Sunday, October 17, 2010

Delighting Customers

I'd been a PM for 10 years or so before I first heard the phrase "delight our customers".  It struck me as an odd turn of phrase, honestly, mostly because I don't often hear the word delight or its variants outside the context of polite social discourse.  But the idea of truly delighting customers carries with it a lot of powerful implications, and the expression itself is powerful in part because the word delight gets people's attention.  It's a great way of planting a stake in the ground as to what's truly expected and required, particularly if I find myself in a room full of folks who've grown weary of trying to cover too many bases with too little resources.

And make no mistake -- in a SaaS business in particular, everything hangs on delighting customers.  The subscription revenue model makes it imperative to delight them and secure their renewals (and expansion) year-in and year-out, and if your customers can't see their way to delight, their renewals (and your business) are at risk.  To make things even more interesting, the SaaS delivery model raises the stakes for delighting customers far beyond what you see in an on-premise model.

The chief driver of this raising of stakes is the way in which customers interact vendors and their solutions.  In a SaaS model, the vendor doesn't just own the solution -- they "own" everything.  Everything about the user's experience from the point their PC touches the Internet sits squarely in the lap of the vendor, and in some cases.  Opportunities to distribute blame for a shabby experience are few and far between, and even if there were, it's the vendor who will ultimately suffer the most from unhappy customers -- the vendor needs renewals to make the subscription business model work.

Fortunately, the connected usage model gives us some great opportunities to stay in touch with our customers, and understand how we're doing at keeping them happy.  Because the users are connected, the potential exists to gather a great deal of insight into how they are or aren't using the system.  That can start with something as basic as tracking when users get in and how long they stay, but by instrumenting the product to track user activity within the product UI, much greater insight can be gained -- actionable insight.  If you're trying to figure out where to enhance your solution, wouldn't you love to know which features users actually use the most?  The least?  Wouldn't it be great to see where users get confused and abandon things they start?  Anyone would, of course.

Other than getting genuine visibility into how the system is being used, there's also a fantastic opportunity in a SaaS model to engage with users.  Because they're connected, you can ask them in real time what they think:  How do they like the system?  What do they think of this new feature?  How are the colors working for them?  Was this help useful?  What do they need more of?  Less of?  And that dialog doesn't just give you the ability to ask them questions, it offers the potential (and carries the obligation) to tell them what you're up to:  What's coming and when?  How will they be affected by a change, and how will they not?  A big part of delighting customers is avoiding unpleasantly surprising them.

For organizations used to an arms-reach relationship with customers, there's a lot of new ground, here,  But the core of a successful business remains the same as it has for centuries -- you need delighted customers.  As you think about your own organization, I'd love to hear examples of the energy you've seen in this direction.  Thanks, as always, for sharing.

All for now,


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