Lately, in my discussions with IT executives as well as small and medium sized technology company executives the topics of Open Source and Software as a Service (SaaS) customer services has been coming up. It seems that some Open Source ans SaaS providers have lost sight of the importance of the Customer. I have heard of SaaS providers that provide a level of self-support in the, now standard, form of Community Forums but fail to actively participate in the community themselves. I have also heard stories of Open Source users contacting the Open Source provider for support, even willing to pay for onsite consulting, but being ignored unless they purchase a multi-year support contract first.
It appears that the Technology business models may have changed, but many business are still operating the same. Regardless of their size or type, the executives behind these technology companies need to relearn a basic premise of business: you only exist for the customer; without the customer the business doesn’t make money and you don’t get paid. I might be a bit more sensitive to this than most due to my entrepreneurial spirit and constant contact with customers as part of a sales team. But some of the stories that I heard start to border on the level of astonishment in regards to how these companies have ignored their customers.
Maybe these software executives should take a lesson from Whole Foods.
Now before you think I’ve flipped, listen to this story of customer support that I experienced tonight. My wife was shopping at whole foods and when she got home realized that the checkout clerk had not given her the packages of meat that she purchased. When I ran back to the story to pick up the package at the Customer Service desk, the clerk who helped me was sincerely apologetic and also gave me a bag of chocolate chip cookies for my troubles.
When you look at this at the surface, you realize that this is the type of response one would expect from a business focused on keeping a loyal customer. All jokes about “Whole Paycheck” aside, I’m sure the clerk wasn’t even thinking about how much money we spend at Whole Foods regularly or about the $60 we spent there that day. She wasn’t thinking about the fact that the free bag of cookies (which costs $5.50) was almost 10% of the value of the groceries we bought that day. What she was thinking about was just keeping a customer happy and making amends when the business as a whole made a mistake.
Now translate that same thinking to the much more business savy technology industry. When an executive in an Open Source firm doesn’t want to send a consultant out to a user of that company’s Open Source software for a paid engagement (typical rates run between $2000 and $3500 per day) because the user doesn’t have a support contract (which typically runs between $20,000 and $40,000) who is the executive focusing on? Obviously not the best interests of their company.
Here is a chance to show a prospect the level of support you can provide…while getting paid for it…and earn the right to sell the customer a support contract. It’s earning 10% now in order to earn 100% later…who wouldn’t do that? It’s possible that there were absolutely no one available who could provide this consulting. Possible…but customer focused companies always seem to find someone who can wear multiple hats or be re-prioritized to earn a new customer. So, if the executive wasn’t focusing on what’s best for their company or what’s best for the customer…who or what were they focusing on?
Maybe some of the software executives behind some Open Source and SaaS companies should step out of their offices and into the real world once in a while. They could start out simple, lets say Business 101, by actually going out and visiting a customer and learning what’s it like in their customer’s environments. And if they really want to challenge themselves by taking Business 201, they could try working for a while at Whole Foods…