It’s time to profoundly reinvent the profession of Customer Support. From the beginning of the technology industry to the present time, Support has been the Department of Break/Fix; “when something breaks, we fix it.” As such, the “profession” offers no real economic value to anyone; it never has. Even more significantly, as we move deeper into the gathering recession and farther into the rapidly unfolding SaaS era, Support as it is currently defined has no future. There are two paths that lead away from this point for companies and support reps. One is downward into obscurity, obsolescence and ultimately extinction. The other is towards an authentic profession based on the exchange of true economic value.
For Mutual Benefit
The case against Break/Fix has been made elsewhere in a number of HotLine Magazine articles. Where companies have been forced to offer Support, and customers to pay for it, nobody is pleased by the transaction. The change to the subscription model of SaaS ended the once-powerful hold software vendors had over their customers even as the shift from the desktop to the web removes most of the cause of support issues in the past. What the SaaS tsunami doesn’t sweep away, however, is the vital point that offers a foundation for the new profession.
At best, the average customer uses less than 10% of any given application’s functionality. Every complex/powerful application requires an investment in learning in order to gain the productivity and profitability benefits it offers. Customers will learn to do the minimum required in order to automate their regular tasks. They won’t, however, take the time to explore further to discover and deftly apply additional functionality. In the old paradigm, where the software was installed on the customer’s site, the Support team couldn’t see what was being used and what wasn’t. As a result, Support was entirely reactive; the only conversations between the parties happened when something broke or if a question was asked by the customer. SaaS, however, powerfully changes the picture. Reactive Support is becoming history; the future offers a wealth of proactive possibility.
With the application on the web, Support can see clearly what functions are being used and by whom. The increased visibility allows the team to proactively reach out to encourage and to lead the customer on to greater productivity and profitability. The benefit is mutual; in exchange for the increased value, the customer pays for the professional service.
Towards the New Profession
The pieces of the solution to the gap between limited usage and the customer’s full realization of the application’s power are currently scattered piecemeal throughout the organizational structure of the software manufacturer. It’s time to unite them, and to provide effective leadership for a team of true professionals with something of immense and clearly measurable value to offer. The transformation will require both vision and commitment. The rewards for those willing to make the effort will be huge.