In today’s highly competitive e-service business scene, companies have to rely on multiple marketing tactics to create new customers for their products and services. Conversely, with thousands of options to choose from online, potential customers have to use multiple criteria when making their purchase decisions.
Among them, the customer experience itself as a criterion for determining where and what to buy, is steadily becoming appreciated more and more in online marketing circles. To put it simply, if the journey to become a customer is a pleasant one, more people will be likely to complete it.
This is where the field of customer experience (CX) and User Experience (UX) design come into play. These terms refer to the practice of optimizing each step of the conversion process for maximum usability, accessibility, and pleasure, while reducing friction throughout the entire customer journey.
Whereas every business, independently from the sector in which it operates, needs to deal with CX, UX design principles are mostly applicable to browser-based businesses and applications, and can differ in implementation and relative significance depending on the particular industry a given business belongs to.
Companies offering cloud-based software services (SaaS) are a relative newcomer to the online marketplace. Their predominantly subscription-based business model is ripe for implementing established UX-based conversion strategies, while offering some additional challenges for enterprising product marketing specialists, and product managers.
In the rest of this article, we are going to explore the impact of UX for conversion rate optimization for cloud-based software.
UX and Responsive Design
One of the advantages SaaS companies have over traditional applications is cross-device compatibility. SaaS applications are hosted on remote servers, which the client accesses through a ‘thin’, web-based interface.
In general, SaaS apps can run on any internet-capable device with a web-browser. This makes them especially convenient for clients that use multiple devices on a daily basis. But there is a catch here – while SaaS apps have the same core functionality on different devices, this does not mean that the experience of using the application is identical on every device.
Using a word processor like Google Docs on a desktop computer feels different than using it on a tablet or smartphone, even if you can accomplish the same tasks. In the worst-case scenario, a SaaS app might be nigh-unusable on particular devices.
The impact this can have on conversion rate is significant. For example, if a SaaS solution is being marketed as being ‘accessible from anywhere’ but is a chore to use on mobile, a significant portion of users will drop out before the free trial period is up.
Conversely, if the experience of using a SaaS app on desktop and mobile is seamless and enjoyable, users will be less likely to churn.
SaaS application providers looking to attract new customers through a quality user experience should design their services according to principles of responsive design. This simply means that such applications should maintain their look and feel across multiple platforms.
A product team looking to incorporate responsive design principles should therefore take a look at SaaS packages such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps, Intercom, Workable, or Dropbox for inspiration.
UX and Onboarding
The way users experience SaaS products involves more than just using the software. The process of getting to know a SaaS service can leave a stronger impression on the potential customer than the service itself.
This makes sense if you consider that SaaS software packages of the same type (CRMs, marketing automation, design, advertising, project management etc.) differ little in core functionality, but can vary widely in terms of the onboarding experience they foster.
Some SaaS companies require potential customers to create an account up front, others allow sign-ins with existing accounts from Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.
The subscription process can include multiple prompts for testing or adding custom features, invite team members, or accomplish specific tasks, . Some services show previews and tutorials about software functionality, and others allow users to begin working immediately.
Finding the right combination of these elements can significantly boost or lower conversion rates for SaaS products.
Customers that feel their time is being wasted by constant pop-ups, prompts and forms to fill are extremely likely to churn. Vice versa, customers who remember their onboarding experience as a swift and convenient one, will be inclined to continue using the service in the future.
Time to value is the key factor that determines the quality of the onboarding experience. Every obstacle in the path from sign-up to first results creates a frustrating UX that leads to immediate churn. Quickly leading users to a quick win is what differentiates great from poor onboarding.
Another thing to consider is that SaaS rely on long-term customers to generate profit. This means UX designers have a longer time-frame to work with.
Customers are more likely to engage with the product if they can do it at their own pace. A ‘longer’ conversion funnel that takes into account feature adoption and scaffolding can be quite helpful in this instance, as the customer never gets overwhelmed by the onboarding experience, while they can go through a well-timed onboarding experience that introduces complexity in stages.
UX and Service Availability
By subscribing to a SaaS service, customers are paying for the convenience of not having to worry about hardware and setup costs or software updates.
However, there is a trade-off to this kind of business model. If the client-server connection gets interrupted for whatever reason, SaaS applications can become effectively useless.
Some great recent instances of this issue include the Google Drive and Slack outages that spawned a series of hilarious reactions on social media.
Since Slack has been down I’ve learned a new language, folded 1,000 origami cranes, baked three souffles, reconciled with my ex, trimmed my split-ends, devised a personal budget, meditated, and come to peace with my own mortality.
— Madeleine Aggeler 💅 (@mmaggeler) January 9, 2018
While traditional software can run offline, reinstalled, debugged, etc. to restore some measure of functionality, SaaS applications live and die with their server connection.
Being unable to use software you have paid for is an unpleasant experience to say the least.
Nothing leads to churn quicker than stressing over the fact that you can’t get any work done due to problems outside of your control. That is not to say that connectivity issues are exclusively (or usually) caused by something happening server-side, but customers are much more likely to feel that this is the case.
Needles to say, frustrated customers, especially if they are vocal online, are a quick way to reduce conversion rates. Therefore, it is basically mandatory for SaaS companies to implement a solid infrastructure that also includes redundancy. Companies that rely on server virtualization and external partners must be careful with their choices to guarantee maximum uptime.
Apart from that , there is not much else that can be done to stop unexpected connectivity issues. Problems can occur at a much higher level as it happened a few years ago when several nodes in North America went dead.
What SaaS-oriented companies can do is to offer some form of compensation after the fact. Free subscription extensions, discounts, limited access to higher-tier functionality, etc. are ways in which a business can show that they care about user experience, which is something customers will take into account when deciding whether to subscribe or even continue using their services.
As is the case with other kinds of online enterprises, SaaS applications can increase their market presence through creative application of appropriate conversion rate optimization strategies. UX-related optimizations are especially valuable, as SaaS products rely on long-term customer engagement for their business model to function.