My last blog discussed building a business case for implementing a software license enforcement system.  A key component of the case should be a plan to minimize negative impact on the customer base. This article offers a handful of practices designed to help you ease your customer roll-out.  While not every practice can apply to all cases and to all business, each should provide some food for thought.

1. Communication, communication, communication

One of my former bosses, an SVP of Customer Support, once told me 95% of great customer service is the ability to effectively manage expectations.  I buy it. Many license enforcement systems will introduce a level of friction into your customer fulfillment and deployment models so getting out in front of the issue could make a sizable difference in how your customers perceive the change.

Some ideas include:

  • Run an email campaign to existing customers telling them what to expect, when, the reason for the change, what could benefits they could see from the licensing implementation (read: compliance) and where they can turn with questions. Keep in mind the larger the size of your customer, the more important software compliance is to them in all likelihood.
  • Over-communicate to your internal teams, especially those in the field.  Your most important customers will lean on their sales rep when there is any sort of disruption. So make sure your sales teams are prepared for customer inquiries around changes to licensing. Make sure they are clear on the 4 W’s: what, when, why, where to get help.

2. Walk first, then run

For first time implementations, I suggest running a pilot ahead of your GA launch.  As with many beta programs, select a small audience in a controlled environment that will allow you to flex the system and collect user input.  Other things to consider:

  • Implement license controls into a subset of your products initially and then scale to a larger audience over time
  • Start with simple product on/off enforcement before controlling usage down to the granular feature level
  • Offer a simple, easy to use web portal for product activation. I recommend spending extra cycles nitpicking your customer experience from end to end. Keep it clean. Keep it simple if you can.

3. Leniency

Software license enforcement tools like Sentinel RMS and HASP give you the ability to allow or disallow use of your products based on entitlement.  Keep in mind a failed license check at run-time does not mean you have to shut your user out of the software. It means your software knows the check failed and it can behave in a way that makes sense for your business.

With that in mind, for first-time license enforcement implementers consider relatively forgiving licensing policies at first. For example, RMS and HASP allow you to have a model where the software runs for X number of days by default, even prior to license activation.  This “runway” is great for trial versions but also gives your paying customers some breathing room if they struggle with license activation.

You will need to make plenty of licensing policy decisions as you develop your licensing model. My advice is to heavily err on the side of the customer initially and then consider tightening up those policies once you reach steady-state.

 4. Over-engineer your licensing support

There is no type of support call that escalate as quickly as “system down” or “I can’t work” calls. If your business is not prepared to help your customers access the software they are entitled to, don’t be surprised when your VPs start getting nastygrams. I have found an ounce of prevention is worth well more than a pound of cure in these cases.  Here are some relatively simple measures to consider putting in place:

  • Online video.  Flash videos are simple and cheap to produce and are a fantastic way to help your customer through challenging processes.  Publish a step-by-step video (or series of videos) on how to customers can activate or manage their licenses and where to go for more help. Keep them around 3-4 minutes tops. Make sure your fulfillment process gets the link to the how-to video into the hands of the customer after ordering. Simple. Easy. Effective.
  • Self Help. Make FAQs and even IM chat services available to help customers get up and running.
  • Sales preparation.  As mentioned before, make sure your sales teams know who they can turn to if they have a customer unable to get up and running.
  • Entitlement management support.  My experience says that the vast majority of “licensing” calls from customers have little to do with the enforcement technology and mechanism, but revolve around the issue of entitlement.  What did I buy? How many? When does it expire? Is it on Support?   The larger the size of your customers the bigger the challenge to keep their entitlement neat and clear. Your internal teams should have a clear understanding of how entitlement issues get resolved.  Is it the role of Tech Support?  Is it the role of Operations?  Sales?   Each organization could claim entitlement management isn’t in their charter. Someone has to own it.