The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

Running on EmptyLittle has changed in the high technology industry over the past 20 years when it comes to the maintenance of customer relationships.  While the customer support contact centers may have been equipped with a variety of powerful and flashy tools since the days of the “shouter-base” and the case-tracking pencils and steno pads, the level of disappointment on both sides of the phone lines has not diminished.  Customers still have a never-ending supply of horror stories about abysmal service to share at any opportunity, and highly trained and skilled support reps continue to burn out and to leave for other, more rewarding positions and roles.  The traditional  break/fix approach is frankly running on empty in terms of alignment with overall corporate strategic goals of profitability and customer retention.  It’s time for something new.

A new name, a new look, and a new focus has come to The HotLine.  Re-launched as The HotLine Magazine, the new layout and graphics have strongly increased the accessibility of the articles and content.  Online translation services now offer readers their choice of many different languages on the site to further enhance the effects.  But the crucial difference is more fundamental.  We’ll still talk about customer contact centers, but the focus has changed from optimizing center operations over to producing strategically significant, and sustainable, levels of contributions to overall corporate profitability.

Driving The Bottom Line

Sustainable profitabilityA bulk infusion of profit from a new sale often looks exciting.  The impact on the books for the month in which it occurs appears impressive.  When compared against the lifetime value of the customer, however, the picture can be very different.  One year’s worth of profit in advance is far less than what will be gained over ten years or more, and it’s time to begin tracking the value of that continuing income stream.  Here is where the opportunity for the transformation of Support/Service from a begrudged “necessary evil” into something new, from bat carrier or caddy into a strategic player, begins to open up.  At present, nobody in the corporate structure is paying serious attention to the sustainable profitability data.  No one really owns the ongoing customer relationships; is it any wonder that the turnover rate or churn in the customer base is often higher than 10-20% per year?  What’s the real cost of that churn, and how much would you need to invest to drastically reduce it?  Producing what rate of return?

The Key to SuccessA new role requires new metrics, and we’ll talk about a very different approach to performance measurement over the coming weeks and months.  Fluency in a new language will also be a key to success; if you can’t speak dollars and sense, it’s time to learn.  Take your CFO to lunch — regularly — and listen closely.  Call volume, First Call Resolution rates and Average Handle Times are not part of the vocabulary of the executive suite. Revenues, ROI and profitability are much more interesting subjects.

The New Profession

Focus definitionThe creation of a new profession will not be easy.  It won’t happen by accident, or by sitting and waiting for it to be handed to you.  But it is within reach, for those willing to extend themselves.  Is that you?  A useful first step might be the creation of a new name for the role.  (While it’s a fairly accurate description, and despite the connotation of stability and sustenance, “farmer” isn’t a very glamorous title.)  It’s time for some marketing smarts to be applied to the challenge.  It’s time for the old image to be replaced by something new.  It’s time to think about winning.

July 15, 2008