As the poster child of the Software as a Service movement, Salesforce gets a lot of attention from the enterprise IT press, and rightly so. Their CEO, Marc Benioff, has become the de facto spokesman for the many new companies offering their products via the web instead of loading them on a local server on the customer’s network.
There are some really big advantages to this model, and some equally big concerns. On the plus side, purchasing software as a service tends to be significantly less expensive when you consider the many hidden costs involved with purchasing, installing, and maintaining a complex and critical application such as Customer Relationship Management software. Also, since everything is delivered through a web browser, new updates and features are instantly available to everyone as soon as they login. On the downside, you’re placing a lot of trust in a third party that everything will be available today and well into the future.
Because Salesforce and other SaaS providers place a strong emphasis on their expertise in hosting applications, they create a real credability problem if they can’t back up their claims (especially in the case of SF, who is seen as the leader in the market). Salesforce has recently had to deal with this very issue after several “minor” outages that left customers without service for several hours.
The outages themselves weren’t really the issue with Salesforce. No system is perfect, so some downtime should be expected and planned for. Instead, the problem was in how the company chose to deal with them. They weren’t completely honest with their customers in regard to the length of the outages and their causes. Instead, they brushed them off as minor inconviences or failed to acknowledge them at all. Not exactly the best way to empathize with the customer.
After taking lots of hits from the tech press and bloggers, I’m happy to see Salesforce take steps to become more transparent and turn this bad PR situation around. Last week they launched a new section of their website at trust.salesforce.com, giving customers and everyone else a pretty detailed view of their system status and performance. It won’t solve all of their problems, but it’s a sign of good faith that they’re taking system availability seriously.
Rebuilding trust with customers doesn’t happen overnight, but in small baby steps like this.