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The Impact of Support 2.0

Angry customerI recently encountered a very unhappy CEO who is a customer of a mid-sized SaaS firm. After listening to him vent his frustration at great length about the lousy support he was getting from “BadCo,” I asked him why he didn’t simply switch to a competitor. “I can’t,” he said. “It would cost too much. I’ve spent a fortune on customizations and integrations with their professional services group and we’ve now got their service so embedded in our operation that it would be a huge project to tear it out and replace it. But every time we have to call them, I get mad all over again.” Would he switch if a competitor ever offered him an acceptable migration path? Without a doubt. In the meantime, his frustration strongly motivates him to seek out opportunities to talk to his peers at industry gatherings, telling tales likely to be heard, remembered and probably passed on by the audience in turn.

Knowledge NetworkYour prospects and your customers are talking — and they are increasingly paying attention to what their community is saying. Marketing departments currently see this widespread conversation as Viral Marketing. An older name is Word of Mouth advertising. But just as positive WOM is a huge asset for a company to have going for it, the reverse is even more true. Satisfied customers may tell 5-8 of their friends & associates about a company they like. Angry customers, on the other hand, are likely to tell dozens. Worse yet, in the increasingly connected online Web 2.0 world of bloggers, forums and community commentary, one seriously disgruntled customer may impact the perceptions and decisions of many thousands of people.

Support quality in the SaaS/Cloud world is not something that any company can afford to take for granted. Moments of truth can occur at many points, where customers may decide to buy, or not to buy, more or even at all from you. Your customer support quality is a major aspect of your product, an integral part of the ongoing mutually profitable relationship between company and customer. Features and functionality can be matched, and in the long term, will be — every time. Quality relationships are not so easily built.

The technology manufacturers are currently talking about Support 2.0, how customers are increasingly interested in wikis and discussion forums as an access channel to the support knowledge inventory of the community as well as that of the manufacturer. This is an opportunity for the technology vendors to reduce the costs of their contact center operations, but it’s also a point of caution: the discussion will certainly involve more than just technical details and options of implementation and profitable usage. Avenues for migration and alternative destinations are also going be of interest to that community, and they will have more information about them than ever before.

That irate CEO is highly unlikely to buy any more services from his current vendor, or to permit them any greater penetration into his business. He’s also a perfect opportunity for a competitor or a third party who builds a migration solution that can substantially ease the pain of switching. I’m beginning to hear of independent data migration firms and campaigns, and I expect to see a lot of activity in this area as the SaaS/Cloud market grows. Sooner or later, the vendors are going to get into the game themselves and start buying customers, paying for the migration in exchange for some length of a commitment. When there is no pain barrier to migration, the only points left to consider are price, reliability and the perceived value of the relationship. Successful vendors, over the long haul, will be those who realize that what they are truly selling is the relationship, and that customers will pay a premium for quality.