Sold on SaaS

Four companies that swear by software as a service tell why.

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Culture Counts in the Cloud

  • Company: Inc.
  • Location: Pasadena, Calif.
  • Business: Online dating service and relationship advice provider

For a company like eHarmony, the Web site is everything. The company's success depends on how pleasant and useful the site is for its customers, many of whom are looking for help in times of emotional stress. That's one reason eHarmony decided to devote its scarce IT staff to Web site development and optimization while handing off some everyday IT functions to SaaS provider RightNow Technologies Inc.

But eHarmony had another job for RightNow. It wanted to automate responses to routine questions from customers. RightNow developed dynamic FAQs for eHarmony that improve with use through feedback from customers via surveys. That helped reduce e-mail inquiries by 30%. "Phone contacts went up, but that's what we wanted," says Scott Ackerman, vice president for customer care.

He acknowledges that this is counterintuitive, since most companies want to steer customers away from personal contact and to their Web sites to save money. But eHarmony is different. "Our product is very emotional. Some people are struggling and don't have a lot of confidence, and there's a lot of value in getting them on the phone, where we can give them much greater value."

Ackerman says the process of embracing SaaS can start with a "black-and-white checklist" of functions, features, prices and so on. But finding a vendor with a compatible culture is important, too. "Like us, RightNow has a culture aimed at providing world-class customer care," he says. "We plan on having a long-term relationship with them, and we wanted a partner that understands our culture. That's critical."

Ackerman says he considered 10 companies before settling on RightNow.

He cautions that just because an SaaS provider has a tried-and-true packaged application, don't assume that users can tap into it like an electrical utility. RightNow provided the plumbing for the knowledge base behind the FAQs, Ackerman says, but eHarmony devotes one full-time person to maintaining and improving them. "RightNow is a great product," he says, "but it's not going to do it by itself. You need to put man-hours into it, and you need to analyze your data. If you just put it out there, it will work, but you won't get the bang for your buck."

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