Software as a Service (SaaS) is certainly is not a new technology, and the benefits of SaaS are extremely well documented for those of you where this is a new concept. However, the importance of receiving superior customer service before, during, and after your SaaS implementation has become a hot topic for organizations looking to take advantage of the flexibility and decreased costs of SaaS, yet still demand superior customer service.
To be successful at receiving superior service in a SaaS world, it is important to manage your vendor and manage yourself as the customer.
- Be proactive. ─ Don’t wait for a problem to ask for support. A common mistake is not having defined support models and necessary documentation in place before a problem arises. All too often, these are put into place after issues are uncovered.
- Don’t be afraid to escalate. – Consider putting your engagement manager on speed dial, and understand what the next escalation level in the vendor’s support model. However, don’t abuse it.
- Know your vendors. – It is not uncommon for technology and product vendors to leverage partners for such services as implementation, consulting, and integration tasks. If your product vendor is recommending specific service partners, ask for company overviews from those partners to fully understand their capabilities. Also, seek independent research materials from leading learning technology research firms. Bersin & Associates and Gartner are great starting points.
- Think globally. Act locally. – We live in a 24x7 digital economy where everyone is connected via phone, email, and web at all times. However, consider making sure your vendor has a person you can meet with physically, even if it’s only quarterly. This will go a long way for issue resolution and relationship building. If your SaaS implementation is a rather large project with multiple vendors and subcontractors, consider assigning a single Project Manager to become the primary point of contact for all integrated communications.
- Remind them: Customer service is KEY. – When you sign up for a new cell phone or cable service and the customer service is poor, there is a good chance you will let the provider know about it. Consequently, don’t be afraid to let your SaaS vendors know when you’re displeased. Ironically, most good SaaS service providers prefer you let them know when expectations are not being met rather than waiting for multiple issues to pile up. Remember: You may not always be right, but we need to treat you like you are―that’s the mantra for superior customer service.
- Plan. – Coming from a Project Management background, I cannot emphasize enough the need of having talented Project Managers to ensure successful projects, especially SaaS implementations. That goes for the client side as well, however. Too often, clients appointed individuals with little to no PM experience and the project suffers. Also, make sure you keep project documentation updated―this includes system documentation and, more importantly, PM documentation such as a Project Management Plan (PMP). If you’re not using a PMP for your SaaS implementation, I highly recommend it. At a high level, the PMP becomes a roadmap to how you will manage the project for success. The Plan covers other smaller areas such as Communications Plans, the Governance Plan, Risk Management, and the Schedule.
- Train your employees. – Most SaaS implementations cover just enough training to make administrators dangerous in the application. But in my experience, it is never enough. The more informed your users and administrators are, the less issues you will face. Make sure to ask for “super” admin training along with the other training modules your vendor may offer. This will ultimately make your organization less dependent upon service providers that understand the core functionality inside and out.
- Understand your SLA. – When you hear the term Service Level Agreement (SLA), most people think of hosting and uptime requirements. However, not long ago, many service vendors began adding SLAs to their professional services offerings as well. Be sure you fully understand that SLA and the difference between things like response time and resolution time. Finally, ask for templates for SLA metric reports for other customers, and ensure you can expect the same type of monthly reports.
- Understand your internal IT and security requirements. – Work with your internal IT department early and often to understand what the IT requirements are for a SaaS-deployed system. While IT will be less involved than if the system is hosted behind the corporate firewall, make sure you understand where your data needs to go and what it needs to do. Security is an often overblown issue with discussing SaaS since there were not any clear cut security standards in place until recently. However, security has become much less of an issue since the NIST released several Cloud Computing Roadmaps . Note any firewall issues that may interfere with access. And, finally, know the limitations of your infrastructure.
I have heard vendors speak of quality and service as though they are special benefits, which are thrown in if you choose to purchase a product or service. Quality and service are expectations, not selling points. As the Learning and Development space continues to evolve and the SaaS model becomes more prevalent across all different types of products, the level of service and quality of service that you receive will evolve as well.