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As technology vendors respond to a changing marketplace by creating Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings, their relationship to their customers must change. Satisfying customers by creating a great product that garners positive reviews, and soliciting customer feedback for future upgrades simply isn’t enough.

When a company hands over control of its mission-critical software environment to a SaaS provider, the SaaS customer support organization essentially functions as an extension of the customer’s IT department. To take this step, a customer must trust that they will receive the constant, professional and hands-on support they need. Generating this trust requires that the Customer Support team be transparent and always available.

The following best practices will ensure that the support organization does both:

Publish a Service Availability Policy

Put your commitment to SaaS uptime and availability in writing. The service availability policy should be accessible online and include terms related to the guaranteed service uptime, service downtime expectations (such as scheduled maintenance and the possibility of unscheduled and emergency issues), any exceptions to the policy, and any financial compensation due to the customer should the policy terms not be met.

Publish a Support Service Description

To set customer expectations and instill confidence, describe in detail the support services that accompany the service. The support service description should also be accessible online and include details on the complete support offering, how to access support and the response time commitment.

Publish a Public 'Trust Site'

An online trust site provides transparency into the current state of the SaaS application and promotes trust between the vendor and customers. The site typically includes some or all of the following: planned release information, release issue updates, scheduled and unscheduled downtime notices, real-time information on current and historical system performance, and information on security. The trust site also serves as a reliable source of accurate information during issues affecting multiple users, eliminating the need for customers to call support for status.

Form a Customer Success Team Separate From Customer Support

A customer support team is typically responsible for reacting to disruptions, resolving customer issues and identifying when a customer requires more than support, such as new functionality education, formal training or consulting. By contrast, a customer success team should focus on fostering a deeper relationship with the customer by fully understanding the customer’s journey and evolving requirements, as well as how the SaaS provider can help the customer meet those requirements. The success team should also provide the customer with a holistic plan for achieving success with the SaaS solution.

Enable Immediate and Targeted Communications to Customers

The customer success team should have multiple avenues of communication, for example, email campaigns, in-app notifications and the trust site, as well as the necessary tools to tailor communications based on each customer’s profile. Service outages and release issues require targeted and immediate communication, and service outage communications should be automated whenever possible. The customer success team should also develop a library of standard messaging that can be quickly accessed during an urgent situation. Standard update and maintenance communications can be customized as necessary.

Make Customer Support Tools Accessible Anytime, Anywhere From Any Device

Because customers rely on the SaaS solution around the clock, customer support must be available 24x7. Therefore, the support tools should also be accessible 24x7, from any location, allowing you to support the customer even if you’re out at a coffee shop. And since a disruption can occur at any time, the customer success team must also be “always on” to manage communications during a critical event.

Implement a Rapid Response Process

A rapid response process (RRP) is used for disruptions that affect a broad customer base. The process should clearly define the trigger for engagement, provide alerting mechanisms, and document team member responsibilities. A rapid response coordinator is responsible for coordinating organization-wide activities, and automation should be built into the RRP so communication and resolution are timely and effective.

Develop an Internal Trust Site

An internal trust site serves the entire customer-facing organization during a rapid response event. This site should provide transparency within the organization on what issues may be causing the problem, as well as the approved information to share with customers.

In the final part of this series, I will explore best practices related to providing customers with the type of support they need when they need it by delivering proactive, passive and predictive support. In the meantime, I welcome your feedback and your experiences with building a transparent support organization.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a three part series on developing a stellar SaaS support team. Read part one, "SaaS Support Best Practices: The Seamless Approach"

Title image by Brittney Bush Bollay (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license