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.
There's an ugly little secret about the software business that is ripe for a change. The average user of a software application, at best, taps less than 10% of its features & functionality. As the SaaS sea-change continues to unfold, the implications of this simple fact for the software industry are very powerful. The dramatic success of Apple's iTunes is about enabling people to easily buy a single song instead of the entire album the music industry would like to force consumers to purchase. Vendors of bloatware, applications full of unwanted and unused “features,” would do well to consider the iTunes lesson. If given a choice, buyers are not slow to vote with their dollars and to overthrow entrenched industry patterns in the process. Will SaaS vendors seize the “iSoftware” opportunity for industry leadership?
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.