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On-Boarding Must Be First in the Age of the Consumer By @CPrimault | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

Part 2 of Welcome to the Age of Consumer

In the previous article "Welcome to the Age of the Consumer: No Opinion Matters More," we spoke about how we have entered a time (from which there is probably no return) when it doesn't matter whether the customer is always right or not--this is the voice that will drown out the rest. As a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider, you are competing with more noise and competition than ever. Your target audience is more likely to listen to a review from an untrained user than the pundits of the SaaS industry or even your sales reps.

Now we go into how to take advantage of those essential first few days or even minutes that you have your potential customer's attention in order to follow through on heightened expectations of stellar customer service.

On-boarding must be tailored by use case

"I can't tell you how many companies think they have adopted a CRM, but use their spreadsheets and then log in once a month to update sales numbers," Coffee said. "There's a difference between buying and adopting it."

While still protecting customer data, it's essential for SaaS providers to use monitoring software to understand if their customers are using their apps and how it's being used.

"All we do at Salesforce is we know if it's being used. We don't see the customers' data but we can tell if a customer is using certain features and aren't, and we can rifle-shot their training." Coffee says all this can be done in two minutes.

He argues that the problem with most trainings, webinars or demos are that they are too general and lose users' attention early in. Trainings must focus on what you the end user is trying to get done.

"Taking traditional software and delivering it over a wire isn't redefining IT. It just changes our whole culture, as success being ‘customer bought the thing' to success being defined as ‘customer is happy with the outcome'," as typically defined as bumps or blockages in the renewal process. "Once the customer has adopted, you need to be working all the time so that every day it makes it harder to imagine not having you."

Coffee argues it's time that the SaaS industry fall back to the basic questions: "Mr. Customer, are you getting what you want sooner, at a predictable cost with confidence in the protection of your data and confidence of your future with us?". "There's a difference between buying and adopting it."

While still protecting customer data, it's essential for SaaS providers to use monitoring software to understand if their customers are using their apps and how it's being used.

"All we do at Salesforce is we know if it's being used. We don't see the customers' data but we can tell if a customer is using certain features and aren't, and we can rifle-shot their training." Coffee says all this can be done in two minutes.

He argues that the problem with most trainings, webinars or demos are that they are too general and lose users' attention early in. Trainings must focus on what you the end user is trying to get done.

"Taking traditional software and delivering it over a wire isn't redefining IT. It just changes our whole culture, as success being ‘customer bought the thing' to success being defined as ‘customer is happy with the outcome'," as typically defined as bumps or blockages in the renewal process. "Once the customer has adopted, you need to be working all the time so that every day it makes it harder to imagine not having you."

Coffee argues it's time that the SaaS industry fall back to the basic questions: "Mr. Customer, are you getting what you want sooner, at a predictable cost with confidence in the protection of your data and confidence of your future with us?"

This is certainly a case where B2B software needs to follow suit with B2C.

"When you first sign up for Facebook, you don't have any connections. If you don't have any, you don't use it. We are going to spend the first 30 seconds of our life together to make sure you get connections -- import email, suggest connections," Murphy said. "It's just getting people past that blank screen, started immediately, whether it's higher touch or self started."

Customer success needs to become the area where B2B SaaS are allocating more and more funds.

"In the past, it was ‘I'm going to tell you about what you do,' then it was ‘I'm going to show you what we do,' now it's going to be ‘You can try it,' and soon it's going to be ‘I'll do at least some of it for you'."

Essentially, you as a service provider need to do whatever you can to get people using your SaaS immediately and in a way that's outcome-focused.

"The biggest cause of churn--aside from just completely overselling a product and mismanaging expectations--is a botched or protracted onboarding process, especially those that have longer-term contracts when there's less pressure for onboarding and then those companies have higher churn, " Murphy said.

Since SaaS is mainly a subscription-based service, churn is easily measurable by the customer lifetime value. The next step is to use other SaaS to start to quantify success within the product. Using gamification to guide users along, but also alerting your customer success team to people trying the product on a free trial and new users who aren't using part of the tool.

This will also soon expand into identifying moments for upsell solely based on the way your customer is interacting with your service, a la the Amazon recommendation engine.

"It doesn't mean that the customer always comes first, but we aren't going to build our products in a vacuum," Murphy said.

Service expectations must be clear and followed through

Having a customer success team isn't exactly a stalwart of the lean start-up. That's why expectations for customer support must be managed and maintained from your website's pricing details to onboarding to upselling to renewal.

"What seems to be happening to a few of these SaaS companies, basically a company starts up, they have their tech team, their marketing team and their sales team. Focusing on growth. And very little is spent on retaining and supporting the existing users. I think a lot of people sign up for Software X for 10.99 a month and expect specific support, but in actuality they have to wait 12 hours because they are in the wrong time zone or support is only via email," said Griffiths, who works exclusively in the cloud. "The companies I stick with are those that have really good support," citing Intercom and Sentry for having particularly personal and fast support.

Some say being bootstrapped might give you an advantage in offering well-managed support. Rick Chapman of Softletter SaaS experts argues that "The larger you are, the poorer you are at renewing because you are bureaucratized, not responding to customer."

Either way, there's no doubt that whatever customer support you offer needs to be international.

Talking about the CRM he co-founded, "Close.io, with an English-only site, no marketing, fully focused on U.S., yet 40 percent international. Once you are out there and actually successful, you can't stop a global audience." Efti believes that the modern SaaS buyer is shopping for a mix of price, value and usability, not based on neighborhood.

Web Informant David Strom says the challenge is to "not only distinguish themselves, but they have to be able to support the rest of the world," saying it's "very short-sighted to only want to sell to U.S. and Canada." Strom argues that just about every SaaS company needs to hire multilingual customer support and to target new markets.

Efti believes though that it goes beyond being able to serve each customer, but also about how to serve them. "I think most SaaS businesses really need to refocus their efforts on really getting to know their customers. Have tens hundreds thousands of customers and haven't actually visited their offices in last six months," in order to understand the context of their business and how they really use or try to use these SaaS tools. "Not just analytics or surveys, see how they are actually using it, actually spending time with your company," Efti clarified. "This is really old school doesn't seem scalable and that's why it's a truly visionary."

He says it's obvious this type of contact is often overlooked by SaaS providers "because we are so tech run, and so focused on running scalable processes and businesses, we dismiss the old school truths of building relationships and understanding your customers."

Automating Customer Service Means Big Money

Customer service software has become a multi-billion-dollar industry as a way to manage calls from a growing customer base.  Here's a brief overview of some of the huge deals to fund help desk software, making it easier--but certainly not easy--to offer great customer service.

Murphy said that "The success of our customer is not about them using a CRM, the functional use of our products. At the end of the day the success of a customer of a CRM product is that they close more deals," which he says has led to "Traditional software companies acquiring disruptive ones, [like] Salesforce acquiring RelateIQ."

Haven't read Part 1: "Welcome to the Age of the Consumer: No Opinion Matters More," yet? Well, what are you waiting for? We talk about how SaaS providers need to take advantage of our lemming-like culture to take advantage of user reviews and social media in order to win with the biggest influencers of SaaS: You.

More Stories By Christophe Primault

Christophe Primault is the co-founder of GetApp, the #1 Cloud based Apps Marketplace. His aim is to provide tips and advice on how businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, can benefit from cloud-based apps and improve their bottom line. In my spare time he enjoys mountaineering, water sports and long distance triathlons. He's a proud IronMan finisher. You can follow him on Twitter @GetApp