The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

The BattleshipHistory is full of examples of what ultimately happens to those who cannot adapt to changing circumstances. The end of the dinosaurs. The buggy whip and carriage manufacturers of the early 1900’s; where are they now? The USS New Jersey class and the Japanese Navy’s Yamato and Musashi — these battleships were awesome weapons platforms in their time, as finely built as any traditional Swiss watch — but what role do battleships and their admirals have today? How about mainframe computer people; do you know of any highly-paid openings for senior COBOL programmers this week? COBOL The lesson is clear and inexorable: those who can recognize paradigm shifts and adapt tend to survive. Those who can’t, don’t. To which class do you belong?

Is Support Truly a Profession?

Years back, the old OpCon East/West events put on by Jeffrey Tarter and the Association of Support Professionals were the gathering place for the senior members of the customer support community (and more than a few CEO’s as well.) In between the hard-hitting plenaries and breakout sessions, the discussions in the hallways and around the bar were about how to adapt to the looming transitions and core-level challenges. From “free support” to “fee.” How to successfully select and implement customer contact center technology suites. Can you retain top people when “the only good support rep is the one that left last week to take a “real’ job in Engineering?” Is winning even possible? Is Support truly a profession?

In a recent e-mail, Jeff gave me an echo of those visionary OpCon conversations. “We have a generation of support people who grew up thinking that customers should be grateful when we fix things that shouldn’t have broken in the first place,” he wrote. “Worse, they now believe that customers should be happy to pay vendors to fix defective products.” In his highly respected services marketing seminars, Jeff teaches his students to position their product offerings as solutions to customer pain issues. The fact that a company’s software is unreliable is not a customer pain issue; the day where that could be accepted is fast passing. We are moving into a time of tectonic shifts in the industry, and corporate and personal/professional survival is an issue on the table.

Hearing the Voice of The Customer

The attitude of classic command-and-control, wherein the “we know all the answers” operational mode of most support groups is based, is fundamentally flawed, and has been so for many years. When I took hotline calls myself, I learned something new about how my company’s products could be used every day. My customers taught me, for they attempted to do things that had not occurred to me to try. Unfortunately, that innovative thought and the results stayed between me and the caller. I passed some of it on as an individual as opportunities occurred, for I’ve been a community player all my life, but my employer had no strategy, no thought-out process for propagating that innovation out to the larger customerbase. Senior Management thought that theirs was a company built upon a technology product. That company doesn’t exist anymore.

The Failure of Support 2.0

The much-vaunted Support 2.0 technology will fail for the same reason that CRM, Customer Relationship Management, largely failed to achieve its promise — it’s ultimately not about the technology, it’s the knowledge about how to effectively use it and the people to transmit that knowledge. CRM as a technology wasn’t enough in and of itself to ensure success. The failure was due to the fact that there were and are no Customer Relationship Managers. No one to take responsibility for recognizing, testing and propagating new innovations and knowledge about how the technology ought to be used out into the community.

Here’s the real customer pain issue: How to use the technology to effectively increase productivity and profitability. Where are the professional advisers who will seek out innovation and extend it to respond to the pain? That, not Break/Fix, is what Customer Support needs to be about. That is what customers want to buy, and will pay premium amounts in order to receive.

The End of Break/Fix

The day of the Break/Fix definition of Support is passing, and with it the “professionals” who thought that such was the sum of their roles. It took awhile for the dinosaurs and the buggy whip manufacturers to realize that their day was done. How long will it take for the same realization to take hold in the Support community? How many Senior Management teams will adapt to the challenge and so preserve their companies into the new era?

May 15, 2008