The proliferation of on-demand services has been driven by the promise that these Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and 'cloud computing' alternatives to traditional on-premise software products will be faster to deploy, easier to use and quicker to produce tangible value.
While this is generally true, it doesn't mean that these web-based applications are entirely fool-proof or without their challenges. Sometimes there are technical nuances which have to be overcome. Other times there are integration, customization or optimization issues which have to be addressed. And like any application, sometimes on-demand solutions encounter service disruptions which need to be resolved.
Until recently, SaaS support services were taken for granted. Many SaaS vendors bundled support services into the price of their SaaS solutions, and offered ad hoc support to quickly respond to specific questions or problems. Much of this support was delivered via online services or email, with phone support offered as only a last resort.
However, a growing number of SaaS executives have been telling me that their support costs have been escalating and customer concerns about the quality of support rising as the population of SaaS users has expanded and the number of cloud computing service outages has grown.
The success of on-demand services is predicated on the speed at which vendors can acquire new customers and the rate at which they can retain and grow these accounts. Put another way, on-demand service providers cannot afford customer dissatisfaction, abandonment and churn.
At the same time, customers who are recognizing that on-demand services are a viable alternative to on-premise products are recognizing that they cannot afford to adopt point solutions from a myriad of providers. Instead, they must select a smaller set of strategic vendors who can supply the best combination of on-demand services. As a result, IT/business decision-makers are taking a closer look at the quality of support offered by on-demand service providers.
While many of the more mature SaaS vendors have recognized this growing requirement, it is just beginning to gain industry-wide attention. In response to the growing importance of customer support as a key selection criteria for SaaS solutions and pivotal part of ensuring customer satisfaction, NetSuite (NYSE:N) unveiled a new portfolio of technical support, training and professional service capabilities this past week.
SuiteSuccess™ includes multi-tier technical support options that include 60 days of free support with any NetSuite solution and NetSuite support personnel on-call around the clock. It also includes free, on-demand e-learning sessions.
The company's SuiteConsulting is based on its NetSuite One methodology that helps customers implement and customize NetSuite's SaaS solution for their specific business needs. NetSuite is also offering Shared Consulting in which customized projects are jointly managed by NetSuite and the customer, and Guided Consulting for customers who need more standardized solutions with help from a NetSuite specialist.
Anyone who has followed the support side of the software and technology industry may not be impressed with these offerings because they follow a familar pattern and borrow from proven customer support frameworks. But, that is the point. NetSuite's new support program is a clear indication that the on-demand services market is maturing, and trying to meet the standards of support which were established in traditional software and technology world.
The real interesting question is whether the on-demand services movement can redefine the meaning of support just as it has redefined the way solutions are delivered.