In response to my yesterday’s post, Whose Throat Should We Choke, one of the readers sent me an email saying that it is unreasonable to expect Cloud applications providers to support freeloaders and dashboards are better suited to deal with them. He argues that there is no way SaaS vendors are going to spend money supporting users who are riding on their coattails.
I disagree completely with the reader. Let me state clearly that I don’t like the term freeloaders. I prefer “free users” instead. As I have mentioned in one of my previous posts, free users do add value to the vendors.
In the case of Google, the major part of their revenue is from the free users of Google search engine. In the case of social networks like Facebook or Twitter, absence of free users (network effect) will make these services absolutely worthless. Even in the case of vendors offering a freemium model, the free users add substantial value to them in the form of feedback and word of mouth advertising. There is no way these vendors can consider free users as just freeloaders adding no value to them.
It is important that the vendors do offer some solution to support the free users during downtimes. However, I do agree with the reader that the Cloud vendors cannot spend their money supporting free users. Downtimes are not the only thing that affects the free users. We have seen stories about people getting locked out of Gmail, Facebook and Twitter without any clue about what has happened. There should be better solutions for free users under these circumstances than the red and green dots on a dashboard.
One of the solution I thought for such scenarios is the idea of pay per incident support. The Cloud vendors can charge the free users some reasonable amount on per incident basis to cover for the technical/administrative support they offer. This way the vendors are not doing charity work and free users have a reliable channel to proceed when a Cloud service they use is unavailable with their data locked in.
After I responded to the reader with the above thoughts, I did some research on the topic and found that Sliderocket is doing this right. They offer free online forum support for all users (both free and paid) and email support for paid users. On top of this, they offer phone support on per incident basis (they charge $49 per incident) to all users. This is brilliant move on their part. They offer a value add for paid users in the form of email support but they are there for free users (for a fee, of course) when it comes to crunch time. This support option will give the necessary peace of mind to free users. They know that they are not left in a lurch when the service goes down. In fact, even the paid users of Sliderocket will have a peace of mind knowing that there is a way to call someone up if something goes wrong, instead of just waiting for a response to an email. Such actions by Cloud vendors goes a long way in establishing the trust with the customers. What do you think? What are the other ways in which Cloud vendors can support free users without making a dent on their finances?