Customer success is integral to SaaS

One on-demand vendor's use of a public wiki to document support information illustrates the commitment to customer success that's characteristic of the on-demand model.

One of the benefits of the on-demand application model that people often overlook also happens to be one of the most important: customers only pay once they're up-and-running. Compare that to on-premises software, which you pay for as soon as you take delivery — irrespective of whether you ever get it working satisfactorily. That's a fundamental distinction that has knock-on effects for how on-demand vendors design their applications. They make them as easy to get started with as possible and they usually provide lots of support to help customers use the application to maximum effect.A public wiki documents support information for customers It's in their interests to maximize usage because then the customer will sign up more users, generating extra revenue for them.

All companies want their customers to succeed, of course, but the pay-as-you-go structure of the on-demand business model makes this much more than a generic aspiration; ensuring that every individual user has a positive experience of using the application becomes a commercial imperative.

An email I received this week gives a great illustration of what this means in practical terms, so asked the sender if I could quote some of it here. It was from Rob Luddy, VP of sales at Service-now.com, which provides a suite of on-demand applications to support IT operations such as help desk, change management and asset management. The vendor maintains a public wiki to document support information for its customers, and his description highlights how different that is from the kind of support customers are used to getting from conventional licensed software vendors:

"We have made a huge investment in our Wiki — it changes and grows on a daily basis. Why? Simple — our customers repeatedly tell us they see tremendous value in being able to research a question on their own, on their own schedule, and implement new functionality without being at the mercy of a call back from an ill-qualified support organization.

"Customers are tired of paying 20% maintenance to vendors only to be put on hold, sent to voice mail or occasionally speak with a customer service representative whose most common answer to their question is 'let me do some research and I'll call you back.' Invariably, three phone calls later the customer gets to the one person in support who fixes their problem in 3 minutes.

"The Wiki provides a thoroughly modern, easy to use, and dynamic means of providing guidance, advice and direction to our customers. We work very hard to answer our customers questions in a documented fashion so all customers (and prospects) can benefit from the question and more importantly, the answer — direct from a developer of the applications.

"Our customers use the Wiki on a daily basis and rave about how it has supported their implementations. Simply put it helps them get the most value out of their investment. No doubt there are benefits to the company as well — we do not have to the expense and overhead of recruiting, training and supporting a room full of 'support engineers'.

"The Wiki takes discipline on our part. We have worked hard to build a usable site and to maintain it on a daily basis. At the end of the day though, it is about the customer. This is how they want to do business in the modern age and this is one example of why virtually every one of our customers is referenceable."

Note the contrast there between being able to self-discover information free of charge, as opposed to paying maintenance so you can sit on hold for hours. The attitude of conventional vendors seems to be to take money off their customers when they buy, and then wait for them to fail in their efforts to get the software up-and-running, so that they can charge them even more for support! It's that kind of cultural difference that consistently trips up conventional vendors when they try to adopt the on-demand model. It really is much more than simply an alternative delivery model. It's a completely different way of doing business.

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