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The digital economy has changed the way many companies provide products. Some no longer deliver packaged products but provide them as services over a network, typically the Internet. Telecommunications providers in particular are familiar with this business model and have developed processes and systems that use innovations such as product bundles that include elements of fixed charges (such as cost of installation) and variable charges based on usage (such as the number of calls made) and means of registering customers on the network, collecting usage data, invoicing and collections. This Subscriber Experiencemodel has been adopted increasingly by the software industry, replacing a single license fee and maintenance charges for on-premises products with software as a service in which users access products over the Internet and pay per user and/or for usage. Adoption of this model by other types of business has led them to think of customers as subscribers.

These models disrupt established end-to-end customer relationships, billing processes and customer experience management. The customer relationship changes from a linear to a cyclic model. The linear model essentially consisted of finding customers, closing sales and providing support as and when it was needed. The new model is circular, based on finding customers, agreeing on an initial contract, enabling the service, collecting usage data, billing and providing support on a continuous basis; the overall aim is not just to keep the customer satisfied but to increase usage by selling additional services, extending the lifetime of the initial contract and thus driving up customer lifetime value. In this scheme each interaction involves marketing, sales and support, and quality of service (how well the service meets expected performance criteria); each aspect is likely to have an impact on customer loyalty and thus lifetime value.

The challenges inherent in this model are revealed in our recent benchmark research into recurring revenue. vr_Recurring_Revenue_03_recurring_revenue_challengesIt finds that customer engagement throughout the customer life cycle is the most common challenge (for 56 percent of participating organization), followed by cross- and up-selling (46%) and customer retention (39%). Of relevance in this context is my perspective on providing excellent customer experience, which requires attention to four customer journeys: across engagement channels, throughout the customer life cycle, across internal business groups and frequently across multiple product lines. A subscription or recurring revenue business model faces all these challenges, especially in coordinating activities across business groups. Most companies are organized into separate business groups, which typically have their own processes, systems, information and target metrics, which are not set to drive up customer value throughout the life cycles of subscribers. For example, a simple invoice inquiry can arrive through any channel and could involve the contact center and the finance and customer service functions. Once an issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, there is an opening to provide information about new options and perhaps get the customer to expand the services used or extend the current contract. Each engagement should thus be treated as an opportunity to increase the lifetime value of customers and to deliver outcomes that both meet customer expectations and business goals.

It is not unusual that a significant percentage of a company’s customers are dormant – that is, they buy a product and, if there are no issues, are unlikely to engage further. One of the advantages of a recurring revenue model based on usage is VentanaResearch_RR_BenchmarkResearchthat companies can track which subscribers are active and which are dormant, which are making most use of the service and which are not using their full allowance, and which have high costs of service. The method for which to accomplish this is through analytics that are Recurring Revenue Benchmark found was the most important technology to use in 82 percent of organizations. Using advanced analytics systems companies can use such data to determine actions that can increase customer value or point out potential closing of the contract. The connected world of digital devices known as the Internet of Things is likely to motivate more companies to adopt a recurring revenue model for their products. In such cases companies should pay particular attention to the impact such models have on the long-term subscriber relationship and make sure they have appropriate processes, systems and metrics in place to maximize customer lifetime value.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

vr_bti_br_importance_of_cloud_computingMuch has been written about how cloud computing changes the way businesses source their software and services. For software companies, instead of being installed inside the company, software like business applications run on a computer installed at an external site. If the external site is not shared with any other business, this is called a private cloud; if it is owned and operated by a third party and supports more than one business, it is called a public cloud. In the case of public clouds, users access the applications via the Internet, and increasing they can do this while out of the office, using laptops or mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The main advantages of this model are that companies don’t need to invest in hardware or support staff to install and maintain hardware or software like these applications, the vendor handles system updates and users can work anywhere (including on the move) by logging in through a Web browser or an application designed specifically for mobile technology. Our research confirms that the overall importance is overall important in more than half (57%) of organizations.

With cloud computing and a shift to pay for what you use approach, it is not surprising that the billing model changes. Companies no longer pay an upfront license fee, followed typically by annual maintenance and support fees but pay on some type of usage basis. These can include a regular “license to use” fee plus charges based on the number of users, the amount of use, the volume of transactions and other factors depending on the supplier’s model. Such a model also changes the relationship between the supplier and the company into a subscription billing process. The parties typically agree on a contract for a fixed period of time and in many cases with an auto-renewing basis. The cloud vendor’s aim is to optimize usage (and the fees accruing from it) and if not auto-renewed, persuade the customer to renew the contracts and perhaps extend it by adding additional services; for its part the customer company wants support and maintenance taken off its hands during the life of the contract. This is complicated when customers want to use more support channels, such as self-service and mobile apps, and the supplier has to not just support them but continue to develop and build for evolving technology.

In any case the cloud model creates billing issues for the vendor that must be managed properly within commerce processes. For cloud vendors billing becomes more complex than in the old on-premises model. It now is based on recurring revenue, calculated by usage over a determined period but billed in intervals. The vendor has to produce invoices that include both regular periodic and event-driven usage charges; for the latter companies have to collect usage data from multiple devices. They also must include charges for packages of services (such as fixed-line telephones, mobile phone and data access and television). Charges may vary depending on events (more or less users), and the billing system must recognize discount periods, premium rates if usage goes beyond agreed levels and other factors. Invoices and payments likely will have to be enabled through online channels, and account management has to recognize the current state of the contract – for example, recognizing free offers at the beginning of the contract and special offers later to entice the user company to extend the contract.

For the cloud vendor, customer service also changes. It becomes a continuous, proactive process that has to blend with marketing, sales and commerce processes to achieve contract extensions and up-sales; because of this business units that have tended to work separately and keep their data in silos need to cooperate more. Customer service must be provided through more channels, and responses must be consistent regardless of channel. Customer engagement should be personalized and  take into the current state of the relationship; for example, at the start of a contract there will more emphasis on advising on how to set up the system, whereas during the life of the contract, the vendor should try to up-sell as well as resolve issues. To meet users’ growing expectations, vendors are likely to have to support a wider variety of self-service such as capabilities to self-administer the software, and access to support services and invoices via the Internet and mobile devices. All-in-all these new recurring revenue models offer the opportunity to extended the active customer relationship and increase customer value, but they also generate new invoicing and customer relationship challenges.

Along with its advantages the cloud model also creates challenges for businesses that use it. There are technical issues such as security, scalability, performance and integrating cloud-based data with on-premises data to, for example, create a complete view of the user company’s customers. There are also relationship issues such as expected levels of support, extending the contract or, in the worst case, terminating the contract and moving to another supplier.

vr_bti_br_top_benefits_of_cloud_computingThe cloud model is enabling more businesses to adopt such potentially lucrative revenue models. Consumers already subscribe to video rental services and pay for what they download. Photographs can be uploaded to the cloud, processed and shared online, and charged for by volume. Hardware can be rented in the cloud and paid for by usage, size and services. Looking ahead, purchasing a car might become obsolete as more people choose to lease cars or subscribe to a service that allows them to rent a car on demand and pay by miles driven and/or days hired. With a broadening set of devices and technology on the Internet from wearable computing to transportation vehicles that is classified in the new term called The Internet of Things. This will  open up further opportunities as more devices become connected through cloud computing and companies offer to provide services through them or by connecting with them. Our research finds that cloud computing delivers a wide array of benefits from lowered costs (40%) to improved efficiency of business processes (39%) and within specific line of business areas and processes even more specific benefits as the adoption and utility of it becomes a standard method for organizations.

Recurring revenue is a rapidly developing market, and although issues are emerging, so are solutions. Ventana Research is seeking to understand current and emerging practices for billing and customer engagement for these business models and the changes such models are generating. If you already offer such services or are planning to do so in the next couple of years, please visit our benchmark research on recurring revenue. We will share the results to help guide you to business success in this business application and process category.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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