The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
Preliminary results from The SaaS & Support Project's 2010 research show that some aspects of the software industry haven't changed much despite the accelerating shift to SaaS. In the 1st survey for the year, TSSP participants are asked to rate the level of importance to a range of issues. “Managing Customer Relationships in a Cost-Effective Manner” is being overwhelmingly rated as of “Critical” concern both by all respondents and specifically by SaaS-only companies as well. When asked to identify how their customer support teams were chartered, nearly half across the board are saying that theirs were set up as cost centers, with another significant bloc of companies landing in the “Not Sure or It's Complicated” camp. Less than 25% of the respondents so far have indicated that they run their customer support teams on a Profit-center basis. But regardless of business model and accounting status, the responses indicate that a serious problem which has plagued the industry all along is still with us. Two thirds of respondents say their need for a method for calculating the costs of providing support is either Critical or Serious. How can a company authentically determine its return on customer retention without accurately knowing the costs?

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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 — Customer Care — whatever the name — 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.

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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.”

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As the Software As A Service business model continues its rapid advance, the inherent changes for both vendor and customer are both substantial and significant. But once again, Customer Support is in danger of getting shoved to a back burner. I'm sure you've heard the usual statements of “strategies:” “SaaS doesn't need Support, it's included in the subscription.” “We're going to do it all via web self-service.” “The social networking community will take care of it for us.” And, of course, “just keep costs down.” If you'd like to be part of a smarter approach, you're invited to take part in a new benchmarking and research project that's aimed squarely at taking the best of what we've learned from the past and using it to create the future. The result will be best-practices data and better business + operational models for both SaaS and Customer Support.

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