Cloud computing has enabled many software-as-a-service (SaaS) and Web 2.0 vendors to rapidly gain the capacity to have a global presence. But many providers mistakenly assume that expanding to a new market, like Latin America, is as simple as having a language translation button on their website. It is not.
Latin American consumers can access many SaaS and Web 2.0 sites and services, but are the vendors really ready to effectively operate in the market? Do they offer local support? Do they have local solution partners? Further, financial and tax regulations vary by country; are the nuances taken into account with invoicing? Are local payments accepted? Are there alternatives to credit card payments? For many providers, the answer to these questions is no.
These issues are only exacerbated for Latin American small businesses and lean enterprises that want to take advantage of new innovative services. Cloud-hosted ECM, HR, CRM, ERP, or any number of acronyms for enterprise services, promise quick on-boarding times, reduced maintenance, and low start-up costs; but when companies can’t get support in their language or purchase the service in a local currency, an attractive solution could quickly become non-viable.
Vendors offering software services to Latin America may have to literally be on the ground. The laws of several countries require that hosting certain business data, like invoice information, be done locally. To be compliant with local regulations, companies hoping to take advantage of cloud-hosted solutions have to understand where the servers supporting the infrastructure are physically situated. The vendor’s data center sites, not typically a part of cloud computing discussions given the focus on location transparency, can render an entire platform unusable if they’re not in the right place.
Open-source help-desk platform Zendesk published a blog article regarding their efforts to offer products and services to the Latin American market. Although the company is U.S.-based, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries are a growing component of its customer base. This has prompted the organization to engage an Argentina-based support agent. Zendesk has also created a Spanish blog, Mihelpdesk.com, to share ideas, use social media, and communicate with the community.
These efforts are admirable. More vendors should make an attempt to engage locally. If a company does not believe every customer at every location is valuable, it might be better not to offer the product in a market rather than risk damaging brand reputation. In an age of social media and constant communication streams, bad service in Brazil can instantly be shared with New York or Boston.
Simple Ways to Go Local
Not every small Web 2.0 or SaaS startup can afford to take actions similar to Zendesk, but there are things they can do to provide better experiences for Latin American customers. Vendors using PayPal as a payment service can elect to support multiple currencies. Additionally, they can partner with companies like Latin American Payments to accept local payments, or use methods such as bank or cash transfers or local credit cards.
Using these and similar services can be an easy way for smaller vendors to ensure that Latin American customers, including other businesses, are able to pay in a manner that works in their market.
The popularity of SaaS is growing in Latin America. However, providers cannot let the possibilities of the technology make them lose sight of giving their customers a viable experience.