More than ten years ago, Ken Shevock, then the VP of Worldwide Support Operations for Cisco, commented “Nobody is really “winning’ at Support. We’re all doing the same things to try to keep up, but to get to the next level, we’re going to have to do something new.” From the beginning of the technology industry, Support / Service â€” Customer Care â€” whatever the name â€” has been about reacting to problems reported by customers in their use of technology products. If ever we are to win, we need to recognize that how the industry has defined Support is inherently flawed. Invited to speak to a consortium of Support & Service executives in Bellevue, Washington, about The Redefinition of Customer Support, my presentation focused on why winning, under the current definition of the profession, is impossible — and a vision of that something new.
There was a mixed audience of various levels of Support/Service management from both SaaS and traditional vendors at the session. The reaction to my views on the flaws in the current definition of the profession and to the vision of that something new — was mixed as well. Some agreed with what they heard, while others were disturbed by the implications of the shift towards SaaS. The important outcome, however, was the beginning of a conversation about the future of the profession of Support.
A Problem From the Beginning
The industry definition of Support from the very first customer call has always been about Break/Fix, a necessarily reactive and limited role. The quality of the reaction and the satisfaction of the customer has always been highly variable. But the overall reputation of Support as a profession in the eyes of senior management teams and the public has consistently been poor. While WordPerfect had once stood head and shoulders above the pack of their competitors, primarily because they offered “free” support via an 800 number, and played music to soothe people left waiting on hold, there is no company today that is generally acknowledged as being superior in support quality. Shevock’ words are as true today as they were back then: everyone is doing the same things when it comes to Support, but nobody is really winning.
One of the audience members challenged me back: “I don’t believe that there isn’t at least one firm out there doing it right in the new world you describe. When I think about [Company X, Y or Z] there HAS to be at least one you can hold up and say, “These guys are good”. Or at least O.K.“ It’s true that we all know of companies that have inspired us to think ”these guys are good!“ in the course of resolving a problem. But every time I or someone else talks about our good experience with company X, someone else will counter with an example of bad service that they received from the named company. There is no company that stands out in the industry as a consistent and generally accepted exemplar of quality support. Increasing the speed of the reaction to complaints and/or shifting the handling of incidents to different/cheaper resources isn’t going to change that unpleasant reality. To win, we need to recognize that how the industry has defined Support is inherently flawed. And beginning from that recognition, to come up with an entirely new definition and role.
A New Vision for Support
What would your team look like if this were your mission statement? ”We directly contribute to making more sustainable profitability faster/better for your company and ours — and we can prove it!“ Do you think that a successful group with this mission would have to worry about seeing their jobs outsourced offshore? I don’t. But it will take more than pretty words on a wall to effect the change that’s needed. Every metric applied to the operation of the team needs to be directly connected back to the mission statement. Every member needs to understand how their functions fit into the larger role. The challenge is huge — are you willing to engage? If you’d like to be a part of the redefinition effort, join us in The Customer Success Management Forum on LinkedIN — see the link at the top of the page.