by Rob Addy | January 14, 2013 | Submit a Comment
Access rights to firmware aren’t completely meaningless yet but they are getting there. Support providers that continue to over rely upon theoretical customer firmware dependency will fail. Proprietary lock-in models only work if your customers believe that the technical chains that bind them are unbreakable. Many don’t believe any more. It’s just like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy… If they don’t believe in it; then it doesn’t exist!
The chains that bind exist only in the customer’s mind…
…business value backed up by tangible benefits will always be stronger than fear!
But don’t take my word for it. Remember the words of the greatest Jedi Master of them all!
Luke: “…Is the dark side stronger?”
Yoda: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
Yes, forcing firmware upgrades is often seen by providers as the quicker and more seductive path but it isn’t always the easier route! Firmware access is rapidly losing its appeal and power as a coercive tool for a variety of reasons.
The proliferation of alternative O/S platforms and ever increasing degrees of kernel level configurability which negate the need to make firmware level changes are just some of the factors driving this change. An increasing number of IT Operations teams are adopting “zero change equals zero risk” mentalities. The routine updating firmware on the recommendation of the equipment manufacturer is no longer a common operations policy. Plausible options and a very limited (I am being kind) upside benefit associated with keeping firmware up to date mean that users feel that they can often do without that particular service feature.
We’ve just completed the first full week of 2013 and already I have spoken to several end user organizations that are actively looking to move away from their current OEM support arrangements and use alternative providers. The OEMs concerned are blissfully unaware. Client confidentiality precludes me from telling them the specifics. They are over reliant on the “attractiveness” and potency of their firmware and have failed to invest in next generation services that have a demonstrable and compelling value proposition. A wake up call is coming. Hopefully they will take note before it is too late. Complacency will kill you if you let it.
Do providers need to start selling the benefits of firmware upgrades more actively?
Is it a security issue? Will it improve performance? Will it improve system stability and reliability? Can it reduce power consumption? Does it help to improve operational efficiency? How big is the value? Does it out weigh the hassle or inconvenience? Can you quantify the improvements? Better yet, can you monetize the benefits? Are the savings sufficiently attractive to overcome corporate inertia and lethargy? Is it material to your audience? But please remember not to oversell the rationale behind upgrading. Customers always know when you push things beyond the realms of plausibility.
…even if they articulate the value well, customers still may not “buy” it! We must not forget that many of your buyers will have been conditioned by consumer electronics products such as smart TVs and games consoles to expect a continuous flow of firmware updates for free. Using access to firmware as the primary means of promoting your service value is likely to be as successful as a street vendor trying to sell reconditioned Apple Newton’s outside of the CES entrance. No. Given that “retro” is “chic” the Newton’s would probably sell much better than the firmware!
You definitely do not need to start spreading FUD in the hope of scaring customers into action…
Nor do you need to spend too much time on overly restricting access to firmware. In the past couple of years some providers have placed more emphasis on making firmware less readily available than they have on developing their service portfolios. Get over yourselves. Firmware patches will invariably find their way into the “wild” through community forums, partner channels etc. If someone really really wants to dishonestly obtain your firmware then they will do so irrespective of what barriers you try to implement. Indeed, it could be argued that these “barriers” do more harm to the customer experience of “honest” customers than the difficulties they pose to the unscrupulous.
“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
Princess Leia, Star Wars, 1977
You can of course bring out the “ultimate deterrent” of the vendor audit but that often creates more long term harm and should really only be used against habitual offenders or those with whom you do not want a long term relationship.
Even IF you can convince customers of the merits of firmware (which to be frank is a pretty big ask in some cases) it is still likely to be insufficient on its own to prevent dissatisfaction and defection. It needs to be framed within the context of the broader service value proposition. And if you haven’t got one of those then you really do have problems!
Category: Support Value Tags: firmware, proprietary lock-in
by Rob Addy | January 9, 2013 | 3 Comments
Infrastructure services providers must change. Today’s business models won’t work tomorrow. The transition will be hard. Some will fail. Providers must deliver demonstrable value, prevent operational and business pain and wage a war on waste to survive. If customer’s see no value; there is no value.
Figure 1. The Infrastructure Services Factory of the Future
As labor arbitrage benefits reduce, infrastructure service provider survival depends on their ability to leverage automation, analytics and standardization to overcome price pressures, hyper-competition and legacy account migration issues whilst actively promoting their value and reducing customer pain without the sufficient investment funds or the necessary timeline for change. It is a massive challenge. One that some providers may fail to meet.
Prevention pays. Customer’s know it. Provider’s are learning (but perhaps not quickly enough). Keeping the lights on is “easy”. Ensuring they always come on when you flick the switch (as required by dynamic flexible cloud infrastructures) is much harder. But prevention is not just a technical issue. Operational and business pain minimization is as critical and valuable to customers as technical issue avoidance. However, prevention on its own is still not enough.
Customers want and expect more. Regular demonstrations of tangible and visible service value are necessary to attract and keep customers (“Satisfaction” and “loyalty” are metrics of yesterday). Continuous improvement is table stakes. Giving customers more bang for their pre-existing technology buck is key. “More for less” is a cliché. But clichés work (at least in the minds of customers). Providers must wage a “War on Waste” to wow customers and differentiate themselves and their offerings. Traditional service line silo boundaries are changing. Providers must rationalize their portfolios and enable the delivery of highly configurable granular standardized services to meet the specific needs of individual customers to succeed.
“Cloud” is no longer an “if” but a “when” in the minds of customers and providers alike. Analytics (and the information management processes and big data that underpins it) will be the foundation upon which prevention-based services are built. Social interplay and personal recommendations will drive new business acquisition and customer retention. Referencability is a critical success factor. The true power of the crowd remains untapped. Provider’s that understand and learn to harness the power of the collective effectively will have real advantage.
The above is an extract from “Agenda Overview for Infrastructure Services, 2013″ which can be found here. This is the high level story that the Infrastructure Services agenda will be delivering against for the next 12 months. The note goes on to explore the challenges facing providers as they transition from their current business models to flexible efficient next generation service delivery factories. It also outlines, defines and gives examples of research that we will be delivering against the following core topics and key issues:
- Defining the optimum service portfolio strategy:
- How must provider service portfolios and roadmaps evolve in light of market trends, buyer behaviors and corporate objectives?
- Where should providers focus investments to gain market share, improve customer retention and protect margins?
- Improving provider competitiveness:
- Which competitors are most threatening and how can providers position themselves to compete?
- How can providers differentiate their offerings and demonstrate their value most effectively?
- Delivering service excellence and customer value:
- What are the key attributes and characteristics of best-in-class services and the organizations that deliver them?
- How can technology adoption and/or best practices implementation help improve service value and quality while reducing delivery costs?
“Wow! Amazing! That all sounds… err… fab-u-lous… wonderful even perhaps… but I’m a little confused by the cool Escher-esque graphic… Care to expand a little?”
The “Infrastructure Services Factory of the Future” is an aspirational goal for service providers to aim for. It is a symbol of the agile, scalable, flexible, efficient, value-driven service delivery engine that every provider will need to survive and thrive.
The perpetual motion of the waterfall and gravity defying aqua-duct represents the annuity revenue stream that is the life blood of the service provider. Whilst there is some churn (as the falling torrent drives the water wheel) the objective is obviously 100% renewal.
Customer requirements and needs (which arrive periodically are typically loaded / man-handled through a people intensive recording and service initiation processes that may or may not leverage labor arbitrage) are processed by the factory to consistently deliver business focused outcomes. Yes, the man shoveling the inbound stuff is deliberate and reflects the historic “Your mess for less” mindset that still persists in some quarters.
As customer work packages flow through the system they are acted upon by the forces of standardization, analytics and automation. These are the new core competencies of successful service providers. Governance processes underpin and assure service delivery levels. Prevention and value promotion will be critical success factors.
Prevention doesn’t happen on its own. The diligent application of risk management processes are essential to guarantee delivery and service quality. An understanding of potential hazards, their impact and severity, and the likelihood that they may manifest into technical, operational or business impacting incidents is key. Assessing the systemic residual risk based upon a balanced view of known and accepted levels of waste and the controls needed to maintain the system is essential. Balancing risk and cost will be a mandatory skill for all successful providers. Within the graphic it can be seen that the risk management process acts as a governor (or regulator) for the business’s transaction flow just as mechanical regulators performed the same function in early steam locomotives and heavy machinery.
Diligent and competent delivery is for nothing if your customers are unaware of the value they derive from your services. Providers must ensure that the relevant constituencies within their customer organizations are routinely informed of the value delivered. The value bull horns are there to broadcast the context based constituency specific messages and content streams that reinforce the customer experience.
Lastly, the factory sits on a cloud. This is not to say that all services will be cloud based. But it is likely that every service provider will leverage cloud like capabilities to deliver their services irrespective of what they actually end up selling on to their customers…
So that’s it then. Hopefully you see where we are coming from and what we are trying to convey with the graphic. Please please please take a moment to click on the image above and take a quick look at how it all fits together. How does your organization compare? Are you there yet or are you still a work in progress? Do you have all of the bases covered? Where are you strong? More importantly, where are you weak? Which pieces are you doing yourself and which elements are you subcontracting in? We believe that it will act as a catalyst for many interesting discussions – at least that is our hope :-)
Once again, the full version of the ”Agenda Overview for Infrastructure Services, 2013″ can be found here.
Category: Infrastructure Services Support Strategy Support Value Technologies Underpinning Support Tags: Factory of the future, Infrastructure Services Agenda Story 2013, Prevent pain, Prevention pays, Promote value
by Rob Addy | January 4, 2013 | 3 Comments
Now is not the time for retrospectives. Now is not the time for musings of things yet to come. Now is the time for action. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be? What do you want to achieve? We are at the start of a new chapter in the history of product support services. The dark innovation free ages are gone forever. Does this sound a little over ambitious? I think not. It’s time to turn your back on the omnishambles that was the break fix model and embrace prevention, total cost optimization and solution advocacy. Your customers definitely want it. Well the ones that actually run the businesses and sign off your invoices do. It’s better for you. It’s better for them. Why not be better in 2013? A new adventure awaits. Are you game?
Service customer expectations continue to evolve… Are your service portfolios evolving too?
In 2012, the beast that is the product support industry awoke, yawned, scratched its nether regions and rubbed its sleep filled eyes. The beast is awake. The beast is hungry. The beast must forage and feed. What will happen now is up to you… It’s an exciting time within the product support space. “Exciting” is not normally a word associated with product support but I think it is justified this year. Truly predictive services are finally here, many more are coming. Contextual constituency specific service elements are on the immediate horizon. Analytics-based automation will mature. Value added content streams will sweep away providers that fail to take notice of the rising tide of support goodness. Customer experiences will be designed rather than left to happen by chance… Yes, the product support market is on the move. Three cheers for the product support beast!!!
“So what can we expect from you in the coming weeks and months?” I hear one or two of you mutter beneath your breath, feigning interest politely
Well, I am now the Agenda Manager for the Infrastructure Services agenda within Gartner’s Technology and Service Provider division. From this notional position of authority I am blessed to have the opportunity to help try and steer / cajole / promote our provider-focused research coverage on product support, data center and infrastructure management, infrastructure utility and work space and user-centric services (i.e. Desktop and Service Desk services) for the next 12-18 months or so. I will outline our formal research plans after the official Agenda Overview note publishes sometime in the next week or so. Please rest assured that we really do have some cracking stuff planned for you all!
One of the initiatives we will be starting this year is to conduct a greater proportion of thematic cross discipline research i.e. research that will culminate in notes that are designed to be deliberately relevant and valuable to providers and executives within multiple service towers. Whilst the examples cited in the notes will relate to the coverage area of the primary authors I am hoping to ensure that we include guidance on how the topics discussed can be applied to alternative disciplines and scenarios. This will hopefully increase the volume and depth of coverage that we are able to provide without duplicating effort or having to dabble with the bio-science necessary to clone my colleagues.
You will be getting less commentary and even more actionable guidance than before. We will be more opinionated than ever. Telling it as we see it so that all may learn from the best and the worst that we encounter. Above all else we are the provider’s advocate and confidante. You, the much maligned and misunderstood provider community are our primary audience. You are the wind beneath our wings. We appreciate you. We respect you. And we want to help you to be the best that you can be. We won’t always agree. But then again, that’s kind of the whole point! We want to challenge you (and be challenged by you in return). We hope to spark your interest and earn your respect. If you are successful then we will be successful. We aspire to become the de facto decision support system for product management, product marketing and service delivery executives within providers in our space. Simple.
An overly ambitious and grandiose objective? Perhaps… But we all need a mission!
Naturally, I won’t be doing any of this alone. There is literally a whole team of crack analysts (or is that analysts that love the “craic”?) that contribute to, and work within, the Infrastructure Services agenda. The combined talent that I am able to call upon is truly staggering. My role is merely to assemble my optimum IMF team and to help them to make the impossible possible for you. I will be introducing many of them over the next few posts so that you can learn about their specialisms, preferences and how they can help you most effectively…
It’s going to be fun!
TRKFAM (or perhaps, given the title of this post I should say “Xyzzy” instead)
Category: Support Strategy Tags: Customer Constituencies, Customer Perceptions, Market Perceptions, where does support fit in?
by Rob Addy | December 18, 2012 | Submit a Comment
Is it better to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek approval ahead of time? It could be argued that the only providers that don’t cause offence are those that don’t do anything. Am I part of a growing minority that finds inactivity more offensive than the occasional mistake? If you are innovating then by definition you will have to change stuff. And if you change stuff you will occasionally make mistakes. It is the nature of things. Get over it. Reject the status quo. Grasp the nettle. Take the calculated risk. Embrace the fear of failure. Fail fast. Fix it faster still.
“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
George Bernard Shaw
If you’re not taking the industry forward, are you holding it back? Instead of asking what your competitors are doing, start asking what you could be doing to scare the hell out of your competitors! Be demanding. Be unreasonable. Be bold! Take the game to them. Take the game to the next level. Create a new game all together if you like. Just do something. Apathy and inertia will kill you. And you don’t want to go there!
The support industry has the opportunity to create its own destiny. If it fails to take the lead, others will define its future for it. Do you really want that?
Yes, I know that change is hard. There are many unanswered questions. There are many questions for which answers don’t yet exist. But that’s kind of the whole point.
The answer, as any small child (with access to The Disney Channel) knows, is simple… Just ask yourself “What would Phineas and Ferb do?” Free your mind from the prison of conventional wisdom. Create your own unconventional wisdom today…
PS: This will be my last blog posting for 2012. I sincerely hope that those of you that have regularly tuned in have found it interesting, entertaining and useful. I thank you for your patronage and the comments and feedback you have provided. It’s been fun. Well at least from my end it has. I look forward to continuing the dialogue in the New Year. All that remains is for me to wish you and yours a wonderful festive season, a very merry Christmas and a truly fabulous and innovative New Year!!!
Category: Support Value Tags:
by Rob Addy | December 10, 2012 | 1 Comment
Support innovation is non-trivial i.e. hard. So many potential projects… So little time… How can you secure funding to innovate your services if the business still see you as “just” the annuity laden cash cow? Even if you have funding there are still far more questions than answers. How should you utilize your limited resources? Which areas should you focus on first? Which is the lowest and juiciest low hanging fruit? Where can you get the biggest return on your effort? Which project will start to show benefits soonest? What are your competitors doing? How can you take a leadership position in your market? How can you improve service quality, customer satisfaction and loyalty in a single stroke? While you’re at it, perhaps you can run faster than a locomotive and jump tall buildings in a single bound too?
One could of course schedule a series of inquiries under the auspices of your Gartner contract to discuss it with a suitably qualified domain expert (or failing that me!). But sometimes you need something a little more tangible. A physical deliverable to help you and your team to come to the optimum decision. An automated decision support matrix with embedded expertise and artificial intelligence would be invaluable. If only such a tool were freely available. Hang on a second! It is…
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you (literally… it’s nearly Christmas after all) the patent pending “Gartner Product Support Project Prioritizer”…
Simply print out the full size version of the above graphic and follow the self-assembly instructions here. The “Product Support Project Prioritizer” before and after its origami encounter can be seen below…
Using the “Gartner Product Support Project Prioritizer”… Statistically proven to be better than flipping a coin!
The project prioritizer should be used within your teams to canvass opinion as to what is most important to your customers. Do you need to focus on a risk reduction play, an operational efficiency initiative, a productivity maximization model or will showing how support can act as a Return on Investment multiplier be most beneficial? Having determined you overriding theme, the operator of the prioritizer simply gesticulates wildly, moving their fingers forwards and backwards and side to side whilst uttering strange incantations. After the test subject is suitably bemused the operator offers the open prioritizer for them to select one of the four project thematic headings. After this selection the operator can open the relevant subsection of the prioritizer and the operator may select from the 4 potential projects. Easy peasy!
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that many of the potential project titles bear an uncanny resemblance to section headings within “Market Insight: Gartner’s Product Support Maturity Scale, Version 2”, this is not a coincidence. Having selected your project or projects it is HIGHLY recommended that you read up in the aforementioned research note before committing resources and making public announcements regarding expected outcomes and benefits etc.
Whether you plan on using the prioritizer or not, please please please do prepare plans to innovate and invigorate your product support portfolio in 2013. If you don’t, you may get left behind!
Category: Support Value Technologies Underpinning Support Tags: Merry Christmas!, Portfolio Rationalization, Processes and Methodologies, Service enhancements, Support Technologies
by Rob Addy | December 5, 2012 | 4 Comments
Cost savings are not a value proposition in of themselves. During the 2008 / 2009 economic crisis Gartner sales executives ran a promotion where we offered our end user clients the opportunity to renew their Gartner subscriptions for free if we were unable to uncover at least double their renewal fee in potential savings during a series of inquiry calls. This naturally resulted in an explosion of inquiries across the board with the support services team experiencing an increase in call volume of well over 300%.
Due to the historic level of neglect and chaos within end user organizations related to the hardware support discipline we were invariably able to find cost reduction opportunities that dwarfed the customer’s Gartner subscription fee by 10 or 20 times (sometimes by even more)… Having got the caller’s acceptance of the magnitude of the proposed cost reduction play (and thereby ticking the value objection handling box for my friends in sales) I would then routinely ask if they planned to implement our recommendations. I lost count how many times the VPs of IT Operations and Data Centre Managers I was talking to said “No”. To begin with I was shocked and a little dissappointed by this, but then my natural curiosity got the better of my bruised ego and I started to dig a little deeper to try and really understand why these callers had expressed no intention of realizing these savings.
The reasons given for non-adoption varied considerably:
- “I haven’t been asked to save money there”
- “I’ll keep that in my back pocket in case I need to make more cuts later”
- “I’d have to get agreement from too many people within my organization”
- “It will mean changing our internal processes (and that is too hard)”
- “The return isn’t worth the pain”
- “I have too many other things on my plate and don’t have the time to do it”
- “I’m not prepared to bear the additional risk, however small”
All of these reasons were 100% valid and reasonable to the people that gave them. “Sandbagging” is widely recognized as a real and common problem within sales organizations. But I would suggest that it is a behavior that exists everywhere to some degree. The people I was talking to are your customers and your prospects. They are human. People are people. They have their own personal challenges and personal objectives. They have fears, hopes and dreams just as you do. Unless you manage to align your value proposition to their specific circumstances and make it readily consumable and appealing they won’t go for it. Even if you do, they may still resist. Getting them past the tipping point of apathy to action is a significant challenge.
Always remember, it’s “What’s in it for them?” that matters. Not necessarily what’s in it for their employer? Doing what is right for the individual may not be the same as doing what is right for their employer. In an ideal world you will be able to offer a win win scenario. But sometimes you will have to do what is right for your customer in the hope that you will be able to help them to understand how you can help them to help their organization in the future too.
In reality you may need to position a minimum of two stories. The official party line for corporate wellness improvement that will be used to explain the rationale behind the decision internally and the highly personalized and personal story for your buyer (or buyers).
Don’t be surprised if you giving a prospect the opportunity to be a good corporate citizen doesn’t always motivate them to buy or adopt. Instead, consider how can you make your buyer personally successful? What are their personal success criteria? Can you help them to achieve what they want to achieve? How can you materially improve their day to day lives?
Category: Uncategorized Tags:
by Rob Addy | November 28, 2012 | Submit a Comment
Ask someone a question and they will probably give you an answer. And therein lies the problem. Will it be an open, honest and frank response? Maybe. But then again, they may be telling you what they think you want to hear. Worse than that, they may over think the thing and be telling you what they think you think they think. Do they really understand what it is that you want to know? Are they even answering the intended question? Are they telling you what they want? (or even what they really really want?) Or is it an aspirational request that they merely think they want? Have they imagined what they would actually do if their request was satisfied? Are they asking for the stars in the hope that you deliver the moon? What is the real requirement? More importantly, what is the intent or desire behind it? Sifting through the bluffs, double bluffs, misunderstandings and misinformation of survey responses is a job in of itself.
Candid Camera worked because its participants were unaware of their participation. They reacted honestly to the situations presented to them because they had no idea that their responses were being recorded. Covert surveillance is necessary if you are to gain truly real insight into how your customers use your stuff (be it product or service). Understanding how they use it is the first step to learning why they use it as they do. When you understand the underlying motivations behind their actions (or lack thereof), you will at least have a chance at changing the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions that you need modify to actually change how they act.
Bugging their office or silently installing unauthorized spyware is obviously wrong. Especially if you get caught! Passively monitoring how they interact with you, your support systems and their peers within open user communities and support forums is not. Stalking (as so eloquently defined within the 1983 Police hit, “Every Breath You Take”) is probably overkill. Striking the healthy balance between “caring” and “creepy” is the key to success. If you can embed monitoring agents into your products and get your customers’ agreement to use them then so much the better. If not, then you must work within the constraints you are given. But you must work at it nevertheless.
Passive customer behavioral monitoring should enable non-passive positive intervention:
- Track product and service usage patterns
- Map user behaviors against known demographic data
- Get granular. Usage is more than service access frequency.
- What elements of the service are being used?
- For how long are they being used?
- How successful are they? Can you tell?
- What are the observed actual use cases?
- How do they differ from the “designed for” use cases?
- Identify what good looks like (even if it doesn’t match your internal definition of goodness)
- Develop messaging and tools to promote positive behaviors
- Re-engineer processes (and product functionality) that are unused or routinely fail
- Promote service usage at the point of consumption wherever possible
- Recognize shining examples of usage and positive user profiles
- Develop better mechanisms for observing your customers
- Watch them some more!
Take a moment before commissioning your next customer focus group. Whilst unedited streams of semi-conscious thoughts from interested and affected parties do have their place and do undoubtedly add value, they should never be used to excess. Always remember that many customers know what they know, but are blissfully unaware of what they don’t… As with all things in life, moderation is essential. Your customers really can teach you many wonderful and useful things. Especially when they aren’t trying to! Perhaps it is time to stop directly asking them to solve the problems of the world and to watch them “out in the wild” a little more closely so that we can really start to learn from them? Insight comes from the continuous active observation of a subject married with the necessary background experience and skills to enable the observer to know when they have witnessed a notable event or trend upon which to base decisive action.
Throw the cutesy buffalo calf to the waiting lions. Introduce a secondary predator in the form of a mature crocodile that hasn’t eaten for days. Watch how the herd reacts… They may surprise you. Even if they don’t, you will be enriched by the experience. You may not recognize exactly how, but trust me you may well benefit from it when you least expect it.
Observed actual behaviors reveal far far more than solicited simulated preferences or pseudo opinions. Ask much less. Watch much much more. It IS the “caring” thing to do after all.
Category: Customer Experience Support Processes Tags: Customer Constituencies, Customer Experience, Customer Perceptions, Support Technologies
by Rob Addy | November 25, 2012 | 4 Comments
Knowledge is power. Everyone “knows” that. But how does one attain it? There are no easy answers to that one. Analytical prowess will be the battleground for service providers in 2013 and beyond. Are you ready to take the statistical fight to your competitors or will you be on the back foot when the time to run the numbers comes?
Ascending the knowledge pyramid from noise and misinformation to achieve wisdom is not easy.
All too often, data analysis projects are handed off to the support representative that knows how to use Microsoft Excel the best. Whilst this may work occasionally, it is seldom the best option. Statistical analysis is a distinct skill. You may have people working for you that possess this skill. You may not. If you do not, you WILL have to get some. Whether that be on a sub-contract basis or through the hiring of someone with the pre-requisite background, experience and talent. But data mining and modelling skills in themselves are not enough. Statisticians need to be grounded with a healthy dose of reality. You must augment their talents with the knowledge and experience of the field. Your brightest and best support representatives are an amazing asset. Use them. You “just” need to pair them with someone who can ask the right questions and draw the embedded insight from within them in the form of a statistical model or algorithm.
The big data deluge represents a real and present danger.
The interconnected nature of things means that every data point is relevant. And yet if one goes too far down this route then analysis paralysis will become terminal. The first iterations of your models should be used to identify which data streams have the biggest impact on various failure modes. Remembering that different factors are likely to have different weightings for different scenarios. No-one expects you to be 100% accurate 100% of the time. Being mostly right some of the time is a good start. As with all things, version 1.0 should be functional and demonstrate the potential of the effort. Understanding the statistical reliability of your predictive models is essential if you are to base business rules and automated processes upon the outputs of the analytical black box.
Failure to plan is tantamount to planning to fail. Go big or go home!
Last time I deliberately didn’t talk about analytics in the context of the “Dear Santa” wishlist as I wanted to demonstrate that it is not a whimsical fantasy. It is a reality that any support provider willing to invest the time and resources can achieve. I’m not saying that it is easy or cheap. It is not a trivial task. But it IS a necessary one that every support provider will have to go through at some point or another. Why not take the lead, grasp the nettle and use it for your advantage? Assuming you do want to give it a whirl then the following action plan is not a bad place to begin:
- Conduct an internal skills audit (Recognise that you may have to draft in some talent from outside)
- Form a cross discipline team to develop an initial set of analytical models
- Identify data sources and their relative trust level (Based on data quality, completeness, staleness, number of transitions / translations, distance from trusted source etc.)
- Create a data acquisition wish list (What do you need? How can you get it? When will you have it? How can you work around it for the time being?)
- Develop models for most common failure modes (Avoid looking for the uber solution, there probably isn’t one!)
- Test and refine the models until they prove themselves
- Determine business policies for how the outputs of those models will be used. (If they’re not used there is no point in having them after all!)
Doris Day sang in “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in 1956,
Que sera, sera.
Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see.
Que sera, sera.
What will be, will be.
Although it pains me to say it. Doris was wrong. The future IS ours to see. If we build the underlying analytical capability we need and look hard enough.
I wish you well with all of your statistical endeavors in 2013…
Category: Support Strategy Technologies Underpinning Support Tags: Analytics, Predictive, Processes and Methodologies, support as a weapon, Support Technologies
by Rob Addy | November 20, 2012 | Submit a Comment
My six year old has an uncanny habit of asking the impossible question. If it’s not a school run discussion on what part of you goes to heaven when you die, it’s an overly elaborate and highly descriptive letter to Santa Claus asking for presents that no toy manufacturer (be they staffed by magical elves or not) on the planet can fulfill. Such are the joys of complete and utter belief in the power of the jolly old elf! Reading through this years list for the cherry nosed mince pie muncher I started to think about the sort of things I would like for the support industry if the mere trifling realities of delivery were not an obstacle… Here are my top ten suggestions for Support Execs to include within their letters to Santa:
1.) Sarcasm filters – Any written or spoken communication is passed through these filters before being transmitted on to the customer. Snarky comments, condescending tones and end-of-shift related over emotional outbursts are automatically rephrased to be less inflammatory to the recipient.
2.) Agent cloning kits – The ability to grow as many support agents in the image of your brightest and best. Diversity is obviously good too, but who wouldn’t want to be able to staff their entire operation with clones of their top performers?
3.) Knowledge transfer helmet – A tool for impregnating the brains of new agents with the collective wisdom of the organization and the customer base.
4.) Contribution compass – An invaluable aid for managers that points out those that are truly contributing to the business and those that are merely pretending to do so. (Particularly useful in conjunction with item 2 to prevent inadvertent cloning of wannabes and charlatans by mistake).
5.) Magic mirror of truth – A reliable and unbiased sounding board that can be questioned on any support related topic and be relied upon to tell you as it is. (Note: Unnecessary for Gartner seat holders as you can always set up an inquiry with yours truly instead ).
6.) Mind reading amulet – Magical talisman to give your support representatives an insight into the deepest and darkest recesses of the minds of callers so that they can tailor the support interaction to best effect. E.g. Speeding up the diagnostic process when the caller is becoming frustrated and slowing down if they become confused.
7.) A stable full of compelling constituency specific value propositions – I truly think that this is the “must have” support accessory for 2013. Some providers claim to have one. Most of these claims are baseless. Even those that do have a value proposition probably need to take it out to the wood shed before dispatching it to the retirement farm of fable. A tired generic value proposition won’t cut it any more. You need to get personal and make it relevant.
8.) Shazam for Fans – A meaningful mobile support application that actually adds to the support process and customer experience. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an audio sampling app to identify grinding fan bearings (although that would be nice), an augmented reality viewer for the innards of a piece of hardware would be equally appreciated. As would any mobile support app that did more than just replicate the support portal experience in a 3-4 inch window!
9.) Magic wand of diagnostics – All too often incident resolution processes rely on the support representative stumbling across a solution as they fumble about in the dark using little more than trial and error. Why not get some help? Piff paff puff! Magic happens here. The wand miraculously diagnoses all know technical issues and provides recommendations for remediation and prevention.
10.) Elixir of enlightenment – Normally we don’t condone customer doping but in this case we’ll make an exception (as it’s almost Christmas). This mythical potion enables consumers to understand the Total Cost of Operations and how playing their part in proactive and predictive prevention based support services will help to materially reduce it.
Mariah Carey only wanted you for Christmas. Me, I’d rather have a balanced support portfolio crammed full of prevention focused elements…
Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t suggested asking Santa for a predictive crystal ball to identify problems and technical issues ahead of time. Well, the answer is simple… The list deliberately contains whimsical gift ideas that aren’t yet generally available (if indeed they will ever be available). Predictive analytics and modelling tools are a reality. You may not have them yet, but that doesn’t make them any less real. If you don’t yet have the power of prediction in your support arsenal then perhaps that is what you REALLY need to put on your Christmas wish list this year!
What else would you like to find under the tree this festive season? Have you been naughty or nice? Remember that he’ll be checking that list twice!
I’d love to hear from one and all… Ho! Ho! Ho!
Category: Support Operations Technologies Underpinning Support Tags: Analytics, Processes and Methodologies, support as a weapon, Total Cost of Support, Value Proposition
by Rob Addy | November 17, 2012 | Submit a Comment
All too often support portal refresh projects do little more than change the surface level look and feel of the customer self service experience. If the portal is supposed to be the single pane of glass through which you are showing your customers the value that you are delivering to them, why then do they tend to focus on ticket submission and status updates only? Is that the total summation of your value proposition? I truly hope not for your sake.
Where are the constituency specific dashboards? Where is the performance benchmarking data? Where is the best practice guidance? Where are the interactive self-assessment tools to help customers understand their level of operational maturity, deployment effectiveness and product capability usage? How can customers request a sanity check on a change they are thinking about implementing? Where is the prioritized customer specific (no… User specific) checklist of the ten things that they should be working on to improve stability, reliability, derived value and reduce waste and internal operational costs associated with your stuff? What is the business case for deploying additional modules or functions? Where is the comparison of reactive customer experience against those that are leveraging proactive elements to help drive prevention based service adoption? Where is the customer manager view that allows your customers to understand which of their system administrators are doing a good job and which of them aren’t (in your ever so humble but fact based opinion)?
All of these capabilities could be delivered and accessed via the portal and yet they seldom are…
But having this stuff passively available is still not enough. If you want to change the attitudes, perceptions and behaviors of your customers then you will have to “encourage” them more tangibly. Sure, some will use their own natural curiosity and dig through your interface to find it. Others will just need to be made aware of what is available and they will start using it with relish. These are the minority. Don’t be fooled into thinking that adoption will “just” happen, it won’t. The apathetic majority will need to be given a little push. And some of them will need to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the shadows. You need a concerted multi-faceted multi-dimensional plan of attack. One of the strands of this octopus of a plan may be in the form of an executive awareness program to drive interest and top down scrutiny. Get the CxO level on board and it should be plane sailing, right? Unfortunately, many execs will not be receptive and of those that are, how many will keep with it long enough to drive the necessary cultural change? A grass roots level recognition program for the best of the best is another option. Appealing to the personal vanity of the technical rank and file often works wonders. But don’t forget the people that REALLY define working practices and behaviors… The supervisory and middle management tier are the ones to covet. If you can get them on your side then everything else will fall into place. Help them to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Show them who to promote and who to fire. Enable them to develop a roadmap to address risk areas. Provide them with the amunition they want to secure the budget they need to implement the prevention based investments that you both want.
Next time you decide to re-invigorate your portal please please please don’t just change the drapes. Change the view. And change it for one that promotes your objectives and preferences.
Category: Support Strategy Tags: