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STRATEGIES
 


For ASPs and ISPs, Better Margins Through E-Commerce Automation
By Christopher Saunders

October 13, 2004

Small businesses providing online services like Web hosts, ISPs, or other ASPs need e-commerce solutions as much as companies actually selling physical product. And in the online service space, with its razor-thin margins, solutions that reduce costs and time is critically important. Fortunately, there’s Rodopi, which offers a solution to automate the selling, billing and management of new customers.

Six-year-old Rodopi’s goal is to make the customer addition and support process as hands-off as possible for sellers of online services, who currently lack such tools, according to the company.

“In the Web hosting world in particular, two leading problems are the ability to bundle more and more services without spending more to manage them, and the second is [generating] efficiencies you can ring up,” said Rodopi Chief Executive Todd Benjamin “It’s a very low-margin business.”

Offered as a service or a standalone software product, Rodopi’s Web-based front end serves as a sign-up portal — enabling Web surfers to visit a service provider’s Web page and purchase the service. Through relationships with major payment networks like Authorize.net and VeriSign, Rodopi handles payment processing and recurring billing (via e-mail or postal mail) as well. The system also can “turn on” the service for the new customer.

“We provide a platform these people use to automate their business,” Benjamin said. “Customer signup, real-time activation of whatever services they provide, we generate all the invoices and deliver those … Handle online payment processing, and customer servicing tools.”

Those customer servicing tools can form the basis for a simple trouble-response program or, with an optional add-on, more robust CRM capabilities.

“The basic offering has an integrated ticketing system to track problems,” Benjamin said. “We provide the interface to the customer record — in a support or customer service organization, you can pull up customer data, like payment data, etc.”

“An add-on module, a call center-type module, allows higher level of reporting and for you to manage potentially multiple lines of business — for instance [if you provide] outsourced customer support,” he said. “We also have the capabilities to have customers actually self-care, with a knowledge-base module that will go in and solve problems for them.”

The system also offers built-in interfaces to third-party value-added services often used by ISPs and ASPs — such as domain name registration services carried out by partners like Register.com and Tucows. This enables Rodopi’s Web hosting customers to bundle those services into their billing and customer management system.

While Rodopi’s software provides its own front-end to a service provider’s products, it also can be built into the service provider’s own Web interface using an XML-based API.

“It’s an off-the-shelf, out-of-the-box, full front end from a portal on through [fulfillment,]” Benjamin said. “But we also offer APIs that most of the larger [customers] want, to make it look as much like their interface as possible … they can plug [it] into their front end if the choose to.”

“Rodopi’s mantra from Day One has been a high level of automation, a low-touch or no-touch paradigm,” Benjamin said. “A customer comes in and subscribes to the services on their own, so the hosting company can realize some efficiencies by automating things.”

Rodopi provides for billing to be handled via a variety of formats, both hard copy and online — HTML or plain-text e-mail, or PDF. Rodopi also offers ACH and, through partner PaymentOne, billing via local telephone bills as well.

Dollars and Sense
Rodopi provides its software on a hosted basis starting at $275 per month for service providers handing up to 500 user accounts. Licensed versions start at $1,450 per 1,000 accounts. Some add-on modules are provided free, while others are a separate expense.

The company’s software is priced like this — a “pay-as-you-grow model,” Benjamin said — in an aim to make it affordable for small businesses as well as larger telecommunications companies or ASPs. “Even when they are very small or launching a new service, this allows them to get into the product at very low cost,” he said. “As they grow, and have revenue to offset it, they can afford more.”

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of ECommerce-Guide.com.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other e-commerce topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com E-Commerce Forum. Join the discussion today!

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