There is a tendency for some SaaS/Cloud vendors to think that Customer Support is the same as it was in the traditional sector, only with less demand and therefore a significantly lower staff. The core of that mis-perception is that Support is an unfortunately necessary evil, the group that only deals with problems resulting from breaks and interruptions in service…
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.
Thinking that the act of restoring lost functionality in exception situations is somehow of the same stature as the value-purpose for buying the product in the first place is unfortunately all too common, but it's still flawed. No one buys a product in order to experience a breakage and then getting it fixed. Business products are purchased because they offer the potential for increased productivity and profitability to the purchaser. The real economic value exchange is: I give you an amount of money so that I can use the product to make much more money for myself. If Support is to become a true profession, it will be found in being perceived as a necessary component of that value expression. The new Mission Statement for Support needs to be: “We directly contribute to making more sustainable profitability faster/better for our company and yours -- and we can prove it.”
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. What's worse, 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. One is downward into obscurity, obsolescence and ultimately extinction. The other is towards an authentic profession based on the exchange of true economic value.
CEO's of SaaS companies are beginning to notice a couple of vital aspects of their customer support operations. Their first wake-up call is the realization that they can't afford to staff their support team in the traditional way. The economics of an incremental income stream profits-realization model has no room for a cost-center support operation. The second realization is that they don't need as much of a support team. But in the space between those two realizations, there is a significant risk of a lost major opportunity. The SaaS model can indeed have a dramatically lowered product support burden for the manufacturer. It can also offer a powerful transition into customer centricity for those wise enough to take advantage of it.
What is the sound of no customers calling? Mikael's koan for the Customer Contact Center poses a challenge and offers an opportunity to CXO's and all levels of the support center management. But until you're ready to contribute to the visionary conversation, you're part of the problem.
Customer Experience Management is a useful concept, but to make it more than a buzzword in your company, you'll need to put Excellence into a context of Relationship. Product features can always be duplicated; they offer no long-term competitive advantage. Relationship does, but in order to use it, relationship-thinking has to be embedded in the DNA of every level of your company.
The definition of customer support, what it includes and what it doesn't, is a critical strategic decision for Senior Management teams -- especially for SaaS companies. Those who do not set their customer's expectations properly in advance are setting themselves up to fail.