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More Than Just Software: SaaS is a Relationship, Choose Your Partners Wisely

Tue 09, 10 2018

By Megan Cater, Senior Manager of Digital Content at Signiant

As data-intensive industries like Media & Entertainment continue to adopt cloud solutions, the simplicity and scalability of well-designed, cloud-native SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) has proven to be a major driver. However, in order to provide the full benefits of SaaS, vendors must be fully committed to the services, not just the software. SaaS connects vendors and customers in a long-term relationship that begins with onboarding, thrives through superb customer support and DevOps, and grows with ongoing product improvements rooted in feedback from customers.

Entering into a partnership with a SaaS vendor that has a high-level commitment to services can provide enormous advantages to customers. Since the software vendor is responsible for operation of the cloud environment, it removes the burden of procuring, managing and maintaining on-premises infrastructure, while automatically providing the latest product releases without impacting customizations. Well-executed services also improve the usability of products over time, because they allow vendors the opportunity to get invaluable feedback from customers on an ongoing basis. That feedback comes directly from customers as well as from visibility into product usage that is often missing in traditional on-premises software. A powerful network effect is created where the more customers using the product and participating in that feedback loop the better the software is for all.

“Transitioning to SaaS means changing the entire way you go about developing and supporting software,” explains Mike Nash, Signiant’s Director of Product Management. “It’s really all about getting feedback and utilizing it to continuously improve your product.”

But not all vendors are fully invested in the relationship with their customers or their service responsibilities. They may outsource components of them or have in-house service teams that are not integrated with product development, creating disconnect and inefficiencies. When procuring cloud solutions, it’s important that you understand your vendors’ level of commitment to the service side of SaaS and how their service teams operate.

At Signiant, we’ve embraced cloud-native software design with our two SaaS products, Media Shuttle and Flight. Signiant engineers pioneered the first true SaaS solutions for accelerated file transfers in 2012, and we continue to lead the way in innovative approaches with six out of our ten patents awarded for cloud technologies. Signiant is especially committed to a high services standard, delivered through three teams that work along-side Signiant engineers: DevOps, Customer Support and Customer Success.

Best Practices in Customer Success

With advanced B-to-B software like Signiant provides, onboarding new users has always been critical to customer success. However, since SaaS does not require the extensive IT preparation that traditional software does, it’s easy for SaaS vendors to be completely hands off and miss the opportunity to understand new customers’ unique business use cases and to educate them on how the product can be customized to address them.

Every new customer at Signiant gets assigned a personal customer success manager to ensure that the product is being utilized in the most efficient way for their business. Hence the reason why leaders of customer success teams like Signiant’s Alexandra Rioux (a.k.a. Alex) are so vital.

Understanding Each Customer’s Use Case

“We want to make sure new customers see real value from the beginning, which means we need to understand their business, whether it’s big or small, and their unique use cases,” says Alex.

Signiant’s customer success team also makes sure customers see the potential value our products bring. Typically, customers will start out with a smaller number of users in their business. For example, with Media Shuttle, our SaaS solution for large file transfers, it may start out being used by one team like video production but eventually move to all teams who need to securely send and share large files quickly. Customer success managers not only help them get immediate value, but also to understand new opportunities as the product roles out across their business.

“Ultimately, our main priority is to makes sure our clients are happy,” says Alex.

In the process of onboarding new customers, customer success works side by side with the support team to make sure everything is deployed and working in the customer’s environment.

Best Practices in Customer Support

Customer support is, in many ways, the team that ties all of our product teams together. A key service in any software company, Signiant is lucky to have one of the best. Lead by Jad Abdul-Rahim, Signiant’s Director of Sustaining Engineering and Technical Support, customer support has evolved considerably since Signiant released its first SaaS product in 2012.

Traditionally, support teams are often siloed away from most of the company or even outsourced. They are, after all, the ones who deal with customer issues, and some business leaders don’t want them influencing company culture too much. But that is a missed opportunity. Signiant’s transition to SaaS revealed the value of customer support in a new light, not only for our customers but for our products and even our culture. The biggest objective testament to that value is the 97 Net Promoter Score earned by our support team in 2017 – meaning 97% of people who interact with Signiant support would recommend it to others.

Turns out, being objective about your own customer service is difficult to achieve. A recent SuperOffice benchmark report showed that “while 80% of businesses believe they provide excellent customer service, in fact only 8% of customers believe they are actually receiving excellent service.” A suggested remedy to that delusion is to implement a research strategy to discover what your customers really think, often called Voice of Customer (VOC) data, which is used to calculate an annual Net Promoter Score.

“I think the attitude of the support team is why we have such a high Net Promoter Score,” says Jad. “We always want to hear our customers’ feedback. We appreciate the good and react to the bad, and that’s how we continue to improve.”

The positive attitude of our support team is bolstered by a process that has been refined since before the launch of Media Shuttle in 2012. It can roughly be categorized in six steps that create a positive feedback cycle, starting with customer support calls and tickets.

Customer Support Calls and Tickets

Moving to SaaS meant two things for the support team initially. “As we were transitioning our team to support SaaS products, we understood that our customer base was going to grow and we would be dealing with regular release cycles,” says Jad.

More customers and more regular releases mean a higher volume of support tickets and calls. The support team took several steps initially to streamline their response time and ensure every customer’s technical issue was addressed:

● Launch an all-in-one online customer support tool on support.sigiant.com where customers can open tickets, review articles, watch training videos and self-serve general support needs. The support site is easily found in the header of signiant.com.

● Improve internal systems to ensure efficiency in call routing and handling.

● Implement a 24×5 tiered support model to efficiently handle all customer calls and tickets.

Solving Problems as a Team

A big factor in the support team’s success is effective internal collaboration, sharing and supporting each when needed, so that everyone on the team learns from each issue and expertise is shared across the team. Fostered by an open office concept, the team hears all of the conversations their coworkers are having with customers.

“We ensure that there are no barriers to internal support and sharing, so that everybody is basically on the same page,” says Jad. “We need open communication so that we can handle the rapid releases and changes within a SaaS product.”

This positive team environment extends to customers. “We do our best to personalize our support, most of our customers know the support crew by name,” says Jad. “Our goal is to deliver world-class customer experience with every customer contact.”

Working with Engineering

The open concept environment of Signiant’s offices also supports effective collaboration with the engineering team. “We are co-located with the engineering team, allowing for simple and seamless cross-department collaboration and escalation.”

The support team not only reports technical issues encountered by individual customers, they also provide feedback based on pattern tracking to the product team. “We track patterns within tickets that customers open in order to provide feedback to product management, so that they’re aware of any areas for improvement.”

Voice of Customer Data

As mentioned above, VOC data is one of the best ways to understand the real value of your customer service. Using it to calculate an annual Net Promoter Score helps companies track improvement over time. Signiant generates an annual Net Promotor Score for customer support by asking one simple question to every customer that submits a ticket and calculating a score for the year.

“On a scale of 0-10, how satisfied were you with the resolution we provided today?”

The results are categorized:

Promoters (9-10): People who are highly satisfied with your product or service and rave about you.

Passives (7-8): People who are content with being a customer of your business, but don’t love you.

Detractors (0-6): People who are not happy with your product or service and have had a negative experience.

A company’s Net Promoter Score is the percentage of “promoters” among the total survey results. For 2017, Signiant surveyed about 150 customers and got a 97% Net Promoter Score. The survey gives the support team another opportunity to interact with customers and fix any issues.

“We take detractor responses seriously and review each one as a team. We follow up with the customer to understand what we could have done better.” says Jad. “And, even though it doesn’t change the score for that year, it ensures that we to learn from the feedback and continuously improve our customer experience.”

Redefining Goals and Actions

All of this leads to a retrospective period for revisiting goals and making sure they are aligned as a team. From reviewing the support team’s basic Service Level Agreement (SLA) to improving the support site and ticket response process, Jad and team are committed to redefining goals based on customer feedback and aligning their practices with them.

Confidence and Transparency

With those steps in place, the result is a boost in confidence across all teams. How is it that the team that deals with customer complaints becomes a source of confidence for the company? A funny thing happens when you learn how to take feedback and be transparent about areas that still need improvement, you get to see how useful your products really are.

“We understand that we may not be able to make everyone happy all the time, and it’s true that people mostly call us only when they have issues,” says Jad. “But we also get to see first-hand how mission critical our products are for so many people. It’s very motivating to be part of their success story.”

While many of the issues uncovered by customer support go directly to the product development team, some specific problems that require more trouble shooting go to DevOps and their array on monitors, logs and other tools that help them keep everything up and running.

Best Practices in DevOps

DevOps brings together the two crucial elements of software engineering, development and operations. The DevOps methodology combines the entire software development, deployment and monitoring lifecycle and ensures 24/7 availability for customers. Ideally, DevOps is a cross-functional practice where developers are actively involved in releasing and monitoring the software they write. These days with cloud computing, there’s very little difference between the infrastructure and the code running on it.

“It used to be that developers would write code, testers would test the code, and operations would deploy and monitor,” says Dave North, Signiant’s Director of DevOps. “But we’ve slowly been moving towards a process where developers can release their own services and monitor them themselves. With the infrastructure and the code being so tightly coupled, developers understand their service best since they designed and wrote it, so it really improves efficiency and problem solving when there’s an issue.”

Automatic Product Updates and Continuous Monitoring

The benefits of DevOps services to customers can be simplified into two categories: product updates and monitoring. Signiant’s SaaS customers automatically receive product updates, with no downtime or maintenance windows needed. That customer benefit comes from a finely tuned system developed by our DevOps team.

“We have a fairly elaborate system that supports developer productivity and rapid release cycles. It also allows us to release new updates and roll them back quickly if there’s a problem,” says Dave.

DevOps takes responsibility for everything working as it should for customers at all times — which translates into watching over a large number of automated monitors. Signiant’s DevOps team has built up operational excellence over the course of several years as we transitioned to SaaS.

“When I first began working for Signiant over a decade ago, we were shipping CDs to customers and really only knew if something was broken when a customer called,” says Dave. “Today, we have hundreds of advanced checks running 24/7 that tell us all the different ways that things could be inoperative, whether its Amazon, Azure or our own stuff. If something goes wrong, we can usually fix it before it impacts customers. And a lot of it is automated.”

“If Amazon is having a problem in Virginia, for instance, our system will automatically failover to another region. We’ve invested heavily in a multi-region system, which is a lot of work but is incredibly important for our customers.”

While much of DevOps is automated, someone from Signiant’s DevOps team is on call at all hours, and they get alerted if there is a problem anywhere in the system, whether it’s in the middle of a meeting or REM sleep.

Security

Signiant is responsible for customer data and takes security very seriously. DevOps is a core aspect of Signiant’s defense-in-depth security practices and have software packages, audit tools and scanning tools to make sure we are as secure as we possibly can be.

“We run a commercial network security intrusion tool, and do on-going scans to make sure there aren’t mis-configurations or other known vulnerabilities we need to be aware of,” says Dave. “We also monitor for extraneous error conditions on our customer portals. For example, yesterday we received a large amount of suspicious errors from one of our customer’s Media Shuttle portals. After investigating the incident, we found that the customer themselves was doing a security scan, but we treat all suspicious activity the same just to make sure.”

SaaS is a Relationship – Choose your Partners Wisely

Partnering with a SaaS provider can be one of the best choices a business can make. But it’s also critical to understand a vendor’s level of commitment is to the service side of SaaS, since success with the product depends on it. At Signiant, we strive for a customer-centric approach to everything we do and that translates into an appreciation for the partnerships SaaS allows us to have with our customers. Truthfully, it’s a win-win relationship.

If you’d like to learn more about Signiant and try our products, visit Signaint.com.

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