We all want brand advocates, don't we? There's nothing better than word of mouth and personal recommendations to build loyal customers. Heck, the widely adopted Net Promoter Score measure is pretty much based on the idea that having more people advocating for your brand than dissing your brand is the core of building good business.
I want to put the spotlight on those monthly charges that come from Software As A Service (SaaS) organizations.
Like many micro-businesses, I run a networked operation with a lot of SaaS support. Instead of an IT department and a bunch of servers, I have multiple services I rent out on a monthly or annual basis. These have included a pretty wide variety of stuff:
- Web meeting software
- CRM software
- Hosted Outlook Exchange
- Marketing automation, including lead capture and e-mail
- Project management
- Secure file sharing
- Document search / desktop research
- Qualitative research platforms
- Premium use of free platforms, such as LinkedIn
- Web hosting for multiple sites, plus plug-ins, some of which are purchased and some rented
- Video hosting
- Licensed software
When I look at my annual costs for doing business, the cost of these services is quite significant. A larger enterprise would have many more such charges, for HR systems, operations systems, fulfillment systems -- you name it, it's available on a SaaS basis.
I love these services and the value they bring to my business and my clients. But I have a few issues.
The free trial conversion that sneaks up
The first one is the free trial that converts to a charge when you're not looking. I've had this happen often, even when I'm diarizing to be sure I don't forget. The purpose of the free period is to give you a chance to look around at the software, of course. Marketing automation software, in particular, is not straightforward. There are often integrations that have to be considered, and you have to dig fairly deeply into the support documentation to figure these things out.
The concept of a free trial is great. During that free trial you should be reminding people to take a tour, try things out, etc. But remember that all of us (you too, I'm guessing) lead busy lives, and don't always have the time to finish what we wanted to explore.
The better organizations have figured out that you need more than two weeks, and now provide a free month. Thank you.
My wish? If your free trial user has not moved any data into your system, extend their free trial, don't start charging them right away for a system you KNOW they are not yet using. That's kind of evil.
Confusing instructions on downgrade
I just got bonked again with this one by Join.me, a service I have used for two years, and recommended to many people. It has some flaws, but I liked their basic value proposition and was prepared to overlook their weaknesses for a low annual fee.
Well, they just blew it. Here's what happened.
I added another account on a month-to-month basis for a specific project needing another senior consultant, and I thought it would be easiest if we were both on one web-meeting platform. When the project was over three months later, I cancelled that account. I THOUGHT I CANCELLED THAT ACCOUNT. When my bookkeeper asked me to download receipts for the last few months of rental, I was all whaaat???
Turns out that cancelling the person doesn't cancel the charge. For that, you need to phone. PHONE. Actually PHONE. You can set up the account on line, but you can only cancel by calling. Annoying, right?
Bye-bye Join.me, it was fun while it lasted. So yeah, I'm a small customer, you won't miss my measly revenue. But I was also a brand advocate.
Speaking of receipts, just send them, okay?
I guess there's a tax authority somewhere that does not require receipts. Here in the western world, we need one for every expense, whether it was charged to a credit card or not.
So why is it that only a handful of these services actually email an invoice when they charge your card? The rest force you to log in, click through to each month individually, and print or save something.
Don't you WANT to be in touch with your customers?
At a time when everyone is struggling to create some kind of value added content to e-mail, I want to let you in on a secret. A receipt is an e-mail I will look at. I'm guessing most business people will open those. It is, almost by definition, valuable content.
I would mention that Basecamp (37 Signals) actually stands out in this respect, and has always e-mailed a notification, since like forever. And they also provide the online history if you need it.
Banks and credit cards make money from forgetfulness.Do you want to be like them?
Telcos and Cablecos are close competitors to banking when it comes to gotchas. Confusing instructions, extra charges you didn't see coming, and roaming charges that can cause bankruptcy if you're not careful. Do you really want to make money that way?
You can be like those guys if you want, but consider the reputations of these firms. Do you really want to pick up a few bucks hoping people forget to cancel a recurring charge?
If someone gives you permission to charge their account every month, this is a trust relationship. The winners in your competitive space will be those that earn that trust every month.
What's your take?