The Challenge

Client services for a SaaS company must be able to scale quickly while being able to respond to thousands of clients simultaneously, consistently and seamlessly. My challenge was to convert a traditional hands-on support organization to a SaaS support group. The key to any Software As A Service (SaaS) company is to create a single code base that is deployed to thousands of clients. To be successful, software support has to scale with sales only adding support headcount when it is cost effective.

Pulling data on client revenues and support hours from our CRM allowed me to map out which clients were using the most support and to calculate the annualized run rate (how much did we earn vs. how much we were spending on support). These KPIs immediately highlighted portfolio risk with overallocation to a handful of account managers. Using the metrics defined I was able to reorganize the team to minimize risk by reallocating account manager portfolios. I was also able to see our most profitable and least profitable accounts and devise a plan for improving support via automation and intentional negative churn where those clients could not be supported profitably.

The 80/20 Rule

The first step in this process is to evaluate your client base using the Pareto 80/20 to ensure that the top 20% of clients, who provide 80% of revenue are being attended to.


Customer Portal Project

Identifying what support to automate is straightforward. If you do not have a CRM with reports that are tracking client support questions and time spent, then interview your support team and use the anecdotal information. Most support people can tell you the questions they get most often and the questions that take them the most time to answer. They can also tell you who is using the most support time. It is better if you have reports to support this anecdotal information, but even if you do not, you can start to measure immediately, concurrently with the project to automate support.

There are many tools for building a customer portal, free wikis to tools built into your CRM. For me, it was critical the support forum tightly integrated with our CRM (a feature in Salesforce) so that we could measure and track the customer support, by customer, by rep, with open/close times. The project requires creating new processes for supporting clients, defining KPIs, identifying the tools to deliver the information, and resource allocation for subject matter experts.

Support The Team

It is critical to show the ROI to the executive team and to the support team. Everyone needs to know the duration of the project, estimated costs, and number of hours needed. This ROI may allow you to hire temporary staff to backfill your subject matter experts while they create the content for your portal.

This is a growth based initiative and your team is critical to the success of the project. This project will also add to an already overburdened support team. You will want to acknowledge this and ensure the team has dedicated time to work on building your knowledge base.

It is critical that your support team understands this automation will make their jobs better, and not be intended to replace them. As your company grows their knowledge is too valuable to share with only a few clients. The process of automating will allow your key support team members to help more clients more easily.


Account Management Is A Sales Role

Automating simple support allows your team to focus on increasing client profitability. For me, this meant focusing on helping our clients achieve their revenue goals using our products. When evaluating customer profitability it was important to use forecast (potential revenue) and not the prior year's actuals. This was because the model shift from standard support to SaaS support meant the team needed to sell.

By using forecast numbers I could see where our missed revenue opportunity was and allocated the right resources to support clients that had potential to be more profitable. SaaS support is account management which is a sales role, it is not technical support. Some support staff were better suited to knowledge worker and were allocated to building and maintaining the customer portal, others were rock star sales people who were going to be compensated for increasing revenues. Job descriptions and compensation plans changed based on the new roles.

Negative Churn is OK

Not every client will fit into the new model which is why understanding client profitability is critical. Often the clients that could least afford support used the most because they had so few resources of their own. These clients can be hard to convert to a SaaS model and while no one likes to lose a client you have to factor in Client Acquisition Costs with Support Costs and look at overall profitability.

In some cases there are clients that you do not want to renew at existing rates because it is not profitable and has no potential to be profitable. Negative churn is when you intentionally drop unprofitable clients (or product lines) and the team needs to understand that while it may feel bad to lose a client, it is important to focus on profitability and acknowledge that these clients are hurting, not helping the business.

SaaS Support Is Worth The Effort

Converting an organization from traditional support to SaaS support is a large project that affects staff as their job definition and daily duties will change. It also requires retraining clients to take advantage of the new systems in place. This takes time and dedicated resources with executive sponsorship. Successfully implemented SaaS support improves client retention, renewal rates, and overall profitability. It also has a positive impact on job satisfaction levels from your support team as they are no longer handling repetitive tasks and answering the same questions over and over again.