The new cloudy world of software subscriptions has been an interesting exploration. Since I started my business I’ve signed up for many services including: domain registration, web hosting, VOIP, CRM, email, calendar, contacts, professional networking, online banking, legal services, accounting services, two different webmaster consoles, two different cloud hosting consoles, grammar checking application, business card scan application, note taking, online payments and several others. All of these applications have different UIs, all of them have their own identity management and all have their own multipage terms and conditions as well as pricing and billing plans.
This has already become almost too much for me to keep up with. How many tools does it take? Where is the integration? Where is the continuity?
The biggest pains so far have been just trying to remember where to find the functions I need in all the disparate UIs. Of course, in the case of my online payment service, they can’t help but update their UI every few months so I never quite get competent. I feel like an idiot.
In addition to all the tools, all the change and all the user id / passwords is the bait and switch billing schemes. Almost all of these services advertise their pricing using a monthly rate. Many of them however bill a whole year up front. That part is always tucked neatly away in fine print or buried somewhere in the 19 pages of terms and conditions in 6 point font.
On two specific occasions, I was transacting with the supplier for a single instance purchase and I was signed up for a subscription service that I didn’t even want. Of course, I found out when reviewing my credit card statement the in the following month. Sure, they disclosed it somewhere on page 18 of 32 in the terms and conditions.
Now I have countless user ids and passwords to keep up with, billing and renewal policies to keep up with, frequently changing UIs and moving features, inflexible ways to integrate and import/export data due to the suppliers attempts to protect competitive advantage and many other annoying attributes as a Software as a Service (SaaS) customer.
While the eye candy is nice and the products themselves are functional, this is not what I had hoped for as an experience with SaaS.
Here’s what I’d like to see the industry do to demonstrate that it actually cares about its subscribers and is not just trying to please its VCs whose only goal is IPO:
1) Develop a standard integration UI as an application module and make it part of the standard offering. No not the premium or enterprise offerings, the standard offering. Stop with the lock-in behavior. This is what people hate about desktop software, taking the problem into the cloud does not solve it.
2) If you advertise monthly pricing then bill monthly, by default. Don’t be sneaky and trick your users into paying a year up front after you’ve hooked them with a monthly rate. If you want a year up front then advertise that price.
3) Never ever sneak in a monthly subscription when someone is there to buy a one time purchase. Put it clearly on the cart line items and require explicit confirmation. No I do not want Premium DNS! You know who you are!
4) If we cannot all get along with a unified identity provider (current choices include: facebook, twitter, linkedin, pinterest, google apps, yahoo, microsoft, openID, OMG!!!) then let us at least standardize on userid formats and password rules. Most everyone will let you use email address as an id but they have different length requirements. There are still several who do not use email address.
5) Differentiation is essential but let us take a lesson from a large successful fruit flavored company whose ubiquitous popularity of devices is bolstered by an unwavering commitment to UI ease of use and consistency. Differentiate on function but perhaps let user choose from a set of shared industry standard UI themes and function vocabulary. Sorry but there is nothing standard about browser based applications, the browser is a blank page.
Here’s the bottom line: businesses will continue to exist as long as their customers permit them to exist. People might not be frustrated with using a single application however, if that application changes too frequently it becomes frustrating especially if you have to use 20 other applications that are changing as well. If you are sneaky and underhanded in pricing or tight fisted with data integration you will not last. Its just not the right way to treat people. Stop it.