The way that we consume is changing. We are moving from a world of buying ‘things’ to buying ‘services’. Just think about it for a moment, and consider the issue of films. A few years back, if you wanted to watch a film, you would either have gone to the cinema, bought a DVD, or rented one. Now? You might still go to the cinema, some of us probably still buy DVDs, especially of particular favourite films, but the majority now get their films from a subscription service such as Netflix.

And although films are perhaps the most obvious example for most of us, it is by no means the only one. The subscription economy now includes almost anything for which information management is useful, from high tech medical equipment to GPS scanning for tagged criminals. The projected huge increases in the number of devices connected to the Internet of Things is only likely to increase it.

One company that you may not have heard of among the subscription chat is Zuora, because it doesn’t sell services to individual consumers. Zuora is the company that is trusted by many of the biggest names in subscription services, including Dell, News Corp and Dollar Shave Club, to manage their subscription billing services.

Services behind services

Zuora was founded in 2007 by Tien Tzuo, who realised that there was a niche for companies to support service provision via subscription. Yes, companies can run their own subscription services, but like anything else in business that requires core skills outside of the main area of the business, it may be better to outsource.

Tzuo claims that managing subscription services is not as simple as you might think. There are issues about pricing, managing price changes within your existing infrastructure, and indeed, building a future-proof infrastructure in the first place, processing payments internationally, the legal issues of data management when information like credit card details is being held, and many more. Zuora now occupies a niche fixing these problems for subscription companies.

Venture capitalists certainly seem to believe in Zuora’s business model. They have invested more than $128 million so far, including a recent round of $50 million. Although this sounds like a lot of money for what is still a very new model, it makes sense with the rise of cloud computing and the Internet of Things, which together mean that almost anything can be connected to the internet and be more useful or easier managed on a subscription basis. It seems that the key to whether customers are prepared to become subscribers rather than owners is whether it makes their lives easier.

Old fashioned virtues

However, although Zuora offers a brand new type of service, it also embodies some very old-fashioned virtues. Although breaking the mould of how services are delivered and providing something entirely new is a good starting point for a business, it won’t survive long without customers. And one of the things that is most noticeable about Zuora is that it takes its customers very seriously. For example, it has recently been announced as a finalist in the 2014 Stevie® Awards for Sales and Customer Service, in the category of Customer Service Department of the Year. This is not an accident: Marlene Summer, the Director of Zuora’s Global Support noted that since 2012, they have focused on quick response and resolution times, and received an average customer service rating of 96% across the whole team. In short, they aim to deliver the best customer service.

Zuora has also taken a long hard look at what its customers are most likely to value and made sure it can deliver. It recognised that it would need to be trusted to process personal data, including credit card details, safely and securely if it wished to win and keep business. As a result, it placed a very high priority on security and is now one of the few companies to have been awarded the SkyHigh Enterprise-ready seal by the SkyHigh CloudTrust programme. This programme aims to provide a comprehensive objective assessment of the security capabilities of cloud services, taking into account more than 50 attributes in making its assessment, so achieving its Enterprise-ready award is no mean achievement.

The long view

Zuora is living proof that while innovation and recognising a niche in the market are an essential starting point, they are not enough to guarantee success without pleasing your customers as well. Old-fashioned customer service, it seems, is alive and well in the internet age.

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