SaaS without UX? Unconscionable!

If you don’t have that necessary ingredient, people wonder, “Is this a professional software company?”

SaaS adoption is on the rise. Service revenue has been increasing for the past few years. It was forecast to increase nearly 18% last year, and we can assume the growth will continue. As a result, SaaS companies must compete to offer a little extra. I met with Metanga’s Curt Raffi to discuss the importance of user experience in SaaS companies and online businesses.

A Strategic Differentiator

Photo of Curt Raffi and Joe BazJoe: Is UX a strategic differentiator for SaaS?

Curt: From a consumer perspective, having a strong application is all about usability and the user experience. If you don’t have customer engagement in your online application, you’re not going to make any money.

I look at how applications used to be built: you started with the database, and then you threw some type of UI on top of that. Today it’s really different!  You have to understand how the user’s going to interact with the tool or app you’re offering, and everything else has to follow. It’s all about usability.

Joe: Usability is a part of it, but it’s really about the whole user experience. That’s why the best practice for building great software and services starts with understanding the user.

Curt: That’s right. Understanding and embracing that user experience is going to help you get in the head of that user and help them become far more engaged in whatever you’re offering. As a strategic differentiator and almost a baseline for any modern product, you have to pay attention to the user experience – it’s a necessary ingredient. If you don’t have that necessary ingredient, people wonder, “Is this a professional software company?”

The Consumer Spin

Joe: You work at Metanga, a SaaS commerce and billing company.  Is there a big difference in how UX plays a part in SaaS businesses like Metanga versus consumer products?

Curt: Well, the consumer experience was driven out of gaming, Google, the iPhone interface and what Apple was able to put forth in 2005-2008. So the consumer world gravitated toward ultra-simple consumer apps, and expectations started to be set.

I remember the first time I encountered Google around 2000-2001. It was a box, just a simple box where you type in what you’re looking for. It sounds quaint and archaic now, but stripping everything down to the bare essentials was something consumers could relate to.

Joe: Meanwhile, the older software companies were trying to push their products to the cloud, without thinking about the consumer experience.

Curt: Right, and the challenge they have is realizing that their business model is imploding. They need to ask: “How will my application be used on a tablet? On a phone? In the office? Does the website solution responsively adjust to my user’s device?” Businesses need to conceive their products as cloud-based applications. Everything from APIs to user processes suddenly has to be rethought. Businesses are realizing that for survival they’ve got to create a user experience that’s just as cutting edge as what’s on the consumer side. It’s certainly a challenge Metanga had to tackle and overcome – and we had the benefit of being a cloud-based application from the start, which helped.

In-house or Outsourced?

Joe: Should SaaS companies rely primarily on in-house UX experts or should they outsource to a freelancer or agency?

Curt: For most companies there needs to be a little of both. The first time someone is exploring user experience, it makes sense to bring in UX agencies or freelancers. They can help train companies so that they understand what they need to do and what the best practices are.

Metanga did that with Above the Fold, and it was very successful. We were able to say: “This is the problem. We want to see if you can solve that, and we want to see how you solve that.” ATF trained us and helped us better understand our own needs. Now we have three UX people on staff, but it was Above the Fold that helped us get to that point and worked with us on projects along the way.

Joe: Any final thoughts for our readers?

Curt: We’re turning to UX as a leading process and product differentiator in our development process, not a GUI afterthought. Bottom line, if you’re not embracing the user experience, you don’t understand what it means to create an application or an online service.

Curt Raffi is the Marketing Director for Metanga, the SaaS division of MetraTech. Curt holds a Visual Studies degree from Harvard University. He has over 10 years of SaaS product and marketing experience with significant experience in awareness, user experience and pricing models.