Jan 10
2014

Sell Service First, Software Second - Why Your SaaS is Backwards

It's 7:39am on Friday, January 10th. I wake up, roll over, and pick up the phone to check my email…

…this is the first thing I read

I AM WRITING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I AM VERY UPSET.

I AM ON A CONFERENCE CALL WITH AUTHORIZE.NET AND HEARTLAND PAYMENT SYSTEMS AND THEY ARE SAYING NONE OF MY TRANSACTIONS ARE DECLINING BECAUSE THEY'RE NEVER GETTING TO THEM, THEY'RE NEVER MAKING IT PAST POS.

I HAVE MY AUTHORIZE.NET SETTINGS AS LOOSEY GOOSEY AS POSSIBLE. WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!

OVER HALF OF MY TRANSACTIONS ARE GETTING DECLINED!!!!

Cool, great way to start the day…

My mind starts racing and there's no way I can go back to sleep. Immediately I get up, crack open the laptop, and start to investigate.

We just made some performance improvements to our client-facing invoice software the other day. Did something break? Did we miss an automated test? Maybe there's a server problem? Did Authorize.net change their API?

Thirty minutes of testing, digging, and log-diving pass before I find the culprit – a cryptic failure message from Authorize.net in our log files…


Processing payment failed...
Error Code: 103
Message   : This transaction cannot be accepted

A search later and I find this gem on Authorize.net's support site explaining the error. So what happened? Were things broken? Was the sky falling? No…

The customer simply entered the wrong API key.

Three emails back and forth, another 30 minutes later and I finally receive this overly grateful letter once things are working.

I appreciate you jumping on this promptly and I'm sorry to have blown up before. I want to use Cashboard for a long time, but it has to work and it has to be easy and I have to be able to count on good customer service.

You guys are always really good at getting back to me quickly, but I would challenge you to be really great at helping me solve problems too, so that the software works properly and my frustration doesn't build.

A rousing thanks for a job well done. I'm certainly satisfied… (ಠ_ಠ)

Service before software

Thankless tales of customer service and backhanded compliments aside, this perfectly illustrates the position you're in as a SaaS provider. Startup folk often forget that they're offering a service first — software is secondary.

Your primary job is to solve your customers' problems

Cashboard has been operating for nearly 7 years this April. We're still a small company — probably 3rd or 4th in the market behind companies like Freshbooks, Harvest, and still maybe even Blinksale.

I'm convinced what's allowed us to maintain a position and continue to grow (albeit slowly), is that I've always focused on service first. Admittedly in the beginning our software wasn't that great, but it solved our customers' problems.

Having a great product is important and not something to be overlooked — but I feel that your customers will appreciate you more, stick with you longer, and place more value on your offering if you focus on service first.

Technical note

Savvy coders in our audience are probably asking themselves, "Why not check the API credentials when a customer enters them?". I asked myself this too - but unfortunately it seems that Authorize.net doesn't offer a method to do so. The joy of programming!

Written by Seth B

As Principal of Subimage LLC, Seth spends most of his days improving Cashboard. Occasionally he finds time to write about music, design, startups, and technology.

Tagged: business, startups, saas