The shape and color of the Cloud formations have a dark tinge out at the farther edges. The market for Software As A Service applications seems headed into a commoditized future. As more and more software companies offer SaaS products, the swelling competition will exert ever-growing pressure on pricing. Sound familiar? It should, for increasing power and availability of choices coupled with decreasing price has been the reality of the PC market for many years. But that dark future is not inevitable for SaaS. Consider the example of a company that still consistently gets premium prices for a premium product family in the midst of the PC sameness. Even better, a company who enjoys continuing levels of customer loyalty its competitors can only helplessly envy. SaaS vendors who want more than subsistence, take note: Who will be the Apple of the SaaS community?
It Just Works — With Delight
I’ve been a Mac user for nearly 20 years. My iPod handles the music that is a constant companion, and my iPhone goes everywhere with me. (I wish that I had far more than the few shares of APPL in my IRA holdings.) I enjoy my trips to the Apple store, and the thought that maybe there might be cheaper prices to be found elsewhere holds no allure. While I’ve only had to call for Support a bare handful of times over the years, each occasion has been effective and pleasant. Saying “it just works” is only the beginning part of the reason I keep buying from Apple. There is a consistent experience of delight inherent in the products themselves, in their use, and in interacting with the people of the company that is not accidental; it’s all the result of the company’s relentless insistence on excellence of design and execution. That insistence works for the company as well as the customers.
The single source for all of the product’s components is a key aspect that SaaS vendors wishing to emulate Apple’s success need to recognize. The seamless linkage between my computer, phone and music player wouldn’t be possible if all three came from different vendors and the burden of tying them together was on me. I have no interest in learning about technology, I just want to use it. I realize that Apple doesn’t make all of the components of their products themselves — but I have only one number to call when I have a question. And I almost never need to call that number.
A Difference That Matters
The data coming in from The SaaS & Support Project research is giving a sharp picture of the state of customer support in the SaaS ecosystem. Jeff Kaplan notes that “as the differentiation between various horizontal applications diminishes, it will be those SaaS and cloud computing companies which offer the most specialized skills and strongest customer support services that will attain a competitive advantage.” I agree, but differentiation based on support services will require a complete reinvention of the profession we know as Support — and much more. Apple didn’t build their base of customer loyalty on the quality of their support alone. Support is a required key element, but it needs to be far more than a compensation for technical deficiencies in design and execution elsewhere in the company.
Who will be the Apple of the SaaS community? And find a silver lining in those shadowed clouds? Some very significant rewards are waiting for those who are willing and able to think and act differently. Is that you?
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The Apple logo is the registered trademark of Apple, Inc. ‘Think Different” was the title of the advertising campaign that began Apple’s dramatic comeback in 1997.