As an analyst/consultant/writer with a very long background in customer contact center technology (CCTECH), I regularly get a lot of calls from manufacturers. Every one is an opportunity to get a snapshot of what’s going on in the profession, to see the difference between what is talked about and what can actually be done. For example, we’ve all heard a lot about running Support as a profit center. But when the manufacturers call, especially those offering the key elements of the support technology suite, I have a standard question: What specific functionality does your product offer that would enable a customer support contact center to be authentically run on a Profit & Loss basis? So far, the answer has been silence.
Silence Isn’t Golden
Any of the over 100 different CMS products, SaaS or traditional, on the market today can answer the question: “How many cases came into the center last month/quarter dealing with category X issues?” Unfortunately, none of them will reveal how much it actually cost the company to respond to those requests for support. Field Service management systems often have detailed reports that show direct costs for specific services and their profitability — why is such basic functionality missing from support contact center system products? A national sales director from one of the leading vendors recently gave me an honest and succinct answer. “Because nobody is asking for it,” he said. Despite all the industry conference blather about running Support as a profit center for the company, the CMS manufacturers apparently don’t see a market for the technology that would make it possible.
Inspector: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
— From “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Even if a given support center was to be operated honestly only as a cost center, accurate reporting of specific cost items is still an important aspect of the operation. How much is it costing the company per month to handle calls regarding a particular issue? The answer, when compared against the estimate for fixing the problem, will tell you whether it makes sense to allocate maintenance dollars for the purpose. In the absence of such cost-accounting functionality, however, the management of the center is necessarily based upon guesstimates. It’s an ominous sign for the future of the profession when rough financial estimates are considered good enough as a foundation for making important decisions.
The Road Ahead
There is no doubt that there are dark clouds gathering on the economic horizon. The only questions are about the depth of the darkness, and when the storm will arrive. During a conference presentation, I asked a group of customer support professionals: “If your company didn’t have to have a support department; would they?” The answer was a telling silence. There is no difference between a SaaS customer support contact center and one for a traditional software vendor when it comes to the need for accurate financial data. Both must be able to talk to their Senior Management teams in the common business language of profit and loss to back up their budget requests and for investments in equipment and staffing. The path towards career safety and professional survival begins with the realization that the day of Break/Fix support is passing. It’s time to think about authentic profitability, about making a strategic contribution towards meeting overall corporate financial goals. But to do that, you’re going to have to get the tools to get the job done. As with Holmes’ watchdog in the night, the failure to speak up is significant.