How is tech-enabled service different from software as a service (SaaS)?

While recently planning a family trip to Disney, I realized the full experience was actually a combination of interactions with technology (e.g., rides) and service providers (e.g., characters, ticket collectors).  Ultimately, it’s the interplay and continuity of the technology and human service providers that will define our experience, and drive whether we return or recommend it to others.  

While humans are most often the users of SaaS, in the context of tech-enabled service, they are actually part of its fabric, interwoven with the technology and user experience. 

My team at Cureatr is building a tech-enabled telepharmacy service, arming pharmacists with a 360° view of a patient in order to help them get the most out of their medications. Ultimately, the product is neither just the technology that underpins the experience nor just the interaction between the pharmacist and patient during the call. It’s the entire end-to-end service and the outcomes it achieves.  

So, how can organizations drive towards outcomes not despite but because of the synergy between the technology and the service provider dual identity?  Below we’ll discuss how product management can continue to be accountable for the entire experience and drive otherwise disparate teams towards shared goals.

Being a Product Manager for a tech-enabled service brings unique challenges and opportunities

Lead change by building bridges rooted in empathy for growing pains

The culture of Services will be wildly different from Product, sometimes to the extent that they will feel like two different species, driven by different motivations.

Services may be more likely to suggest traditional ways of doing things to manage risk.  Ultimately they’ll often be left carrying the acute stress of delivering the service no matter the circumstances.  

There will be a healthy tension between Services feeling accountable for increasing scalability, reducing risk, and ensuring consistency, and Product’s interest in pushing the envelope, failing fast, being agile, and operating at the edge of uncertainty and innovation. While Services may not be accustomed to starting first with the problem or outcome to achieve, Product may not appreciate the pain of rolling out a change to a large group of service providers.  

Start by building strong personal relationships with Services at every layer.  It’s vital that Services see Product as an enabler of their success, not meddling in their affairs. Likewise, Services needs to deeply understand the long-term measures of product health and success.  In order to successfully do that, product managers will have to ask: What are they worried about?  What does success look like for them?  How can you help them see that your goals align with theirs?  

Find a quick win to show you understand their needs and can solve a problem that aligns with your shared goals, without a laborious process or intimidating interaction with “technical people.”  Remove the common misconception that Product is the “keeper of the engineers” by showing them that Product can solve problems in whatever prudent way possible, not just by utilizing and building technology.  Ultimately, when you solve the problem with the help of their input, celebrate the shared win as a cross-functional team.

Align disparate teams by evangelizing shared goals

Role uncertainty between Product and Services can breed unnecessary complexity, politics, duplicative efforts, and big meetings. Get buy-in from senior leadership when it’s Services’ responsibility to make a decision versus Product.  

Let’s apply the Disney example here. Who is accountable for keeping the rides running on time and to high-quality standards? Who optimizes for better line wait times? Who develops new ride technology or entirely new forms of guest experiences? Who chooses what to prioritize?  Everyone involved will come from very different backgrounds. Watch for biases that may come from experiences at businesses at different stages (e.g., further along in its’ journey, already established product-market fit, publicly-traded, no longer rapidly innovating).  

Product should be positioned within the company as the owner of end-to-end experiences, solver of important problems, and accountable owner of key outcomes.  This is not to suggest all ideas will come from Product — Services actually has the best pulse on how to improve, as they’re at the sharp end of user interaction.  Take an idea from anywhere, but give Product full accountability for the outcome.

Co-creating clear measures of success with Services creates buy-in and alignment.  While Services may think more operationally (calls made, hours worked), ensure Product extracts outcomes that measure customer value. Walk the team through an exercise to determine how your service is delivering value to your customers and users, as well as what customer problems your service is solving and how it is differentiated from your competitors.  

Establishing shared goals is just as much about committing to what you are doing as what you are not.  For every new idea Disney includes in the guest experience, they likely discarded ten.  Shared goals will aid Product in saying no, by bringing the conversation back to the why.  What are the prioritized outcomes we’re solving for?  Is this the next best thing we can do for the highest priority outcome?  

For example, in a venture-backed business still searching for product-market fit or focused on multiplying revenue, one might prioritize investments that maximize customer value over profit. Be transparent with Services to help them understand your decision-making based on where your company and product are in the maturity curve.  

In Conclusion

I hope my experience and learnings from building out a tech-enabled service will help Product and Services team forge valuable partnerships to maximize customer value.  As a guest at Disney, I make no distinction between my experience on the rides or how characters like Cinderella make me feel. To leave the park having had a joyful experience, Disney product managers need to have sequenced and aligned a complex fabric of technology and service providers to achieve the desired result: joy.

About the Author

Morgan Beschle is a digital health product leader living in the Boston area with her husband and three young kids. She's spent her career leading Product and Design teams building innovative and scalable health technology to improve quality while reducing costs for payers, providers, and consumers. She's passionate about all things product, and fostering results-driven team culture where top talent thrives and disruptive change is encouraged.