Communications Are Critical When SaaS Loses The Second S

February 9, 2012 by Dave Haynes

Much of the software side of this business runs on a SaaS (Software as a Service) basis, meaning it is the job of those companies to fully support the servers, power, security, data pipe and other elements that allow them to share computing across multiple customers and thousands of client players/accounts.

I don’t recall hearing of any digital signage software company having a catastrophe that took those services offline for hours or days, but I am sure it has happened. What I do know, as a consultant who gets asked to review and recommend software options for clients, is that some due diligence reveals really quickly who has a reputation for crappy customer service and recommendations.

I can ensure a SaaS provider that no matter how awesome its platform may be (or thinks it may be), it’s not getting recommended if the prevailing attitude among users (and other people who’d know) is that customer service is under-resourced, indifferent, or inept.

A big problem is the quality of communications. I have personally seen and experienced problems with non-DS hosted services  that would have not got end-users steaming mad if the vendor had just been smart enough to communicate what was up. I host some stuff with GoDaddy, and have been hopping mad about their collective indifference. I spent hours and hours trying to sort out a big email problem I thought was on my end, and then called in to find out there had been a problem at their end for A FEW DAYS and they were working on it. No proactive communication by email or social media. Nothing.

As I write this I have a sense a different site is down right now and I’ve seen no emails. It’s not a heavily trafficked site, so I am not too stressed. But it would be nice to at least get an email.

Which brings me to the point of this. I use a company called ZOHO for invoicing and for a CRM package. They’re low-cost SaaS options but very robust. They have a big, loyal customer base, and one of the reasons for that loyalty is they actually communicate with its customers in ways other than trying to sell more stuff.

ZOHO went offline recently because of problems out of its control at the co-locate facility. Instead of hiding under its collective desk and going silent, it went on Twitter and told followers what was going on, and steadily updated people with status reports of where things sat in the recovery process. I couldn’t get at my invoicing systems for a few hours, but I also knew the issue was being addressed.

Today they sent customers an email:

On Friday January 20th, all Zoho services suffered a long and unexpected outage. The cause was an abrupt power failure in our collocated data center in the Silicon Valley area, California.

This meant pain and disruption for many of our customers and we sincerely apologize for that. We understand you rely on Zoho for running your business, and on this particular day we let you down. 

They gave me a modest refund – more like an extension of my service term – and included a link to a lengthy blog post that explained what went down and what they learned. I haven’t read the whole thing because I don’t really need to know what they’re doing. They’ve communicated sufficiently that they ARE doing something. That’s all most customers probably need or want to know.

Any digital signage software company that’s hosting services for clients will have – unless they’re insane – full disaster recovery plans in place. But almost as important is a communications plan. A huge part of fixing a problem is keeping customers informed, and I wonder how many customers have that part sorted.

When SaaS goes offline, do you have a plan to not only restore service but effectively maintain – through emails, calls and social – confidence?

photo credit: Willemvdk via photopin cc

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