You have taken the plunge.  You have moved a mission critical application to the cloud.  Hooray!  Now its time for ease of use, access from anywhere, anytime and lower total cost of ownership (TCO).  This is going to be great….until its 10 PM and you run into an issue that requires assistance.  Will your new Software as a Service (SaaS) provider be there to help you find your way?

The good news is that many of the SaaS providers really understand that when you need help, “YOU NEED HELP”. Support is easy to access via chat,  FAQ’s and support forums, even phone to address the need for immediate support.  Others have gone one step further by creating a video library to show users how to perform a number of the common tasks found in their software, the ultimate in intimate self-service while keeping the do-it-yourself feel.

Who suffers when support falls short, you do!

Recently when I was working a virtual CIO assignment for my company MetaThinq, we ran into this type of a situation.  The customer, an online retailer of pre-owned automobiles, had a situation where the inventory and price settings on their website would not update.  Safe to say, those two items are pretty critical to operating their business.

The impact was felt immediately.

  • Consumers inquiring about vehicles often found that the car was no longer available or priced incorrectly.
  • The dealerships buying in the program were requesting cars already sold and incorrectly calculating their discounts.
  • The data was passed to the advertisers like and AutoTrader incorrectly adding to consumer confusion.

The SaaS vendor providing the website services claimed a “seamless integration” with our Dealer Management System (ERP for the auto industry) and advertisers, but that was not the case.   Worse, it took 3 days to get this answer and we were then informed it also required a third party to process the data and convert it into a format that then could be uploaded into the website for $100/month.  Far from seamless and certainly not a cheap solution.

With our hands tied and money being lost daily we reluctantly moved forward and the problem was resolved.  It took six (6) business days to resolve and was costly to the client both in actual opportunity loss, but also in reputation damage with its dealership community. We also began the search for a new vendor.

How do you avoid the support black hole

There are a few steps that you can take when trying to understand the customers support services, especially in the case of applications that are mission critical.

Determine your SaaS requirements

The path to a successful SaaS purchase starts with you.  Create a list of what is required by the application you are seeking.

  • Which features are must have’s?
  • Does this solution need to integrate with other applications you use?
  • Do you need this solution to run both on a desktop and as a mobile app?

The better you define your needs, the more you will be able to communicate that to the SaaS vendor.  This will help both of you determine is the solution is the right fit for you and your company.  Most SaaS vendors would rather tell you upfront if the application falls short than deliver a service and create a relationship that will make you both unhappy.

Inquire about the support hours

Make sure that support is there when you need it.  If you did a good job in defining your software requirements you have also probably identified how critical this service will bo to your business.   Be sure to ask these questions of your vendor:

  • Is support 24 x 7 x 365?
  • 9 x 5 Monday through Friday? And if so, what time zone is considered local time?
  • E-mail and phone or just email only?
  • 2 hour, 4 hour, or Next Business Day response (NDB)?

Often times this is listed right on the SaaS vendor’s website.  If it isn’t listed, be sure to speak with a representative and find out their support policy and service level agreements for their customers.

Take it for a test drive

With the explosion of SaaS options in the marketplace today most vendors will provide you with an opportunity to trial a software.  Most of these solutions, especially in the case of CRM, Finance and Marketing apps, have easy to use tools to ingest data via Excel or a .CSV.  I suggest that you create a sample of the data you will be working with in the application and load that into the app so you can do some real world testing.  An example would be if you are testing CRM load 50-100 contacts and 5-10 of your active deals and get a feel for managing your process.

Now that you have done that, TRY THE SUPPORT TEAM.  I suggest doing the following:

  1. Create an email support case- If email is the primary source of support for the SaaS vendor start a case and see how long it takes for the vendor to respond.   Additionally, when they respond is it a canned response?  If so, begin measuring the time to the next communication.
  2. Give them a call- If the vendor has phone support test that as well.  See if the person on the other end of the line is competent to support a basic need.  Measure if the request can be solved in one call or requires follow up.
  3. Measure their self-service tools- I often find that many of my clients do not measure the self-service tools unitl they have an issue.  I suggest looking there before even buying a SaaS solution.  See if they have an extensive support library of how-to’s and application documentation, are their FAQ sections have a number of questions represented or just a small few, do they have video tutorials.  It has been my experience that the more time that a SaaS vendor has devoted to do it yourself help, the better constructied the application overall, but mileage will vary.
  4. Do they close the case quickly?- On your trial support cases did the vendor meet your expectations in solving your problems?  If not, move on.  if they can’t get support right during an audition period it will only get worse.
  5. Get it in writing- Make sure when you go to contract it includes the agreed upon service level agreements, support hours and methods and any penalties for the vendor if they fail in providing timely support.  If you are signing up for the service online be sure to download or email yourself a cop of the terms and conditions so you have those terms at the time of signing on.  don’t just hit “I agree” and move on.

Spending as nearly as much time assessing support as you would application features only increases the opportunity for a successful SaaS implementation. As the old adage goes “…and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.