllis Fernandez, Senior Director of Customer Success, said, “And if we don’t have a current solution, then that solution becomes an enhancement request for future development of the product.” The input from customers helps Cloud 9 make tweaks that help practices run more efficiently.
Ressel said, “When we decide what next feature to put in, we’re always doing that with an eye toward how we can maximize the value for the practices that have placed their trust in us.”
Cloud 9 takes the information along with their own market research and knowledge and experience to build a product roadmap, which goes into the pipeline for our R&D team to then develop. Before the updates are released to the masses, they are first tested out on a small beta group of users to work out any bugs or kinks that may have been missed during development testing. And once these changes or new features are considered ready for prime time, they roll out via automated deployment.
“Right now anytime we are releasing a new version of the software with a collection of enhancements and bugs, we will put out release notes and publish them online,” Simmons said. “When you’re signed in to the application, you can view those digitally, but also when you sign in the first time after a new release, you’re prompted to review the release notes.”
He added that the company has also introduced more training videos and summary videos, because they find a lot of people like a visual medium.
There is also word of mouth. Phillips said whenever the support team interacts with clients, they will often let them know of new updates that they should check out.
“We all work together to make sure we can communicate the awesome new features we’ve developed with as many people as possible,” she said.
Announcements are made by email, too, but there is another tool Cloud 9 created to get the most engagement from customers.
Welcome to Club Nine
In 2020, Cloud 9 added an online interactive forum called Club Nine as another way to share information among the user community. Club Nine serves as a centralized hub for Cloud 9 customers to have the opportunity to connect with Cloud 9 users in other locations and states. The platform is a place they can get feedback, not only from Cloud 9 employees, but their peers that are out in the industry experiencing the same issues that they’re dealing with. Club Nine also includes activities to engage the customer base with educational content in an interactive way. By participating, users can earn points and cash them in for rewards.
“I tell all my clients it’s like Reddit for Cloud 9,” said Phillips. “It’s where you can find funny pictures of people’s pets, but also learn the latest and greatest about Cloud 9.”
Club Nine includes a searchable Knowledge Base on a variety of Cloud 9-specific topics, including the latest product releases. Community members can find the information they need by browsing articles and videos, or through simple keyword searches which cover not just the Knowledge Base but also return relevant topics posted in the discussion forums.
Access to the platform is exclusive to Cloud 9 customers, but there is no cost to join. Cloud 9 hopes Club Nine members view it as a valuable and useful resource where they can learn new information while having fun.
“We want customers to be able to communicate with each other and also directly with our team to be able to have a voice and know that if they’ve got a great idea, there’s a place that they can share it,” said Simmons.
The Cloud 9 Difference
Oftentimes, there’s a tendency to view practice management software as more of a utility, like electricity or gas or phone, when in reality, it is the engine that your practice runs on, according to Ressel.
Fernandez said, “It can not only manage your everyday practice responsibilities, but it can also enhance your business and give you tools to help you grow it rather than just being a utility. It’s really practice optimization software.”
Orthodontists today need the ability to accelerate practice growth, deliver the highest quality of care, attain operational efficiency, and realize a full financial return. How effective a practice is depends greatly on the platform they choose.
Cloud 9 stands apart from competitors because of its dedicated people who are focused on helping customers get the most value out of the software that they can.
“I think oftentimes what you’ll find is that for some of our competitors in this space, they focus primarily on delivery of the software and then they leave it at that,” Ressel said. “They don’t really make a lot of effort to invest in the underlying support infrastructure to make sure that customers continue to get the value, and frankly, attain the success that we think our customers can attain using Cloud 9 as their platform.”
Another reason building and fostering relationships is important is because orthodontics itself is typically not a fee-for-service type of engagement. When a patient comes in and decides to start an orthodontic treatment program, they are committing to a multi-year relationship with that doctor.
“Regardless of any one particular visit, the reality is that these patients are in it for the long haul with their orthodontist and, in a similar fashion, we’re right there with the orthodontist,” Ressel said.
The continued commitment to the customer relationship through customer support and customer care is at the heart of everything Cloud 9 does, and it has been that way since the company’s humble beginnings.
“We are in a very relationship-centered industry and we, in turn, have been a very relationship-centered company,” said Simmons. “Especially in the early years when there was a lot of people needing extra help to get settled with the software, there was a lot of strong relationship forging during that time, and it’s continued throughout our tenure that we put customers first and we care about our relationship with them.”
By conducting business this way, Cloud 9 not only makes practice management a breeze but also serves as a trusted partner for orthodontics practices and continues to lead innovation in the growing orthodontics market