Unifying ‘Experiences’: Platforms, People, and Processes driving SaaS in 2020 and beyond

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

An ‘experience’ is nothing but an event that’s so grand and spectacular that it transcends the boundaries of daily life and gets etched in our memory, to become a part of our being. Our reality is a collection of such experiences—stored, stacked, classified, brought out at will. In a similar vein, the Romantic poet John Keats surmises, “Nothing ever becomes real till it’s experienced.”

Refresh 2020 was one such experience in the ever-changing world of SaaS.

With a host of sessions spanning Customer Experience, ITSM, Sales and Marketing, and Platforms, our first-ever ‘virtual’ global conference brought together a confluence of business leaders, industry experts, thought leaders, and market analysts as they held forth on digital transformation and newer ways of working in the post-pandemic world.

In his inaugural keynote, Freshworks CEO Girish Mathrubootham reiterated his vision for Freshworks, “Our journey at Freshworks has always been about staying relevant in the world of customer experience.” With his quintessential pleasant mien, G took his audiences (now undeterred by geographic boundaries) through our founding story about a broken TV, underscoring how transformative the event was in the world of customer support. “For the first time, as somebody who had built four helpdesks in my career, I saw that the power dynamics had shifted from the company to the consumer.”

G is right.

In our age of hyper-connected, ‘immersive’ AI-driven experiences, technology has the power to shift the coordinates of how we experience the world. The same can be said for software—a software that helps you troubleshoot issues faster and more efficiently will also help carry that satisfaction in other spheres of your life. Freed from the burden of clunky tools, you’ll be able to enjoy your coffee breaks. In fact, it might even taste better than usual!

“Customer experience has overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiator,” said Natarajan Chandrasekaran, Senior Manager, Product Marketing at Freshworks.

As the pandemic dramatically transformed the ways in which we engage with products and solutions, the SaaS industry is playing a key role in delivering faster, better work experiences. Holger Mueller, VP and Principal Analyst of Constellation Research, highlighted two aspects—people and technology—important for companies wanting to move faster and become more agile. “People and technology have to work well together to achieve enterprise acceleration,” he deduced.

It is fair to say that SaaS is taking over the cloud computing market. Gartner predicts that the service-based cloud application industry will be worth $143.7 billion by 2022—a level of growth that will shape SaaS trends. Summarizing the insights from multiple sessions at Refresh 2020, we bring to you key SaaS industry trends to watch out for in 2020 and beyond.

Rapid digitization of products, experiences, and the workforce on the rise

There’s no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has made us all aware that “good things have to happen without us showing up.” Following this lead, studies show that the enthusiasm for digital transformation has blossomed in recent years. 92% of businesses had said that they were likely to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives before Covid-19 hit. According to the COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report, 96% of UK enterprise decision makers now believe the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation.

The new urgency for digital transformation can actually lead to businesses becoming more agile with cloud migration, complexity reduction, and certainly the default of rapid application development.

Companies have started to take note of the fact that their employees are able to operate remotely and they can mitigate disruption with cloud analytics and smart automation. The acceptance of remote working has facilitated what Mueller calls “the workforce of the future.” That means enabling employees to be more fluid, agile, located in lower cost areas, and to be truly global.

As leaders and industry experts try to mitigate the operational disruption brought by the pandemic, Richard Pastore, Senior Director & IT Research Advisor of The Hackett Group, asked CIOs to use this pandemic as a “jumping point” to stay ahead of a remote workforce—a workforce which is going to be heavily assisted by technology and AI.

Digital acceleration and transformation of companies

Now more than ever, businesses are investing in new capabilities in operational, structural, and technological areas, to not only get back some semblance of normalcy but also to help position the company so that the next time it happens, they will be more insulated from it. “Those who didn’t have the momentum in this digital transformation suffered more, and they realized it and now they’re accelerating their initiatives,” Mueller said.

Businesses are rethinking ITSM and moving toward a self-service model

Uncovering a wide range of challenges that was erstwhile not covered by the scope of service management, SaaS leaders are rethinking IT and service management capabilities in the wake of the pandemic. To stay ahead of the game, 2021 may catch more and more IT organizations moving up the hierarchy in SaaS, driving key competencies and focusing on customer-centric innovation as businesses opt for the self-service model where employees can access whatever they need without IT’s physical intervention.

Pastore reasoned, “Everything needs to be virtualized. That way, no matter what happens to the business, people will be able to get their jobs done, as well as access data and other resources that they need.”

Another trend is toward reducing IT’s footprint, organizationally and structurally, as assets and office locations are increasingly becoming consolidated—to shift money from overheads to investments.

Customers crave a unified 360-degree experience

Customers today crave for personalized experiences that they can unlock by a single tap.

However, when it comes to traditional customer relationship management tools, customer experience is scattered over different applications—as sales teams buy sales software, support teams buy support software, and marketing teams buy marketing automation software. The main problem with these truncated product experiences is that data is siloed, dampening the power of analytics.
G outlined the problem with dated legacy systems in his keynote. With legacy software, we expect frontline users to manually fill out forms and capture relevant data so that managers can run these reports and derive business insights. It’s no surprise though that users hate filling forms, and the result is incomplete data. “With incomplete and siloed data, there is no way any company can run predictive next-generation machine learning to really drive value for the business. That’s the problem we are in today.”

With siloed data, nobody has a full 360-degree view of the customer. Picking up on this, legacy CRM players are pushing customers to implement integration software. “At Freshworks, we thought there has to be a better way to build a solution,” G said.

In what can only be called an ‘iPhone moment in business software’, Freshworks launched Freshworks CRM, where we don’t force the customer to integrate different tools. Rather, customers can finally experience a CRM that automatically connects sales and marketing teams with the power of the unified customer record from the Freshworks Neo platform—which was also announced at the event .
“So you cannot create a silo even if you want to,” he quipped.

Freshworks CRM
CRM is dead, long live CRM: David Krauss and Peter Stadlinger discuss inconsistencies in partially-integrated legacy CRMs. With Freshworks CRM, businesses can unify their internal silos and deliver personalized experiences across marketing, sales, and service at scale.

A new age needs a new platform

Platforms provide powerful enterprise acceleration for future-ready, agile businesses. They are scalable, efficient, and extensible to meet customers’ business needs.

Driving cutting-edge customer, partner, and developer experiences, platforms provide flexibility and contain unified workflows to customize and integrate with your systems. “The only thing that you know is that you don’t know. So, you need to be flexible to adopt and adapt to the new best practices out there,” Mueller advised the virtual audience at Refresh 2020.

To further explain the function of a platform, Mueller drew the analogy of building a giant sandcastle at the beach. While you build the castle with your friends and family at the beach, you might find difficulty in hardening the sand or getting the wheelbarrows rolling; but one difficulty you won’t face is finding enough sand. That’s the power of the platform.

“PaaS (Platform as a Service) is the steam engine of digital transformation. Imagine that you have tried something in the location of your regional business. It has gone quite well, and now you want to roll it out to all your employees across geographies. Platform allows this scalability without having to make changes—you don’t need to rewrite or touch the code. It has to be infinite, scalable to the point as you need it.”

Mueller continued, “For an enterprise, the key decisions involve: what’s the right platform? Does it have the speed to enable you to build things fast? Does it allow you to protect your code so that you can run multiple clouds potentially? Does it allow you to achieve the enterprise flows and qualities that you need to make your company more agile?”

Preethy Padmanabhan, Head of Product Marketing for Neo and Freshcaller at Freshworks, talked about the company’s “platform-first approach.”

With Neo, Freshworks has created a reimagined digital platform for CX and employee experience. Businesses today need customization, extensibility, interoperability, and enterprise-grade security—all of which is seamlessly delivered by Neo.
With a singular customer record that can uniquely identify your customers across their entire journey, Freshworks Neo allows you to unify the data across silos in your organization and use smart automation. A ‘low-code, no-code platform’, Neo allows customers and users to quickly create business workflows across systems with minimal coding. Neo also powers our app marketplace, which has more than 1,200 apps available to be installed with a single click.

AI and ML

In recent years, AI and ML have become more and more disruptive in the workplace.

As customers demand a more unified experience, businesses today are trying to integrate all of their different systems—whether it’s marketing, sales, support or success, to build a 360 degree profile of the customer, so that they can build better data models and derive meaningful insights to engage with their customers.

“The true value of AL and ML is as good as the data underneath it. When you have bad or incomplete data, you don’t get the right results,” said Preethy Padmanabhan.

Two years ago, Freshworks set out on a mission to enable every business to get and keep their customers for life.
Following up on that promise, our Freddy AI engine brings key capabilities with actions, insights, and conversations. Actions boost your team’s productivity by simplifying workflows and automating mundane tasks. Insights help separate the signal from noise through deep-data predictions, suggestions, and corrective actions. Conversation skills can elevate your business’s self-service experience through bots that capture intent and focus on customer delight.

Freddy AI capabilities

Powered by Freshworks Neo, customers can now elevate their customer support experience, make smarter business decisions, and increase employee productivity—turning frowns upside down with Freddy AI.

Low-code and no-code automations are empowering users

According to Forbes, “Low-code automation tools are software programs that require very little (or no) coding knowledge, with the ability to create enterprise-grade high fidelity-applications.”

How are they empowering users, you ask?

Well, Mueller pointed out that there are not enough developers in the world. They are either too busy or don’t possess the skill sets required by the infinite world of cloud computing. And to make matters worse, work-from-home mandates have rendered developers juggling priorities, triaging tasks, holding it all together.

The lack of enough developers is likely to accelerate demand for low-code and no-code solutions. Slated to become a $21 billion industry on its own by 2022 according to Forrester, low-code tools can solve the problem for enterprises by expanding the developer base relatively more easily.

“No-code is a movement that is coming up quite strong,” says Cris Carvalho, Managing Director of Global Smart Processes. “People with very little IT background are trying to develop applications and trying to enter the world of applications, bringing their own ideas and programming.”

With low code and no code capabilities available on cloud systems, users can take charge of their applications with the help of smart automation. Mueller agreed that while it’s a steep learning curve, once on it, users can create their own automated applications of their choice. Users don’t need to submit a request to the IT queue to make a change or pull a report, and wait for the results without a feedback loop anymore. “Everyone wants developer velocity so users can build things faster, low code or no code,” said Mueller.

Innovation and security must go hand in hand

The pandemic has propelled businesses to open up an ecosystem of value.

Mueller said it’s not enough for businesses to innovate on a good platform if developers don’t make security a part of their DNA. Because nothing is worse and more expensive than retrofit changes—code changes, architectural changes, and being unable to go live because of security concerns. Even worse is going live and then exposing the security issues such as customer addresses and what not.

To tackle issues like these, businesses need to have a security mindset from the very beginning. Thankfully, owing to artificial intelligence-enabled automation, machine learning’s ability to recognize patterns and the power of the Freshworks Neo platform, security can be enhanced by quick identification and remedy of potential threats, leaving leaders to do what they do best: innovate.