What Every Customer Deserves (From Their Software Solution)
Software is a funny thing – imperfect by nature, hated by many, but at the end of the day an absolute necessity for all. Whether you’re dragged kicking and screaming or leading the pack, everyone is now immersed in how web-enabled technology has changed our daily lives. For businesses that means simply having a web presence is not enough. They in particular are forced to transform themselves yet again to keep up with the competition and a new standard from their customers to provide a current, real-time, integrated experience.
I have witnessed over the last 3 years an explosion in three separate areas that more recently have converged to what is now an entirely new way to run your business. Web 2.0, mobile/smartphone technology and the general public’s wide-spread adoption of social media have set the stage for businesses to interact with their customers on a whole new level. In response, many technology firms are moving to a cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) that can take business into the next generation.
We’ll talk much more about these buzz words in another post, but let’s first step back and recap what the ideal software (and service) should look like.
Software should make your lives easier, not harder
At the end of the day your software solution should make your life easier. I’ve spent the last 10 years developing custom solutions for companies of all varieties. General goals always seem to fall into the following categories to improve lives one way or another:
- Automate backoffice processes. For example a 5-step member registration process gets reduced to 2 by allowing the customer to directly interact and use their credit card.
- Reduce human error. Let’s have the software do more thinking for us, and catch common problems. Dreary Mondays and TGIF mean nothing to software programs, but they absolutely affect the performance of humans.
- Improve visibility. Help supervisors and executives get a clearer picture of what’s going on.
- Improve participation. Let’s allow customers, partners and suppliers to interact with our core database in a secure, user-friendly way.
- Go green / reduce paper and postage. This one speaks for itself.
The net result is your processes are more efficient, cost effective, and less error prone. If your software isn’t doing any of these things well it’s time to start looking elsewhere.
Software should be empowering and user-friendly
Your vendor should be in the business of providing you with user-friendly tools to accomplish day-to-day activities. If the process is complex than this may require multiple steps, however, the bottom line is software still should be straight-forward to use after a little training.
These tools should also empower you, allowing you to accomplish your task and then move on without the need for outside help. I’ve learned that the majority of people really want to do the work themselves versus always picking up the phone or sending an email for support.
A classic example of technology transforming a process once completed by experts is the content management system (CMS) which allows you to update a website yourself. We spent years completing manual text changes on customer websites based on phone calls or email messages for support. A modern CMS however allows simple changes to a website faster than you can craft an email to the provider, provide a clarifying statement when they have questions, wait 1 to 2 business days for the change to take place, and then quality-check the results. A little empowerment leaves us craving for more.
Your software should be current, leveraging the technology of today not yesteryear
Like a brand new car exiting the dealer’s lot, when you roll out version 1.0 of a custom solution it is immediately on a slow path towards becoming a dinosaur. Competitors zoom past with new, innovated ways to accomplish the same task, and your customers ultimately follow. Technology changes fast, particularly web-based technologies. Information security is also paramount, so software always needs to evolve to combat new attack vectors from the bad guys. This cycle will never end.
Keep in mind “the web” as we know it is really only around 15 years old. That’s a baby compared to desktop software, and an infant compared to other stable technologies that have re-shaped our world (television, automobiles, etc). Don’t expect the web technology curve to flatten out for another 10 to 15 years.
Software updates should be included, and almost transparent to you
Assuming you’re on board with having software that is current, secure and evolving to meet your needs, it’s natural then that software updates should be automatically included in your subscription. The licensing model where you have to pay for upgrades is outdated with the dawn of web-based software-as-a-service.
Upgrades should be practically transparent too, meaning it requires little or no effort on each end-user to benefit from all the goodies in a new software release. That alone rules out desktop software and the old cycle of new CDs, prompts, and reboots. Web-based applications thrive in comparison. Generally speaking you should be entitled to the following:
- If the changes are subtle (really just bug-fixes) than they happen automatically
- Larger, more substantial changes should be communicated in advance. Perhaps a webinar ahead of time that you can opt for in preparation for how your life is about to get even easier
- Even the larger changes should be transparent. This includes migrating your old data formats to the new format automatically (if necessary)
- There should be plenty of help documentation about what changed. I’m not talking about geek speak here – but common sense descriptions of what changed and short online videos that give you the skinny on what you need to know to move on
- After major releases there should be free webinars that again explain the changes and provide a forum to ask questions to the vendor
Software should come with an expansive library of help information
Technical support should absolutely be included, unlimited and helpful, but only as a last resource. Why? Because people are expensive, more expensive than knowledge base articles, tutorials and on-demand help videos. The cost of your software licensing would increase significantly if the provider was anticipating every customer calling each time a staff member didn’t know how to accomplish something.
Under this premise the demand once again falls on the provider though – they should provide you with an expansive library of help documentation. They should adopt current technologies to make this help library not be so boring too – this means pictures, simple conceptual diagrams, and short help videos.
If it’s fair for a provider to teach you how to fish so software licensing costs can remain low, than it’s fair they provide an expansive help library in a variety of formats. If all else fails the phone call should be picked up and you get help from someone knowledgeable about the product you subscribe to.
Software should be relatively easy to adopt, relatively easy to drop
I say the word relatively, because let’s be honest: it’s hard switching over to a new software, especially if it is centered on operating your business. To combat this, the provider should be there to help you import your data and adopt the new tools/processes. This means it will be a little painful for both parties up front, but in the end the provider is there to support you.
Should you be unsatisfied with the solution or the provider stops innovating, software should be relatively easy to drop as well. Proprietary formats or “vendor lock-in” schemes where your ability to move on to another service provider is crippled are both traits of a stale, arrogant provider. Long-term subscriptions reminiscent of the cell phone industry’s phone plans should also be avoided.
What else does the vendor provide me? While this isn’t a requirement, companies that provide complimentary services or advice is a huge plus. It will separate them from the pack, so be looking out for it.
Above all else, software should cumulatively improve the lives of the subscriber’s staff, partners and customers. Upgrades and support should be included too, and provided in a manner that is clear and effective for all that participate. The good news: web-based software-as-a-service is perfectly positioned to provide these benefits now.