Sunday, January 13, 2008

Technical Support for SaaS Applications?

Jeff Kaplan just posted on the changes required for the sales and support models for On Demand Applications. I previously posted on how Selling to SMBs requires a lower cost approach, which supports what Jeff writes on Sales Strategies in the on demand world.

What piqued in my interest further in Jeff's post was his valid points about supporting an On Demand application.

Jeff writes

Similarly, the support function also changes in the on-demand world. Rather than rely on technical support to react to problems implementing and maintaining software, customers expect their on-demand solutions to be easy to deploy and administer.

In a previous lifetime, I was involved in a non SaaS organization where there were 3 levels of technical support all directly visible to the customer.

1. End User phone help desk
2. 2nd Tier support for Customer Administrators and for the data
3. 3rd Tier support handling Software problems and deploying emergency patches to all customers.

Major investment in Phone, Call Distribution, Server Access, remote control software (Webex/Goto Meeting subscriptions), People for multiple support shifts, and intensive training add significantly to the cost of running a traditional software business.

Add to this problems of high staff turnover, miscommunications, local language requirements (especially if outsourcing help desk functions) and Technical Support is a significant burden for both the ISV and the customer.

This extremely high cost and human resource intensive approach to support while necessary for a Non-SaaS ISV is deprecated in the SaaS and Web 2.0 world.

With a SaaS Single instance approach to the application with availability over the internet, direct phone support for day to day users is essentially eliminated due to the following

  1. Hardware compatibility, software installation, database corruptions, Versioning problems are non issues in the SaaS world.
  2. A consistent User interface reduces training costs and on the phone training support.
  3. Because of the multi-tenant nature of SaaS, a user supported forum and Wiki is more likely to provide a solution to any problems a user may have.

You could also add a "Self Service web portal" which takes a user through a set of diagnostic steps for the most common problems a user may experience for example it could run diagnostics on your browser and check for security settings. If your business is such that you require person to person contact, a Chat function in your application is a more efficient mechanism,

This non-intrusive approach results in lower operating costs for the vendor which leads to maintainable low subscription costs for the customer. It also reduces the likelihood of customer dissatisfaction caused by communication issues with a Help desk and the inconvenience of having to call a help desk number numerous times and trying to talk to the person who was helping you previously.