There are vital clues and indications in the search strings that bring readers to The HotLine Magazine from around the world every day. “What is the Definition of Customer Support?” “What is the profitability of customer retention?” “Define the SaaS support model.” “Usual customer retention rate for a SaaS company?” “How to profit from SaaS support?” All of these are indicators of the same fundamental problem. Every so often, an inquiry comes along that goes to the heart of the issue and begs for an immediate reply. “Fixing a broken customer support group” is a perfect example, prompting two immediate questions in return. What do you mean by “broken?” And how would you define “fixing?” Almost invariably, the source of serious problems with a customer support group is external to the group itself; they are inevitably strategic errors. Until the senior management team and the support executive or manager understand each other, and work together, producing a truly effective and lasting resolution for the broken group is unfortunately unlikely.
Awareness of the fundamental changes driven by the shift to SaaS to the profession and practice of Customer Support, both to external Support and internal IT Help Desks, is growing. The Help Desk Institute has asked me to write a two-part series on the subject for their SupportWorld magazine, drawing on the continuing research of The SaaS & Support Project (tm). The first article, on “SaaS, Cloud Computing and The Redefinition of Customer Support,” will focus on the changes to Support when a company transitions its business application products from the traditional model to SaaS. The second, on “Moving to The Cloud: Transitioning Your Support Technology Suite” will also talk to both external and internal Support professionals, and will cover the process of transitioning a case-management system or other element of a standard support technology suite from an on-premised product to a SaaS solution. Additional input for both these articles is welcome, from managers, individual professionals and support technology manufacturers.
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.
The current bleak economic landscape offers proof of what has long been suggested here: there is no future in tech support. There is, however, a very bright potential for the profession of managing customer relationships. It's time to acknowledge the difference between layoffs and leadership, to explore the architecture of what comes before management: the design and development of what might be called "product as a relationship."