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Is That SaaS Provider Customer-Friendly? The Importance of Great Customer Support When Selecting a Cloud-Computing Provider

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Over the past two years, this column has delved into the realm of Software-as-a-Software (SaaS) technology and how these applications can improve supply chain logistics. From delivery scheduling applications to yard management systems, these online programs can play a huge role in automating and streamlining operational processes, resulting in better-run and more profitably businesses.

Oftentimes, the primary focus of these columns was the actual functionality and features that make these applications so appealing to material handling operations. However, another consideration exists that every facility operator must take into account when selecting a SaaS transportation provider: customer support.

A NECESSARY REQUIREMENT
One of the key benefits of implementing a SaaS application is ease-of-use. Most, if not all, SaaS applications are accessible from the Internet. This means that no program installations or downloads are required. It also means that your facility’s in-house or contracted IT department does not need to play a role in its implementation (unless a custom integration with existing systems is required).

In essence, SaaS can be viewed as a “stand-alone” software application supported by the provider. This characteristic makes provider-supplied customer support a necessity.

The provider is who you contact when you’re experiencing technical issues. They’re the ones you reach out to with questions or comments about the system. They’re the ones you message when trying to reconfigure settings or inquiring about billing issues.

Any questions about the system are directed at them, not your IT department.

However, not all SaaS providers are created equally when it comes to great customer support. And this fact makes due diligence when researching SaaS providers all the more important.

CUSTOMER SUPPORT NOT EQUAL AMONG SAAS PROVIDERS
While customer support should be a cornerstone of any SaaS provider, this isn’t always the case.

According to a report released by The Enterprise Strategy Group earlier this year, businesses increasingly value the benefits of SaaS applications, but many face significant customer support challenges. Among those highlighted in the survey were slow response times, the lack of dedicated customer support representatives and inconsistent customer communication.

Given the pivotal role SaaS can play in your material handling operations, these are issues that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Not being able to reach a live person when technical issues arise or not receiving timely notice of system updates could have a significant impact on your operational processes.

With this in mind, facility operators should place customer support high on their ‘must-have’ list when seeking out SaaS providers.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN SAAS CUSTOMER SUPPORT
No business will tell prospective customers they have bad customer support. On the contrary, they’ll tell you they have dynamic customer support. You can either take them for their word or do a little prodding of your own.

Here are questions you should ask every SaaS provider before selecting them:

1. Do you offer live customer support?

True, live customer support is not as common as it seems. While some questions may not need an immediate response, others certainly do. The ability to immediately reach a customer service representative is paramount to successful operations.

Additionally, if you’re company operates around-the-clock or may need assistance at any hour of the day, inquire on the hours live support is available. Established SaaS providers with large national and international client bases typically offer this benefit.

2. How do I reach customer support?

E-mail and chat are the more common ways SaaS customers reach customer support departments. Some SaaS providers also offer live phone support. If you prefer speaking to a customer support rep by phone over other methods, be sure to inquire on its availability. This includes whether 24-hour phone support is an option.

3. How do you communicate system updates, new features and other information to clients?

No one wants to be kept in the dark when it comes to changes to news about their SaaS system. Reputable SaaS companies will communicate system updates, new features, notices and other pertinent information directly to their clients in a timely manner. Additionally, they’ll send advanced notice of impending updates that may require client action with detailed instructions.

4. Do you provide online resources, such as ‘how-to’ articles and manuals?

Not all inquiries warrant a phone call or e-mail message to the customer support department. System-related questions can oftentimes be easily answered by reading a “how to” article or manual. Some SaaS provides maintain an online Knowledge Base that houses these for easy access. Ask what, if any, online resources are offered to clients.

5. Does your enterprise package offer dedicated support contacts?

This question is applicable to companies needing an enterprise-level solution, either now or in the future. As these enterprise solutions are generally highly scalable and implemented across many locations, it creates the need for dedicated support contacts familiar with the account and its configuration. Inquire on whether these individuals exist and if, so, what are their specific responsibilities regarding nterprise-level accounts.

6. Can you give me a few references within my industry?

A positive review from a current customer can give you the peace-of-mind that you’re making the right choice. When speaking with a reference, consider asking a variety of questions about their experience using the system. This can include functionality, features, customer support and impact the software has had on their operations.

When it comes to superior customer support within the SaaS world, nothing is a given. Be sure that this important consideration is properly vetted during your SaaS selection process.

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About the Author: Eric Richard is the senior technology writer at Appointment-Plus (www.appointment-plus.com), the worldwide experts in online scheduling solutions and creators of the most flexible and feature-rich software application used by distributors, warehouses, manufacturers and other material-handling facilities to manage their deliveries. The online scheduling application has booked over 100 million appointments and reservations since 2001.

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