The web offers a plethora of hosted third-party services offering functionality that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for small or medium sized businesses to develop themselves. From content publishing platforms like WordPress, Youtube, and Twitter; to business services like Google Docs, PayPal and Shutl. Utilising these services correctly can save businesses substantial sums but it’s important to understand the risks of doing so.
Change Is The Only Constant
The business models and functionality of internet services constantly evolve. Sometimes that evolution will be transparent to what you’re doing with a service. Other times changes will require that you make updates too. Services that were previously free can start charging. Services can change the functionality they offer or how they offer it. The user agreement between service provider and consumer can change. Worse still, if you back the wrong horse your service may disappear completely.
Even ostensibly free services cost in terms of time and effort to set up so it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Understand the stability (both in terms of financial liquidity and technology) of the services to evaluate the likelihood of issues arising and stay updated. Services rarely disappear without warning but having a plan in place will mean you can use the notice period to ensure a smooth transition.
The Customer Only Sees You
If your in-flight meal is inedible, if your baggage gets lost or if a fault on the plane delays your flight you blame your airline not their subcontractors. The same is true of your customers. If the services you utilise are unreliable, unhelpful or inaccessible it reflects on you. Understand the quality and service levels for services you use. Paying for a service doesn’t guarantee you have any recourse if it fails. No refund may be a small expense if you inherit a reputation for unreliability.
You need to be particularly careful when sharing personal information. If you pass a service personal information you need to be sure it’s held securely. If that information has a potential value then you must understand who is liable in the event of a security breach. Even when there isn’t a legal or financial aspect the reputational damage is likely to hurt so tread very carefully when sharing data.
Don’t Paint Yourself Into A Corner
Even if you could guarantee the third party services you use won’t change, your business and your customers almost certainly will. For any number of reasons you may wish to stop using a service and it’s important to understand the ramifications of getting out before you get in.
If you’re putting data in make sure you understand the effort involved in getting it out again. You don’t want to re-key your 20,000 subscribers’ email addresses by hand. If the information has value to you don’t just trust that ‘export’ button – test the portability carefully.
Think from a customers perspective what the disappearance of a service will mean. If customers are used to a certain functionality, changing it may make them look elsewhere. In particular, people expect content to always be available. Just because those blog posts or videos aren’t current, doesn’t mean your customers won’t be annoyed if you delete them. Conversely, simply moth-balling a blog or online channel and not maintaining it doesn’t look professional. This is especially true if visitors can still comment. The more useful content you create without an exit strategy, the bigger that millstone might be.
Third party services offer some great functionality at often very little cost. Used wisely they can be cost effective, secure and resilient way of giving customers what they want and keeping costs down. However, understanding the potential pitfalls and formulating a ‘plan B’ before you need it is a vital first step. If you need help or advice in ensuring your services work long term then contact eSlice today.