As the Software As A Service business model continues its rapid advance, the inherent changes for both vendor and customer are both substantial and significant. But once again, Customer Support is in danger of getting shoved to a back burner. I'm sure you've heard the usual statements of “strategies:” “SaaS doesn't need Support, it's included in the subscription.” “We're going to do it all via web self-service.” “The social networking community will take care of it for us.” And, of course, “just keep costs down.” If you'd like to be part of a smarter approach, you're invited to take part in a new benchmarking and research project that's aimed squarely at taking the best of what we've learned from the past and using it to create the future. The result will be best-practices data and better business + operational models for both SaaS and Customer Support.
The shift to the Software As A Service distribution model inevitably brings the end of large dedicated Sales teams for software vendors. The new profits-realization methodology, being based on incremental gains from many income streams rather than from bulk up-front events, does not allow for the costs of large direct sales forces. It also doesn't allow paying for large customer support staffing levels either -- a fact which has vital significance to two different groups. The first is the SaaS vendors, who will need to pay far more attention to user experience in their product design efforts. The second group that needs to be paying very serious attention to the implications of the ever-growing shift to SaaS are the manufacturers of customer contact center technology.
I recently had a conversation with the CEO of one of my oldest software manufacturer clients. He's a veteran, having successfully weathered a number of industry changes over the years with his company, but he made a comment that concerned me. "We can go SaaS at any time," he said. "We've got the code already revised and in place, so it won't be a big deal if we decide to offer that model." Unfortunately, the reports of those who have undertaken the journey to SaaS show that it will be a big deal, and the shock will be the worse for the short-range view of the initial decision and what it will bring. For a traditional model product-centric software manufacturer, changing the code to go SaaS is only the beginning, and is the easiest part. The significant challenges will come from the ripple effects of that migration on every level of the company and its people.
I was asked to speak on the topic: "10 Key Things to Look For in Customer Support With SaaS Vendors" at the SaaSCon 2008 event. The invitation, the phrasing of the session topic, and the radically changing demographics for the event were and remain significant indicators of the gathering force of the SaaS/Cloud tsunami -- and of the speed of development of the sea change in the industry. But there's a haunting reminder at the edges of this brave new on-demand world, an unquiet Ghost of Computing Past. The lessons we still haven't learned keep shadowing our success.
The Cloud/Software As A Service tsunami that Microsoft's Bill Gates described as a sea-change in the high technology industry is growing ever larger. Years ago, Gates saw something gathering on the horizon that concerned him, as well it should. When all you need to access the business technology is a reliable browser, does it matter which operating system you have on your computer?
To be successful in the SaaS model, a company has to have SaaS-thinking embedded at the DNA level. The SaaS model requires profound changes in Sales, Marketing and Development -- and even more so in Support/Service. Customer Retention is the vital metric, and Support must be about productivity instead of Break/Fix.