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Want a Better Customer Experience, Think Software Licensing: Try "Out-of-Box" Experience

By August 3, 2011Article

Want to make it easier for customers to adopt your software products, license models and technology?
If so, try a 10 step “out-of-box” experience.
Software vendors are often interested in improving software licensing as a way to improve customer satisfaction, yet they don’t always know where to start. I suggest that senior executives “walk a mile” in their customer’s shoes and engage in a complete commerce life cycle experience.
Such an activity requires some planning, but it’s pretty enlightening when an executive engages in what appear to be the mundane processes of interacting with a company.
While this is designed for companies that deliver on-premises software via a CD-ROM or electronic software download, the principles and topics are equally applicable for a SaaS solution. In addition, the process shouldn’t vary much for B2B or B2C software, although some considerations may be different.
As part of the out-of-box experience I suggest following the 10 steps listed below while asking some key questions:
1. The most critical step is to order a solution from a price book with the aid of a salesperson or channel partner. There are a few questions to ask about this process to ensure it’s what you want for your customers. For starters is a “solution” well-defined?
Are services required?
What is the maintenance offering? Is it obvious what the products do, are they structured in a price book so that they can be easily ordered to deliver on a solution? If you’re like many software vendors, there are often multiple overlapping ways to order a solution and it’s not always obvious exactly what to order. Also, are you asked to provide a current software configuration or information about the equipment where the software is going to be installed? If so, do you have this information readily available? Think about how you feel during this process, and perhaps consider what this means if you sell through a channel partner who has to represent and sell your product along with those of other vendors.
2. Engage in the installation and license activation process. If you have a software download process, did the right person get the e-mail or notification and did this happen within hours of receiving your order? If you received a physical package, were the instructions clear on how to perform an installation? Was there information on how to get assistance if it was needed? If you were asked to register, was the process simple and were the questions reasonable, or, did the process seem endless?
If you were required to get a license key or activation, was it obvious that this was required? Did the product work without an activation or license key for a “grace period” so that you could start the tool and begin to use it? If you were connected to the Internet, was this a simple and “hands-free” process? If a “registration number” was required for activation, was it easy to find such a number? Did the software installation proceed smoothly, and were all of the install options presented with a preferred selection?
3. How easy is the software update process?
Did you get a notification from the renewals group or the product that an update was available? If so, was it easy to download and install? Were you able to perform the update without additional registration numbers or activation codes?
4. Is the renewal process easy for customers? Are customers informed when a support renewal or license renewal is required?
Which person or role gets the notification, and is it the right person? Is it obvious what the customer should do to perform the renewal?
5. Do you provide license agreement terms along with a self-serve portal for customers to perform simple administrative tasks such as a “move” or “reactivation” on the same machine without a support call?
6. Does the self-serve portal allow the customer to find information about what their organization has ordered and activated? Customers often need such information to validate their compliance reporting needs.
7. If you have an unexpected or short-term need for additional software licenses, are such license terms and pricing available?
8. If you have a demo or time-based copy of software, do you get notification/error messages in the product well in advance of license expiry? If so, was it clear what to do to remedy the situation?
9. Are the processes mentioned above consistent for all the different products your company offers?
10. And finally, honestly ask yourself the impact the above experiences had on your overall satisfaction (which ultimately impacts your revenue and ability to retain customers). Was your experience what you desired or expected? Do your competitors have better processes and customer experiences?
The process above is often revealing, as it provides a peek into a combination of business practices, pricing policy, and infrastructure systems upon which your business is built. However, without going through such a process, you may miss out on some important indicators on what it’s like to be a customer.
Cris Wendt is the Principal Strategy Consultant at Flexera Software.