How Transitioning to SaaS transformed our Conversational AI platform
Daniel Eriksson, Chief Innovation & Customer Success Officer, Artificial Solutions
Two years ago, Artificial Solutions was at a crossroads.
The business was struggling to grow yet had an impressive client base that was better than we could ask for. Something had to change and we had to find a new path forward without sacrificing our industry-leading product, our strong history and solid delivery to our clients.
So, what did we do?
Talking to our customers opened our eyes…
We took the time to ask our clients, and ourselves: When interacting with each other – what do we actually spend time on? What topics do we discuss, what matters do we try to solve?
Looking at the answers to these questions, we found a lot of great stuff – discussing business impact, how to drive better CX, conversational design questions, exploring new use cases etc.
But we also found that we spent a lot of time discussing issues such as: server sizing, network design, upgrade procedures, installation guides, maintenance guides, infrastructure requirements, component dependencies – and quite commonly – trying to collaborate with the client to troubleshoot an issue.
We found common scenarios where it was totally unclear if certain issues were created by a misuse of our product, a product issue itself (yes, even we have those sometimes) or some unique problem related to the specific on-premise infra-setup of the client.
Even the best service can be too slow…
Do you know what the most commonly described problem for any product is?
And by any product, I really mean for software and SaaS products in general, including CRM, ERP, Dev platforms, etc.
“It goes slow.”
Undoubtedly, sluggishness doesn’t equate to a great user experience, it’s something we want to fix right away, and it gradually generates frustration with the clients.
“C’mon, fix the problem already!” is the growing sentiment.
“It’s your product, help us!”
This was a common issue.
And compounding the client’s frustrations was that of our own support team, because finding clarity on key issues was a challenge.
Our client support team would report back, saying:
“It works fine when we test on our end. We don’t have enough details on their setup, the problem could come from anywhere.”
It meant that, even if the problem became our highest priority and we gave it maximum attention, the lack of information slowed our troubleshooting significantly.
One client wants to run our application on OpenShift, the second VMs on Azure, the third a k8s setup, the fourth wants to run it on a pink pony running in the meadow close to a mountain creek…
“What client was this again? Was this the one with the pony?”
Taking a step back, we had to strive for a better customer experience than that.
We wanted to add more value.
We wanted to engage in conversations about bot building, not servers.
We wanted to talk about expansion of solutions to new languages and regions, not about how many gigabytes of memory the client would need to allocate.
Simply put, we needed to transform our client conversations.
More of the good stuff, more of the value-added conversations.
Features, features and more features didn’t solve the problem…
Another issue we found was that our Product team and our clients were not working with the same version of the product.
In ‘on-prem world’, clients typically run one or two versions behind the latest version.
This means that the cool features and productivity improvements that we were excited about and designed in collaboration with our clients, weren’t immediately available to them.
Even worse, the client might not have even planned their next upgrade. For on-prem clients, upgrades are a nuisance, not Christmas like it is for us. We love to ship new things, but clients feel the pain of updates as planning and resourcing is always required.
We had meetings with clients who stated their needs, and our repetitive reply became “it’s already there if you upgrade.”
The lightbulb moment…
While on my first roadshow visiting one particular client of ours, a member of their team said it simply.
“Honestly we don’t want to host your product, it’s that you don’t offer any viable alternative, so we have to.”
It wasn’t nice to conclude that we had basically forced our valued customers to be involuntary sysadmins…and within the vast space of sysadmins, those are probably the least happy kind.
So, let there be SaaS…
The path forward was clear. We needed to offer our clients a better experience and the answer was SaaS.
We knew that if we could build a SaaS service attractive enough, we would be able to drive more business value by:
- Continuing to deliver an industry-leading product to our clients
- Free up our client’s time and reduce their costs on system administration
- Change the types of conversations we have with our clients
- Ship more features to our clients faster and thereby make them more productive
From dreams to reality…
Before I ‘spill the beans’ on whether we succeeded in transitioning to SaaS or not, it’s important to explain how we went about this journey because if you’re looking to achieve something similar, this is the main course.
We began, as mentioned, by having frank conversations with our clients. We conducted interviews, we re-read new and old security requirements, we tried to map out gaps, strengths, and weaknesses. We sent out surveys on data residency and compliance, we explored standards and investigated public cloud maturity.
Our conclusion: It’s all about security and compliance (duh!).
But more than that we started to articulate how we would go about it, because not everything could be in place on day one. So, we realizeds it would be a journey, and any good journey needs a motto.
Our motto went something like: “have high ambitions, be transparent and have our own voice.”
Make sure to build and implement the real security requirements that our clients need, and their requirements are quite tough! Don’t whine, let’s get it done. It’s difficult, and requires layers of software changes? Ok, then let’s make a proper plan, set out the milestones and work towards it.
Let’s prioritize the important security features, communicate the ETA and drive it. Not everything can be done at once, so make sure we prioritize well and stick to our commitments.,
We spent a little extra time making sure we have the processes in place, but also the description and material for our clients to review. Our road map is transparent in tracking progress but also possible setbacks. We will always strive to continue to build and improve, and we need to do it in an honest way towards our customers.
By making our journey transparent to our clients, we provide the right information to enable them to make informed decisions, and to provide strong feedback to us along the way.
Find our True Voice
The forest of security requirements is dense, and it’s easy to get lost in, stuck in a swamp, harassed by mosquitos and in the end eaten by some unidentified beast (did I take this analogy too far?).
We have chosen to implement the security measures we believe actually have an effect. If we cannot fulfil a client security requirement, we want to understand why the requirement exists, and if the arguments are sound then we are happy to try to include it in our road map.
But if the requirement is just there for no apparent good reason, then it’s not for us.
Similarly, even if something isn’t required by the client, we still need to build it – if it’s the right thing to do! Finding our own voice is necessary. We have our own vision of security, and we are happy to share it.
And then there was Teneo…
As you guessed it, we got it done!
In 2021, our SaaS platform Teneo went live, and it has grown at a strong rate over the past 18 months. We’re able to attract new clients and migrate existing ones at an amazing pace.
We chose to build the platform on top of Microsoft Azure, and we’re delighted with our partnership with the MS team. They share our passion for transparency, high ambition and share our vision.
From our first SaaS go live in 2021, the volume of customer bot interactions powered by Teneo has grown significantly, with our most recent financial report demonstrating a SaaS ARR at 321% YoY (Q3 2022).
Today, we power millions of interactions across a vast set of industries each month.
The average speed at which we ship a new feature to our clients has been increased by up to 10-200x. Our clients get new features every month, and the steady release of new features that we simultaneously build for our clients, is changing the game.
We manage vulnerabilities in dependencies way faster and during the log4j debacle in late 2021, we had our SaaS environment patched in less than 12 hours from each new recommendation.
Our on-prem clients always work fast, but it’s obvious that even the best client team won’t have time to read the instructions on how to patch by the time our team has deployed it. In reality, vulnerability fixes are completed in SaaS in hours compared to days, weeks or even months with traditional on-premise installations.
All kinds of new conversations…
So finally, what do we talk to our clients about now?
At the same time as launching Teneo, we also built our Customer Success team who are able to engage with our clients and help them be as productive as possible in our products.
We focus on the customer’s goals, and how our product can help them achieve and surpass them.
As Joaquim Bargallo, Director of Customer Success, puts it: “We strive to ensure our clients learn something valuable following every interaction with us, while also making sure that we learn something from them.”
It’s as clear as that.
And since we don’t have to discuss server sizing & rebooting services…the value-add topics in our client conversations are now through the roof.
The journey towards SaaS has been a challenge and we’re still working hard to drive improvements across our platform.
But most importantly, we will continue to grow with our clients, fuelled by Teneo and our incredible team of engineers, strategists and customer support professionals.
If you want to learn how we can support your business, get in touch with our team, here.