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.
The e-mail was very specific, beginning with the subject line. Warning!! Don't Use [Product-X]'s New Upgrade -- High Risk of Data Loss!! Inside, the warning text alerted me that the latest “upgrade” for a certain vendor's software product was very flawed. Using it would put your existing notebook data at risk of contamination. Unfortunately, there were two aspects of the message that I found very troubling. The first was that it came too late -- I'd already installed the upgrade and had indeed lost data because of using it. The second was that the e-mail didn't come from the manufacturer.
Faced with a number of people earnestly competing for upgrades to First Class seats, the airline gate agent called for attention and made a succinct announcement. "These four people," he said, and read off the names, "have a chance for the available upgrades. All others should board the aircraft. Be aware that if another upgrade becomes available, I won't be able to go into the aircraft to find you -- the only way you can be considered is if you are still out here at the gate." Is that airline a Product-centric or Customer-centric business? The gate agent's words left no doubt in the minds of the customers. Which is more strategic, in your company; products, or customer relationships?