Let's talk about a conventional software business model: We build it, you buy it (license model). Think of Microsoft Word. Do you think Bill Gates worries about how many documents you write with it after you buy it, whether or not you use Mail-Merge, or running headers? Not really, he's got your money, and to get more of it, he essentially has to offer more features and sell you an upgrade.
Let's say that Microsoft changed its business model for Word, and instead of buying a license that lasted forever and installing the software on your personal computer, you accessed a hosted version through your browser (can you say Google docs?) and did one of the following:
- paid a monthly fee based on the number of features you were signed up for (feature-based pricing)
- paid by the number of documents you saved (transaction-based pricing)
When I was a UX designer for CheckFree, we had a similar situation. CheckFree is a bill pay application for Web banking and they get a cha-ching every time someone pays a bill online. Do they care if you pay one bill or ten bills a month? Darn-tootin' they do!
(me saying "darn tootin'")
I think the role of user assistance changes dramatically when you shift to a usage fee-based model and becomes one aimed more at sustained or progressive user adoption. That means that documentation needs to emphasize the use and value of contracted features so that users renew those features (sustained adoption) or points out opportunities where the user could benefit from unused features or increased use of pay-as-you-play features (progressive adoption). See my article Fattening the long tail through progressive user adoption to see how we applied user assistance in that strategy at CheckFree.
As more products go to a SaaS or transaction-based model, think how user assistance can improve feature renewal or adoption. Because in this economy, I'd much rather calculate my value add as part of a revenue stream.