Is NetSuite Sweet for Customers?

It’s widely agreed that customer experience is now the most important dynamic for business. Any organization that wants to retain loyal and even vocal customers should do everything possible to ensure and maintain customer satisfaction. Software companies, especially those that promise to provide CRM and effective interactions across any channel at any time, should be good examples of embracing the methods they prescribe for using their products. But do they?

Maybe our organization is not having great luck at the moment. We just went through a bad experience with Salesforce, which had a cascading technology failure (known as #NA14) of its data center and database operations that shut down thousands of customers that, like us, use its software. Of course, technology problems happen, but there is no excuse for poor communications that don’t explain a situation and provide regular updates, not to mention prompt resolutions. Customer communications and supporting processes ought to make customers feel that they and their business are important to the provider. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was more than communicative and listened to comments on the issues directly through social media; now we wait to see what changes the company will make in its customer relationship processes and communications.

Unfortunately, around the same time as this fiasco another one occurred, originating with the cloud-based ERP provider NetSuite. Here again there appear to be some very large challenges with its customer relationship processes and resulting customer experience. Our analyst firm tracks and has recommended NetSuite as part of our research practices and advisory services to organizations and business professionals on applications, as in this analyst perspective by my colleague Robert Kugel. In October 2013 NetSuite announced its acquisition of TribeHR,  a cloud-based provider of a human resources management system (HRMS) for small and midsize businesses. Our firm at the time and continued to be a happy customer of TribeHR but also an advocate of and reference for its efforts, as I wrote in 2012 and part of our human capital management research coverage.NetSuite Logo

After the acquisition, at end of 2015, I received an email from an individual supposedly at NetSuite billing us for use of TribeHR. I was not sure if the message was legitimate, as the usual form of business communications to a customer and did not identify the person’s position in NetSuite. As you may know, it is a common scam to send invoices and ask for payment without context; this is an issue the FBI’s Internet Crimes Division is actively addressing where individuals are asking for payments through emails and PDF that appear to be legitimate. We ourselves have been attacked by these scams though our governance processes have prevented any mispayments. I sent an email reply to ensure that the sender actually was from NetSuite and asked for the agreement for the invoice; I got a generic reply that did not identify the person or department and said only that the invoice was related to back billing for TribeHR access. I asked again for proper identification and a copy of the license agreement and terms for payment. This was the last I heard about it. I never got a call from an account manager or anyone else at NetSuite to address the situation. Of course it could have been resolved easily if NetSuite had embedded online billing and payment from within the application. Obviously this was not a satisfying customer experience for something as easy as clarifying an invoice and setting up recurring payments from our organization.

Then, out of nowhere, on April 22 our instance to TribeHR was shut down without notice. Attempts to log in by anyone in our company received this boilerplate message: “Your account is currently suspended. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Please email and to reactivate your account or submit related questions.” I sent an email, and the HCM Customer Success team at TribeHR responded quickly to let me know they were investigating. Clearly the vendor could and should have been more proactive. We have a prominent website, I myself am easily found through social media, and most importantly I am the main contact within TribeHR where I am listed as the system administrator and human resources contact. All NetSuite had to do was use the customer information in our instance of TribeHR. Any communication at all could have remedied this situation; it was even worse since the communications with me in December were never followed up as I requested.

Next a new person contacted me for the first time, saying he is our account manager. He told me that the invoices were sent to a person who has not been with the company for seven years at an outdated mailing address. I requested that the outstanding invoices be updated and consolidated in one agreement. I signed a new agreement on May 10 and emailed it back, requesting a credit card link so we could get it paid immediately. I was told that once the order was processed we would get an invoice and payment link. This was important as the terms on the agreement I signed said that payment was due upon receipt. But the updated invoices from the beginning of the year and a link to pay them did not come.

Then on May 24, our system again became unavailable for use. In response to my inquiry our instance was reactivated and I was informed that it was not clear why we were turned off and that the invoice would be sent to our accounting for payment. I thought it weird that no one from NetSuite had called or emailed to let us know it would be turned off. Forcing customers to chase a software vendor to pay for services is certainly not a best practice.

At this point I thought it would be worthwhile to make sure that the CEO of NetSuite, Zach Nelson, knew about our problems and poor customer experience, so I put it on Twitter to elevate the situation: “Looks like @NetSuite just shut off @TribeHR customers from access to its HRMS – not a good signal to HR & biz for them! #FAIL @ZachNelson” and then “@NetSuite @TribeHR @ZachNelson and email my rep and it is turned back on! When do sales control customer access to apps?”

Five hours later I got Zach’s response: “Should we be mailing the collection notices to someone else in your company?” I responded “@ZachNelson @NetSuite @TribeHR you are really out of touch! I asked your sales rep to get our accounting team an invoice to pay & waiting!” and “@ZachNelson @NetSuite @TribeHR if you would like emails to your team I am happy to provide! Instead of accusing me / get the facts!” and “@ZachNelson @NetSuite @TribeHR or use your new online billing / subscription system with online payment for your own business! Free advice!”

A basic email to our account rep, who by the way has been more than easy to work with, by Zach would find out that we are trying to pay for services and have been shut down twice because of NetSuite having old information and are still waiting for a payment link. Not one to get falsely roasted on Twitter, I responded, “When did CEO of your SaaS provider trying to falsely roast you on Twitter become customer best practice? Ask @netsuite @ZachNelson #FAIL.” I expected it would be obvious that roasting a customer and industry analyst was not necessary when a simple response to request a call or direct message on Twitter could resolve it. But Zach responded on Twitter, “If sending 4 email notices between December and April is considered ‘No Notice’ then the answer would be yes,” which is a response to my asking, “Do you turn off your customers with no notice?” These were my next responses to Zach: “not difficult to see your org/process made mistakes multiple times – I signed agmt & waiting for invoice” and “an apology is easy to give a customer/analyst on your mistakes not mine if you looked at what happened.” and “been a happy customer of TribeHR and supporter of your efforts! Not sure dishing on me makes any sense!” and “@ZachNelson and for the record, been a fan of @TribeHR read … then became a customer & reference – ask @josephfung.” This turned into a late-night rant because I was concerned that our instance would be turned off again. And all of this for invoices that do not add up to more than $500 USD.

As an industry analyst and chief research officer covering the spectrum of applications, tools and technology for business (and the overall top-ranked enterprise software analyst in 2011), I was hoping for more courtesy in these communications. We do get much communications from analyst relations like we get from other vendors to help us recommend NetSuite unless we diligently pursue it. I noted in listening to the keynotes from NetSuite SuiteWorld16 along with announcements about new offerings like SuiteBilling, which it announced on May 17 and demonstrated, that if it is as advertised, it should resolve such issues as billing and payment for subscriptions. NetSuite could even embed this system directly into TribeHR or provide it to customers through a secure login. If NetSuite is using its billing applications for subscriptions it should process bounced emails and develop professional business communications to effectively engage with customers. Any of these is a better approach than emailing PDFs to customers –manually sending invoices is a worst practice. As we have written, the subscriber experience impacts recurring revenue. It is amazing that NetSuite’s people cannot even look up customer information in the system it rents to customers and doesn’t bother to go to the customer’s website and call them if they can’t get information from their own system. Instead its CEO roasts the CEO of their customer and head of an industry analyst firm that recommends NetSuite on Twitter without proper investigation. Let me just say that it does not take long for bad customer experiences to impact future business, as word travels fast today.

If NetSuite is in the business of serving small businesses, which was the backbone of its growth, then it should know that asking them to print and mail checks for a low monthly subscription of less than $200 is not a best practice and impacts their efficiency. Asking small businesses to wire money is worse because as anyone knows it could cost a small business $15 or more, which is 5 to 10 percent of this invoice and amounts to a penalty to the customer. Software companies like NetSuite should progress like those in other industries that service small businesses, such as healthcare, insurance and other recurring payments; they allow a customer to use ACH for recurring invoices and eliminate manual or costly methods for payment especially if you do not allow credit card payments online. Also, applications like NetSuite should have accounting and billing contact information so that the information is updated by the customer and easy to access and email or even make a phone call. Also, any issues related to the use of the software should be notified to the administrator or in this case also the head of human resources. Since the business is renting the software, the courtesy of contacting them is an industry best practice. These are my recommendations for NetSuite and any software-as-a-service provider, including Salesforce, for which I also provided recommendations in its communications and the billing and payment processes.

We at Ventana Research know that recurring revenue challenges finance, accounting and billing departments as we have written, and that it is easy to say that you should use the software you sell for your own business. We understand that engagement throughout the customer life cycle is the largest recurring revenue challenge in 55 percent of organizations, according to our recurring revenue research. As a negative, example as administrator of our TribeHR instance I have not received updates on the direction of the application. This is a concern for us when we hear the loud partnering communications from NetSuite about a competitive approach from UltimateHCM and are not clear on the future of TribeHR. Our research also finds that payment processing and account management are two of the top five capabilities desired by organizations for a recurring revenue system. In addition our research finds that customer renewals are the largest expected recurring revenue challenge. So we have empathy for NetSuite in this situation. Our research and clients show that improving vr_Recurring_Revenue_04_key_capabilities_of_recurring_revenue_systemscommunications in the billing and payment cycle along with the operation and improvements to the software are essential for long-term success and to customer retention. This improvement is part of what we have articulated is critical for customer experience in 2016 using digital technologies.

The customer experience I have described suggests many areas in which NetSuite needs to improve its communications, contracts, billing and payment processes. Right now it is not so sweet for customers of NetSuite, and its leaders should take to understand the issues in its communications and customer processes to ensure that situations like ours don’t happen again. NetSuite has been operating since 1998 and providing applications in what is known now as cloud computing and should have these processes well defined and refined. TribeHR was acquired in 2013 and by this time should be better integrated as a business and technology into NetSuite and its customer relationship processes so there should be no excuse for what our organization has experienced. We suggest that other small or midsize businesses should re-evaluate any further use of NetSuite and place on hold any evaluation of NetSuite until the company improves its customer and subscriber experience and communications.

No one is perfect, including our company, but I am standing by for a public apology for the clear mistreatment and abuse from CEO Zach Nelson and NetSuite. He could have passed this issue down to the customer service team (and hopefully customer success team) to resolve. Remember our organization was not the cause of this bad customer experience and lack of customer relationship processes. As you see I have documented the experience well, and those who want to see what not to do, just contact me.


Mark Smith

CEO and Chief Research Officer

Mr. President and Department of Labor: Move Aside; Let Employees Work and Learn

Through a federal rule referred to as “Overtime Rule” and part of Title 29 regulations was issued on May 18th, 2016 by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Obama administration now mandates that unless they meet criteria for exemption, employees paid less than $47,476 ($22.825 per hour) are entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week. The rule change, which goes into effective on December 1, 2016, is intended to apply to executive, administrative and professional employees; it has exemptions for teachers, lawyers and other specific jobs and industries.

The new limit, which is detailed in a DOL summary and further described in a distributable document and a set of frequently asked questions (FAQ), is a 100.7 percent increase over the previous overtime trigger salary level of $23,660 ($11.375 per hour), set in 2004. According to the administration the new rule affects 4.23 million workers (which by the way at this writing references  “white college workers” rather than “white collar workers”) among an estimated 8.9 million overtime-eligible salaried employees in the U.S. According to the DOL, 17.5 percent of the newly eligible workers are over 55 years of age, 21.2 percent  from 45 to 54, 22.4 percent  from 35 to 44, 31.3 percent  from 25 to 34 and 7.4 percent  under the age of 25. The new rule also establishes an automatic update every three years to the maximum qualifying salary. The rule permits up to 10 percent of the salary to come from nondiscretionary bonuses, incentives and commissions or through an end-of-quarter catchup payment.

The new rule is part of a set of regulations that specify how the minimum wage and overtime pay protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) are to be administered. Originally intended to eliminate potential sweatshops that resulted from the great depression are part of protections for “white collar” workers. President Obama embraced this agenda when he signed his directive in 2014. But the president’s good intentions can have side effects – in this case, the increase could limit options entry-level workers, whether college graduates or those heading into a new career path, who might want to invest time learning beyond standard training to better their value to the organization. In fact, it even could limit those who work in human resources who seek to be able to spend extra time understanding this DOL legislation and its impact – they could find themselves in an overtime situation despite the fact that it is an opportunity to better their skills to the benefit of their organization. Spending more time to learn skills for a white collar position should not be prohibited but encouraged.

Let me make this more personal. I began my career 28 years ago by relocating to a major metropolitan area to take a technical operations position at a significantly low salary. I accepted the salaried position knowing that I would barely be able to maintain a living because the opportunity was more than worth it, enabling me to break into a company so I could establish the experience and skills not available anywhere else. I was not a college graduate, did not have specialized or advanced knowledge but was willing to apply myself – to use my place of work as a place of education to the benefit of both the organization and myself. Over a number of years I was a hard and dedicated worker, sacrificing a personal life to work 50 to 60 hours per week so that I could advance my job level and salary. Under this new rule the company could easily have been in violation of DOL regulations, and the employer probably would have required that employees not work more than 40 hours.

Three decades later, how much has changed for a broad range of private-sector white collar employees who might not have either a college education or skills in the industry they want to work in? They may well be trying to restart their career but now will not be able to spend time at work at or related to the job that could be construed as overtime. The new rule will force employers to establish new employee handbook guidelines and agreements that direct employees and maybe not just the non-exempt ones not to work more than 40 hours or be in violation of employment rules and subject to termination. And employees trying to show a commitment to advance their potential in a range of white collar positions may well find themselves facing the proposition of being dealt with as an hourly employee with what I would define as a transaction level relationship with the company.

The Department of Labor suggests that to accommodate the new regulations businesses of all sizes can raise salaries to maintain the overtime exemption, pay overtime beyond 40 hours, reorganize workloads, adjust schedules or spread work hours – or, of course, adjust wages. The last recommendation in practice means the employer, to compensate for extra time worked beyond a 40 hour work week, might well have to have a difficult conversation with its employee to induce him or her to accept a lower salary plus overtime pay. With no exemption for size or location of business, this new rule will mean that considerably more time will be spent, unproductively from the company’s point of view, renegotiate its employer-employee relationship.

The DOL states it will not be difficult for employers to track workers’ hours as “employer already has systems and policies in place for dealing with overtime eligible employees so the rule isn’t introducing any new obligations for employers or requirement them to adopt new systems.” Well, the DOL does not realize that many organizations will not have had employees making less than the previous salary threshold but do now under the new level. Moreover, in many cases they were not paying attention to the exemptions because in a small and medium sized business the time required and cost of paying attention to every regulation is prohibitive. For employers, it now becomes a smart move to assess the use of software that employees use to track their hours daily so that managers and management have direct, centralized visibility to time worked. If your organization already uses workforce management software to track hourly workers, it might be able to be used for time worked by salaried employees. In addition, a new generation or human resources management systems (HRMS) have begun to add ability to track time worked by day and projects. Doing what the DOL appears to be recommending – leaving it to employees to track – is a recipe for disaster. Employers and managers should not leave any potential issues or violations in the hands of employees who may or may not track diligently every day. The government in this case has increased the cost of business by inserting the need for business to acquire and deploy software to support tracking hours.

Employers can also examine moving to the use of contingent workers, shifting the responsibility to a third party to deal with the compliance. These contingent labor organizations already have the processes and software to ensure compliance to regulations. A significant number of larger corporations already do this today to eliminate the burdens of hiring and maintaining a workforce. This is in addition to looking at using part-time employees who might work only 32 hours or less and do not fall into other regulatory requirements that increase the cost to a business.

The federal government should also have recognized the geographic diversity of businesses, with many located in areas where the cost of living is less than half what it might be in a metropolitan area. If you read the regulations, it is clear that some areas negotiated exceptions – American Samoa, for example, which has a lower standard test at 84 percent of the $47,476 salary. While exemptions on type of workers like outside sales, computer-related occupations, field of science and learning. Also, there’s a “learned professional exemption” where the “Customarily Acquired by a Prolonged Course of Specialized Instruction” could be the loophole for a large class of employees who can cite some level of related instruction or a degree that’s close enough to the content of their job.

The regulations provide a significant number of exemptions to the overtime rule in executive, administrative and professional areas that include some educators, those in law or medicine and outside sales, computer employees and highly compensated employees. Employers should make sure they are fully examining the available exemptions, even in situations where salaries are above the new threshold at $47,476. Interestingly, the legal and medicine fields are exempt from the salary tests for compliance; why did entry-level lawyers get an exemption? Or those that work to help take care of humans? I could be cynical and say they had great lobbyists. To me, one of the saddest parts of the legislation is where bona fide teachers are exempt where they actually should have salary increases. But the biggest question the regulations raise is why does the overtime rule not apply to these industries?

Should the salary range that triggers overtime have been increased? Yes. But this doubling of the salary level came with little notification to enables businesses to adjust through policies, processes and potential systems; now the regulations will go into effect on Dec. 1, 2016. The DOL did provide notification in July 2015 on the potential changes, so if you were keeping track of the details – which I can guarantee the majority of businesses weren’t doing – you know what’s coming. But since the government lacks any technological sophistication in business registration and notification, it’s not until now that business leaders including CEO, COO, CFO and head of human resources are learning of this and starting to take action. Of course those in larger corporations that have dedicated resources and retained labor lawyers are probably on top of the changes and implementing changes. Remember, though, that the number of small to medium-sized businesses far outnumber the larger ones that typically have more a $1billion in revenue and the DOL did just publish a specific guide to help these smaller-sized organizations.

The federally mandated minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour. It should increase, and many states are already advancing it. In the face of these changes, businesses will have to make some difficult decisions on their ability to operate at current levels and determine the path forward to address increased payroll. Most organizations have budgets and this new regulation will have a direct impact on the budget in the calendar fourth quarter. Clearly, discussion involving at least the CFO and head of human resources will have to happen to develop a plan and determine a course of action. Organizations will need to review job levels and salaries as part of compensation planning to see if they should raise them to the federally mandated minimum to minimize the impact to any issues on the exemptions and requirement to track hours. Many HR organizations might also need to determine if their HRMS is effective at tracking hours worked and compensation processes as our latest human resources research found is one of the top uses of a HRMS and is one of the key factors motivating organizations to change technology providers. There will need to be updates to the employee handbook on overtime, communications to managers and inevitably new agreements or statements to salaried workers within this pay bracket.

Employers should seek labor-related legal counsel to ensure they have assessed their workforce and the situation with respect to exemptions and have plans to mitigate risk. As the new regulation goes into effect some employees may find themselves with a salary increase for the holiday season, or they may find themselves being informed they are no longer able to work extra hours related to their job to improve their career or performance. Some may find their salary reduced to incorporate overtime or may be asked to go to an hourly rate.

While I would agree it is appropriate and necessary for the DOL to establish a salary framework that keeps employers from creating sweatshops and working their employees too extensively, this doubling of the salary level appears to me to be excessive. Employees are always free to decide that they should find a new place of employment, but in this instance the government has taken an action that will force businesses to expend time, resources and money to ensure they stay in compliance. This regulation will impact employers whether they decide to hire college graduates only part-time or as hourly employees at compliant levels or skip them entirely and look for workers with more experience. College graduates are not well prepared by universities or colleges in their degree related to a job opportunity they are applying for in the private sector will require significant training that is not offered by the employer. For those college graduates applying for a job position not related to their degree will need even more training and a larger desire to learn about the position that in both examples will not be possible after December 1st.

The DOL has published its overview of the Overtime rule which portrays the new rule in a positive light: It puts more money into the pockets of many middle class workers or gives them more free time, prevents a future erosion of overtime protections and ensures greater predictability, strengthens overtime protections for salaried workers already entitled to overtime and provides greater clarity and security for workers and employers, improves work-life balance, increases employment by spreading work, improves worker health and increases productivity. All of this may well prove to be true. But all of it could be driven by choices employees make when they take a position and determine the employer they want to work for, rather than constraining employees who want to focus on their career and work hard at their employer.

It is clear that President Obama and Department of Labor have no real understanding of the impact of this change and how it will alter the dynamic of employer-employee relations and impact the employee’s right to work hard, learn more about his or her profession on the job and thus have the opportunity to move up and advance his or her career. If the president and DOL think that employers are going to pay overtime to support an employee’s desire to further training beyond existing ones offered, they are really disconnected from the way business operates. The federal government has now tied the hands of employers and instead created overhead for the private sector. This action is eliminating opportunity at a time where any aging individual who needs to retrain to switch careers will not be able to do so unless employers increase their budget for the workforce. Of course, the money for this will have to come from steps such as increasing margins on products and services that which translate to increased prices that the public may or not choose to pay, reduced benefits to employees like health insurance coverage, increased time off, matching 401k and continuing educational reimbursement, or reducing operational expenses or growth through eliminating new positions and employees.

While the president and DOL view this updated regulation as protection of employees and an expression of the president’s commitment to fair compensation for hard work, in my opinion it is a move that could have the opposite effect. Disrupting the private sector and forcing business to reassess its workforces, salaries and overtime patterns at a time when the focus should be on growth and new hires is really a bad step. Not everyone wants to be forced only work 40 hours on salary and should not be constrained by a federal regulation that forces employers to prevent it from happening.

Mr. President and Department of Labor, after working in small, medium, large and very large business in the private sector from entry-level to executive positions, after having hired or been responsible for hiring hundreds of people, and after starting and leading a small business as CEO over the last 13 years, I have a little more experience on this matter than those who developed the position you and your departments have taken. This action will change the dynamics of the workplace for the worse and have stepped on the potential opportunities of millions of Americans, from college graduates to those who are being forced to transition from trades that are no longer able to provide jobs in this country due to globalization. The view that this new regulation communicates of employers, generalizing that we are not treating our employees properly with fair salaries and so the government needs to wield a stick that is these regulations is incorrect. If you ever want a dose of reality on business and the private sector, let me know; I am more than able to provide some opinion and perspective.


Mark Smith

CEO and Chief Research Officer