Tuesday, October 19, 2010

If you don't ask...

Knowing what anyone else is thinking or feeling is a tricky business, so how do you really know that your SaaS customers are delighted and likely to renew?

The SaaS model offers great potential for seeing how/how much customers are using your system.  As PM's, we need to think about what visibility we need to know customers are happy, and find a way to get that data.  Instrumenting the product to capture it needs to be built into the requirements early on, or you'll be constantly trying to catch up with your needsas they evolve.  We also need tools to view and analyze the data, and finally to make time to actually look at it, interpret it and use it in improving our systems.

There are some obvious examples of quantitative metrics to think about:
  • The number of unique users who are logging in, relative to the number of subscribers
  • The amount of use they're giving the system (how often do they come in, and how long are they using it)
  • The type of work they're doing with the system
The specific metrics are going to vary from one solution to another, and if you know your business it won't be hard to figure out what you need to know.  In a word processing application, the volume of documents created may be really important, for example, but with a project planning tool, the number and frequency of users posting project updates may be what matters.  Understanding trends is important, too.  For example, is usage rising or falling?  And is rising or falling normal, say, for the period of the business cycle, or an indicator of something going wrong?

Insight into other parts of your broader solution may be important, too.  For example:
  • The usage of education materials within a customer's user base
  • Support statistics for a customer (how many incidents, what types of incidents, how quickly they were resolved, etc)
  • The number and types of suggestions for enhancements that have come from the customer
This second set of metrics may well be produced and stored by different systems managed by various parts of your organization.  Pulling them together into a single view of the customer may be difficult, and this is where having an IT/Operations team truly focused on the unique needs of a SaaS business can make a big difference.  Getting a solid picture of your customers' experience with your entire solution is crucial, and can help not just PM's with decision making, but the customer care teams as well.  If they're not already concerned with this insight, consider it your responsibility to get them concerned!

Stats are useful and important, but it's just as important to ask customers how they're doing, and let them tell you what's really on their mind.  Customer calls and visits are indispensable opportunities to do this as PM, but this task ought to be operationalized by the customer care teams as well.  Consider polling customers regularly with a brief survey -- for example, after each support inquiry (up to once per month) or proactively on a quarterly basis, if the customer hasn't initiated outreach themselves.  So armed, your customer care teams can address satisfaction issues before they become a risk factor for renewals.

Knowing where your customers stand is crucial to keeping them happy.  What are you looking at to gauge customer satisfaction?  And how are you using that data across your organization?  I'd appreciate your insights!

All for now,


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