high-jump bar Image by skeeze from Pixabay Zoho has announced a program that offers free access for existing customers to its applications in response to COVID-19. Coronavirus is having a huge impact on businesses across the world. Many software vendors are making announcements that both help existing customers and sometimes aim to win new ones. Just over a week ago Zoho announced Zoho Remotely. This was aimed at giving existing and potentially new future customers the tools to enable employees to work from home.

Zoho has now gone a step further and made a commitment to help customer organisations survive in the coming months. The Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program (ESAP) will give up to 20,000 qualified paying customers with 25 employees or less, free access for up to three months. For businesses unable to operate this is a significant step by Zoho. It is a move that other software companies should take note of.

Sridhar Vembu, Founder and CEO Zoho (Image credit Zoho.com)
Sridhar Vembu, Founder and CEO Zoho

Sridhar Vembu, Zoho co-founder and CEO commented: “Businesses are hurting. They already face tremendous pressure on revenue and cash flows. Not knowing when things will get back to normal is even worse. Every bit of help we, and other companies, can offer to keep these small businesses afloat will go a long way, not just financially but emotionally as well. We are in this together, and contributions from every business help our community get through this pandemic.”

Saving half a million jobs?

This is a huge offer by Zoho. It is not one that offers free software for all customers though, some companies are not as impacted as other. It also needs to assure its own survival during and after these extraordinary times. As a privately owned and bootstrapped company Zoho has been able to judge the costs of offering this program. It claims 50 million users across 180 countries but does not reveal how many of those pay for its software. However, it is effectively offering access to existing customers for up to 500,000 users.

Vembu added: “Certain industries have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and we strongly encourage our customers in these industries to please apply for this Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program. While we want to provide relief for as many small business customers as possible, we will prioritize those who are most in need and hope that others who are adapting to market conditions will help us by allowing program availability to those struggling to stay afloat.”

Making a difference now

This offer may make the difference between a business surviving or failing. One customer, Anders Boulanger, Founder and CEO of The Infotainers, a Canada-based event entertainment company commented: “Our business has been extremely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. We were on the leading edge of the impact. We work delivering custom presentations in our clients’ trade show booths, and one by one trade shows have been cancelled leaving us with little to no income for the next 4 months or more. Last week, we were forced to lay off one of our employees. At the moment, we are taking extreme cost-cutting measures and many of our month-to-month subscriptions are on the chopping block.

“We would definitely consider our business a ‘Zoho Shop’. We will touch at least 2 or 3 Zoho applications on any single work day, so they are mission critical to our business’ long-term success. It means a lot to us that Zoho is reaching out and supporting their loyal customers. Having 3 months of complimentary services means that we can survive that much longer and we can put off laying off another employee. Every little bit helps when it comes to finding savings and this gesture goes a long way!”

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

As a privately owned company it is in some ways easier for Zoho to offer such a magnanimous program. Other companies will need to consider shareholder and investor considerations. The question is, can they afford not to offer some kind of discount to some firms during the crisis? If they continue to charge for cloud services, they risk companies going out of business. If they don’t charge then they risk their own future survival. It will be interesting over the coming weeks whether more companies make similar announcements to help clients.

Could Zoho have done more for larger companies? The dichotomy is that more assistance might have impacted Zoho’s own employees. Yet by not doing so, larger companies may go out of business and cause Zoho longer term revenue issues. This is also a huge challenge for other multinational SaaS companies. They need to survive themselves and yet also help their customers, where possible, survive as well.

More SaaS companies should see what they can do to help their customers survive in these troubled times. One sector very badly affected by this is non-profit companies. Revenues for many of these companies are significantly down and while government initiatives might support employee salaries during the peak of the crisis, it may be a while before they can return to the same level of revenues as they had before.



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