Research Vice President 5 years at Gartner More years than I care to remember in the IT industry
Welcome to my blog! I post about all things product support services related from the provider perspective. End-users are welcome to read but please be aware that you may sometimes find its content unsettling. I will endeavour to post frequently (as it's a lot cheaper than a therapist) but please forgive me if other more mundane activities occasionally get in the way...Read my official Gartner bio here
Oracle OpenWorld has gone Everything-as-a-Service crazy. New service announcements have come thick and fast. Mark Hurd’s keynote and subsequent press session expanded upon the themes laid out by Mr Ellison on Sunday. Oracle’s commitment to price match against Amazon and Microsoft for commodity IaaS is obviously designed to grab attention. Yes… OpenWorld is most definitely an “as-a-Service” friendly zone this week. Regrettably, whilst the message is definitely loud. It isn’t always necessarily clear. Pitching services in the same way that one pitches products is sub-optimal. Don’t get me wrong… Oracle’s cloudy pronouncements aren’t necessarily any more vague than those of their competition. Many providers talk about “as-a-Service” offerings without any reference to the service element at all. The provision of elastic capability in a consumption based contractual model that is accessed via the internet is table stakes. Sorry to burst your bubble folks but as Shania Twain would say / sing… “That don’t impress me much!” Whilst not every capability is as capable as it could be. Most are reasonably comparable. And even when they’re not, many consumers are incapable of telling the difference anyhow. What’s worse, even if they can differentiate the relative merits of seemingly similar capabilities they often don’t care.
Differentiation in a commoditizing market is critical. “Support and Service” is consistently shown to be the most powerful and compelling differentiator in Gartner surveys relating to marketing effectiveness and buyer rationales for purchase. And yet perversely, it is seldom mentioned by “as-a-Service” providers. They think that the provision of technical capability is enough. It isn’t. The service is the sum of everything that touches or affects the customer (irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not). From the clunkiness, or simplicity and elegance, of the configuration dashboard to the valued added content stream the service provider delivers to augment and enhance the contracted capability, every service element matters. Or at least it should…
Service value articulation doesn’t happen by chance. It requires concerted effort and continuous focus. The graphic below shows the inter-relationship between various service elements and how they drive the customer experience.
It is part of a research series that is intended to help providers to go beyond mere descriptions of capability and technical service attributes. I urge every “as-a-Service” provider to take a few moments to review it, internalize it and use it…
“Building Your IT Service Value Story, Part 2 (of 5): Defining Your Service Benefits Profile” (G00262629) – This note describes an inside-out approach that shows how providers should analyze their service activities and distill them down into tangible service benefits that can contribute to your value story. It introduces the “The radar plot of beneficial goodness” as a tool to help providers understand and communicate how their services help their customers more effectively. http://www.gartner.com/document/code/262629
Capability is the starting point. Not the end game. How your capabilities impact and affect your customers is critical. The effects of your actions and how they help your customers to overcome their business issues is key. Service benefits are an indicator of your potential to deliver value. We’ll look at how you can contextualize those benefits to demonstrate your value contribution another time…
Larry Ellison appears to believe that the number of products Oracle sells is important. In his view, more is better. But reviewing his OpenWorld keynote slides from yesterday, many of the purported software “products” appear to be little more than customer specific releases, industry variants, product features or feature sets that barely justify the label of “module” let alone “product”. Is a one feature product really a product? The app-ification of the enterprise applications market is a symptom of the broader consumerization of IT. But is it helpful?
Given that psychologists routinely state that the human mind can only handle 5 plus or minus 2 concepts concurrently, does a product portfolio of hundreds of distinct items really help or hinder a provider? Admittedly, individual sales people wont usually have to try and position the whole lot. But even if they only have to push a dozen or so products is it a viable model? Equally, customers will invariably focus on the things that matter to them at a given point in time and so they will “only” have to select from dozens rather than hundreds of options. Choice is good. But like all good things, too much of it might be less beneficial.
Overly granular portfolios dilute. Forcing every feature to justify itself commercially can be counter-productive. Many features are enablers of other features. Their inherent value may be minimal until combined with that of their functional peers. Feature synergies are a reality. Arbitrarily requiring customers to select which are in and which are out could lead to the customer missing out on the value they need and desire. Isn’t it the responsibility of the provider to make it easy for their customer to realize value? If it is, then surely it is beholden upon the provider to package their capabilities in such a way that make value realization more likely?
Navigating customer value hierarchies and dependencies is a critical skill that every provider needs to master. Check out my recent webinar on creating compelling value stories for guidance on how to model value drivers and more importantly how to reconcile your product or service benefits profiles against them in a plausible and engaging manner… http://my.gartner.com/webinardetail/resId=2680132
The wind howls like a bear trying to rip its leg from a trap. It’s cold and gloomy and so am I. I light a cigarette and inhale deeply. The premium increase notification from my health insurance provider arrives instantaneously. Damn those embedded sensors!
It’s only 6 hours before my customers come on-line and I’m 40% below the contracted capacity floor. I call the bottom feeders (wannabes that manage the non-captive compute assets of SMEs and educational establishments), their service levels suck but having crappy capacity is better than having no capacity I guess. They whine about continuity of business and berate me for treating them as an afterthought. But that’s their problem, not mine. My customers demand better performance than they can deliver and the customer is always right. They’re not of course but that’s what I tell the wannabes. I’m about to tell them to stuff their capacity where the sun don’t shine when I remember my predicament. Damn, how I hate having to deal with these people. I take an option on a billion E-class cycle hours just in case. I have 4 hours to confirm, hopefully I won’t need them. Something will come along. It may be good or bad, but something always comes along. I need a drink. It’s only 6:00 am so I decide not to have my usual bourbon and opt for a coffee.
Walking to the coffee shop the wind chills me. As I enter, the overly perky barista asks me if I want my usual as he offers me my pre-prepared coffee in his outstretched hand. Remembering the days before predictive proximity based customer service, I nod, smiling to myself wondering if they’d be a market for coffee shops that sell a cup of joe with a shot. The analytics are good but they only know what I want them to know. At least I thought they did. The fact they offered me anything at all tells me that I need to recalibrate my personality and preference obfuscation firewall. Thought privacy is the only thing of value we have any more. Protecting it to protect ourselves is becoming an increasing challenge.
The coffee is black and bitter like my mood. I sip the hot concentration giving elixir as I look around the dingy establishment. It’s a relic from the great coffee shop rebellion of 2015 and well overdue a refurb but it’s busy anyhow. Suddenly the news report on the screen in the corner catches my eye. There’s been an earthquake in somewhere called Muldovia. Thousands dead. Devastation everywhere. Downer.
As I ponder the fragility of life and the awesome destructive power of nature, it hits me. It hits me with the force of an articulated truck’s wind-shield colliding with a bug. Where does Muldovia get its compute from? It certainly isn’t going to be needing it anytime soon. Fantastic! As the thought forms in my mind, I’ve already opened a voice session with Chuck. Chuck knows all that’s worth knowing. “Who’s on the hook for Muldovia’s compute capacity?” I ask urgently. “Wha?” Chuck moans. “Do you know what time it is?”. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough of the whining. Who covers them?” “Erm… Stacey Wong, I think. Why? Do you know what time it is?” “Stop being such a baby Chuck. No one likes a whinger. A window of opportunity has just opened. And I’m going through it bro”.
Just then, a call comes through. It’s Alice from Mega Corp, “I need an extra 12% at business open for 2 hours”. Alice never bothered with pleasantries. She wasn’t into “nice”. She was into “delivery”. “Sure.” I hear myself saying, “that’ll be price band C”. “C? C?? Rick, you’re a profiteering swine!” Alice protested. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… That’s the price, you want it or not?” “You’re killing me – C it is. Just don’t mess up or it’ll be both our asses.” “Pleasure doing business with you Alice” and with that, the trade confirmation arrival alert coincides with the click as Alice hangs up. 20 million credits closed in 15 seconds. Joy. Unless I can’t deliver. In which case, it’s unlimited liability and the very very real risk of bankruptcy, jail and an intimate relationship with a bad ass from the block called ‘Bruiser’.
Back to Chuck. “Hook me up with Stacey. Remember you owe me bro”. I pull her profile and scan her stats. Stacey’s kudos rating is good. Although by the looks of things she is having a bad run. A poor month had turned into a bad quarter and her regulars are starting to drift away. People are fickle. Customer loyalty is an outmoded concept of the past. I begin to smile as I read her recent trading reviews. She’s got the types of issues that no-one in our line of work wants. She needs to score big and bank some reputation credits pronto. But that is her problem, not mine…
I place the call. “Rick. I see that you’re an acquaintance of Chuck’s. What can I do for you today?” Suzy asks. My audible virtual reality augmentation software tells me that my intonation analysis module thinks that Suzy is stressed out and concerned. That said, any idiot looking at the display would be able to tell that from her pallid complexion, thinning lip line and overly forced smile as she joined the call. “Let’s cut to the chase Suzy” I say in my best ‘I’m not you friend yet but I want to be’ way. “You have some capacity and I have a requirement. What can you do for me?”. She smiles again. A little more convincingly this time. She’s going to try and play me. They always try and play you. Why we have to dance the dance is beyond me but I let the charade begin. “How much do you want Rick?” she starts. “How much have you got?” I reply, knowing full well that she is in it up to her neck. We do the dance. She pushes. I push back harder. She feigns indifference. I walk away. It was ever thus.
23 seconds later she calls me back. A further 56 seconds and the deal is done. I have what I need and some options on some top grade capacity for the next week whilst the Moldovian’s get their stuff back to together. I have 6 hours to find a buyer. But there’s no rush. I may as well have the Danish that the perky barista keeps offering me whilst I work out my plan of attack… ACME Inc has some drug sequencing work that they’re always looking for good capacity at the right price for. Yes. I’ll call them first. As soon as I’ve had my breakfast and another cup of coffee. Maybe today won’t turn out so bad after all…
Whilst queuing for the “Tower of Terror” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with my family this summer I witnessed something far more interesting than a mere journey beyond the realms of sight and sound. A guest had been taken ill and was lying on a stretcher being given medical attention immediately in front of the entrance to the elevators. However the majority of the queuing masses were completely oblivious to this fact. They were oblivious because the medical crew and their patient were being shielded by a large and jolly pair of Disney cast members who were distracting the crowd by asking how their day was going and passing pleasantries with the waiting riders. The line (with the exception of my wife who never misses a thing) were completely unaware of the drama going on behind them. Nothing happens in Disney by chance. The fact that Alice (from “Alice in Wonderland”) hit her smile and wave mark accurately to the centimetre on the parade route and engaged in a brief conversation with my daughter who was sitting on the exact same pavement curb two days in a row prove that. There is obviously a response plan for guest medical emergencies which probably includes the deployment of rotund smiling happy chaps to divert people’s attention…
And yet many support providers are seemingly unprepared for reasonably predictable events.
If you haven’t got a response plan for major incidents you should get one!
Hats off the the folks at Databarracks! They have created one of the most compelling pieces of cloud related content I have seen in a long long time. Entertaining, informative and thought provoking (and complete with the soothing vocal talents of the (inter)national treasure that is Stephen Fry no less). Not since my “Guinness is good for you” post of last year have I seen such a delight. Good show! Good show I say!
Whilst the quality of the content exudes from every delightful sketch on every frame and every syllable that Mr Fry utters, it begs the question… Will this have a material impact on the way that Databarracks are perceived in the market? That I cannot say. But I certainly do hope that they benefit from it. As the patrons of such a piece I believe that they deserve to be considered “cool” by association if nothing else. Certainly, it is very telling that a relatively small European player can come up with something so clean, crisp and concise and yet the multi-national mega-vendors have in the main failed miserably to convey such a message convincingly.
As yet, there is no dedicated micro-site associated with the content (including an interactive version for the nerds amongst us that would like to drill down into the multiple stories beneath the story) but I hope that there will be…
Judging by the relatively low numbers of views the video has received so far, I am guessing that Mr Fry hasn’t yet tweeted about the video to his 6.2 million followers but I hope that he will… If nothing else it will be a chance for Databarracks to demonstrate their IaaS prowess as the throng click through to visit their site
Equally, there is no means by which to purchase a wall poster of the resultant image (with the proceeds going to a suitable charity) but I hope that there will be…
Yes, I give my hearty congratulations to the creative team at Databarracks for a job very well done!
Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens” had a point. Too many providers forget that they need to offer their customers a continual flow of value throughout their relationship. Over focusing on the on-boarding process to the detriment of the broader offering is a mistake. The initial implementation assistance provided to get your customers up and running is soon forgotten. Providers need to deliver, and be seen to deliver, tangible ongoing benefits and improvements if they are to be valued.
Roller coasters make people sick…
…smooth out their journey and keep them nice and level!
It used to be relatively easy to have a limited programme of activities that could be revisited and reused with the cycle restarting with the arrival of every new CIO. But given that the average tenure of a CIO is increasing from the 3 or 4 year terms of the past to something closer to 6 years this means that providers will now need to have a workable and plausible engagement plan for at least 5 years (or for the projected lifespan of the solution that is being supported if this is shorter).
Top tips for smoothing the customer’s value journey:
Keep your powder dry. Don’t offer them the full menu of options when they first sit down. It overwhelms and confuses. Reveal your smorgasbord of goodness over time.
Regulate their consumption rights. Rather than giving them the ability to select 4 time boxed consulting gigs a year – Force the pace a little and say that they can have one a quarter (and that it’s a use it or lose it policy)
Mandate pre-requisites. Rome (nor Athens) wasn’t built in a day. Some tasks will take longer than you can fit into the time box you have. Don’t dumb it down. Break it over two engagements (although ensure you have enough content, activity and value to justify the second bite of the cherry)
Demonstrate value as you go. If you can’t show the benefits that they have derived from a time boxed engagement then stop offering it. Every draw down needs to offer some immediate return as well as some longer term benefits. Remember that they are investing their time too.
Contextualize their choices. Have a different selection of stuff for them to pick from each year (or if not varying by year, vary it by discernible maturity level).
Expand beyond the technical rank and file. Involve multiple constituencies so that everyone is aware of the value you are adding. If they’re not involved, they probably won’t know and they definitely won’t care.
Keep it simple. Offer a handful of options for each quarter, year or customer maturity level and really do them well. No-one wants a selection of 20 half baked dishes.
In-N-Out Burger do it right…
…by focusing on the stuff that really matters and doing it brilliantly!
A regular flow of value will always be preferable to the occasional soaking.
By ensuring that your value-added offers continually build upon one another you can ensure that your customer value perception continues to build too.
Everything is wonderful. Your customers are satisfied. Or so your internal metrics suggest. You pay a fortune to collect and analyse the data. Of course it’s accurate and relevant. CSAT is trending nicely. Top box ratings are on the up. NPS has never been higher. And yet you have a nagging doubt gnawing away at the stem of your cerebral cortex. What if you’re missing something? What if the picture isn’t quite as rosy as the metrics and the experts that deliver them suggest?
Is CSAT a false idol within a B2B relationship?
Does worshiping at the altar of CSAT and/or NPS expose service providers to risk?
Are CSAT and NPS even relevant within a captive customer context?
Does a transactional based cognitive model work in a continuous engagement scenario?
Every provider tells us that their CSAT is great and getting better… How can they all be right?
How can “Voice of the customer” programs be interpreted to go beyond listening to really hear and understand?
How can customer loyalty truly be measured? Can it be measured? What are the primary influencing factors?
Is loyalty a realistic prospect in today’s services market as the barriers to switching erode?
How concerned should providers be? Are they living in blissful ignorance?
Will seemingly happy and contented customers suddenly decide to switch without prior warning? Or were the warning signs there but the provider failed to pick up on them?
End user organizations sometimes tell us that it’s “just time for a change”… How can that “point of no return” be deferred indefinitely? Conversely, how can it be accelerated for your customers of your competitors?
How can loyalty be assured / guaranteed? Is loyalty “just” a measure of a customer’s propensity to stay or leave?
What can providers do to nurture / facilitate / inspire loyalty? Yes, “inspire”… Not a word that springs to mind too frequently in today’s services marketplace!
Does happiness correlate to loyalty? How unhappy for how long pushes people over the edge? Is an occasional bit of customer pain useful to help them to see the all of the good that you do for them?
What observable behaviours indicate customer happiness? How can these factors be evaluated? Is a customer happiness quotient feasible? And if it were, how would you use it?
How can the perceptions that underpin those positive behaviours be reinforced / created?
Why do customers cancel contracts? What are the most common modes of dissatisfaction?
What causes a customer to start thinking about switching providers? What triggers this process?
Who initiates the train of thought that ultimately leads to an organization switching providers?
How can providers identify the naysayers and nullify their effect before it takes hold and gathers momentum?
Can the runaway train of cancellation be brought to halt before it wrecks itself at the corner of non-renewal?
What are the indicators that a seething pool of resentment is growing beneath the placid surface of mutual indifference?
I don’t have answers to all of these questions. I’m not sure that anyone does. But I do believe that they are the sorts of questions that service providers must think about very carefully. You need to try and pull yourself away from gazing happily into the “Magic Mirror of Self-Delusion” that is CSAT and NPS. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that such measures do still have a place but they are just one view of the world. A view that may not necessarily be beneficial in helping you to predict how your customers are likely to behave in the future. What you augment that view with is another question. A very interesting and potentially game changing question. A question that a current on-going research stream within the Infrastructure Services agenda will hopefully help to address. How you use that insight to retain those customers that you want to keep remains to be seen. Is predicting customer behaviours viable with the knowledge you currently have? Do you have the tools to do this now? And even if you do, are you sufficiently skilled at using those tools to get the meaningful information you need to base incisive proactive interventions on? How good is your customer dissent scanner? Do have a realistic and proven view of current renewal risks? Or is the warm snuggly blanket of CSAT and NPS lulling you into a false sense of security?
Sleep well sweet lumbering giants.. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
…a new immersive research paradigm. Passive content provisioning won’t cut it in today’s attention deficient world. But what if you experienced research content rather than read it? What if the research interacted with you rather than you with it? What if the research leveraged traditional story telling techniques in conjunction with an interactive fiction engine to convey its messages and themes? What if the research engaged your emotions as well as your intellect? What if it challenged your assumptions in a virtual world and helped you to come to your own real world context specific position? What if it didn’t feel like you were consuming research at all? Could the knowledge, insight and opinions of nearly nine hundred industry experts with over 20 millenia of experience be absorbed via some form of sub-concious osmosis? What if indeed!
Now maybe I’m crazy. And even if I am, what of it? You, my dear reader, wouldn’t be the first not to buy into my particular brand of crazy. Nor will you be the last I am sure. Certainly, this concept hasn’t yet been embraced by my corporate overlords here at Gartner Towers as I had originally hoped. To be fair to them, they politely heard me out, they weren’t dismissive, but they weren’t overly enthusiastic or encouraging and defintely haven’t embraced the insanity just yet. Instead, they just smiled, nodded and gave me a metaphorical pat on the head before sending me on my way. I really don’t blame them for it. The blame, if blame applies, probably lies with me for not articulating the concept effectively or in a sufficiently compelling manner to convert them into raving advocates and evangelists. And yet here I am like the proverbial dog with the proverbial bone… Hoping to enlist some of you to help me champion the cause and bring gamification in its truest and purest sense into the realms of research content delivery.
So exactly what is it that you’re proposing?
Static research notes are just sooo 1980s. I mean, they just sit there waiting to be read. I ask you! Really? C’mon now! You expect me to actually do the “reading and understanding work” for you right? Interactive tools and guides are better but they still sometimes fail to connect with their intended audience fully. We need to engage more effectively… We need to become integral to your thinking… We need to get deep inside the heads of our customers… But how to do it without the need for life threatening invasive cranial surgery?? An interesting challenge indeed… Why not leverage the current Gamification Zeitgeist and make the research deliverable a game? Now first person shooters are probably not the perfect vehicle for this kind of thing but how about the retro gaming phenomena that is the text based adventure (or work of Interactive Fiction as it is now often known)? What if we embedded research themes and guidance into a text adventure and surrounded it with puzzles to intrigue and characters to interact with?
Ladies and gentlemen, It is my great pleasure and dubious honour to give you your first (and possibly last) glimpse of the soon to be industry phenomena that is “Service Value Quest!”
Consider this… You have been transported to an unknown and unfamiliar world. You are alone. You have nothing but your wits to survive. You have a mission, although you’re not 100% sure what it is at this point. Danger awaits you at every twist and turn. What will you do? What will you see? Who will you meet? What will you achieve? It is entirely and completely up to you! Wander where you will. Take the path of your choosing. Return as many times as you want and take an alternative path or strategy to see how it pans out.
Along the way you will meet an array of interesting and colorful characters. Some of them helpful, some of them less so. Some need to be worked with, some need to be worked around. Some are irrelevant, some will materially affect your future. How you interact with them will determine how they respond and behave. Can you afford to make an enemy of them? Can you afford to appease them? Can you ingratiate yourself and make them your friends? Do you even want to?
Who’d have imagined you’d ever see a cross-dressing nun in Gartner research??? In an interactive fiction world the normal rules simply don’t apply! It will allow the analyst to tell you what they’ve been trying to tell you for years in a direct and forceful manner. If they want to shake some sense into you they can. If they want to lambast you for a particular course of action, they can. If they want to give you a gentle (or less gentle) slap to emphasize a point, they can. The constraints of political correctness and acceptable business to business communications are loosened. What would they say to you if they were free to say what they really thought without fear of the consequences?
By poking fun at the world around us we are able to deal with real world issues that would otherwise be taboo. Down-sizing, proprietary lock-in, anti-competitive practices, price gouging, regional price discrimination… These issues are real. And yet we sometimes shy away from discussing them in the depth that we should for fear of causing offence. Hopefully we are all adults and can appreciate (if not agree with) multiple perspectives. Comedy has been used as a tool to make uncomfortable truths palatable for decades… Who says that research content cannot be fun? If Gartner were to adopt the BBC’s core mantra of “Educate. Inform. Entertain.” would it be such a bad thing? We’re all busy with our day to day lives, we all have challenges and issues to face. Why not face them with a smile on our faces? Laughter is the best medicine after all.
Now I’m not suggesting that all research should be delivered in this way. But perhaps some of it could or should be?
There will be some that ridicule the idea. There will be some that will decry the very concept. There will be some that just don’t “get” it. There will be others that smile and nod and just sit back and wait for it to fail. But perhaps there will be some that take a moment to think about it. It’s a little out there for sure. But is it too far out there? Is it somewhere that we should go (even if it is just for the occasional day trip)? And hence the purpose of this blog post… I am keenly interested to find out if this is something I should continue to pursue or should I walk away quietly? I know from my readership stats that more than a 1000 lovely people will read this post this month, hopefully some of you will feel strongly enough either way to play the demo and/or complete the feedback survey. Even if you don’t fancy it, why not tell your friends and colleagues? Perhaps they would like to challenge themselves to be the first to complete episode one of Service Value Quest!!! Aren’t you curious? Not even a little bit?
Why not give it a go for yourself? It won’t take long and it could even be interesting…
Play the first short episode of the world’s first ever immersive research experience here…
For those of you that complete the first episode there is a adventurer specific URL embedded into the game for you to tell me what you made of it. Alternatively, you can tell me what you think about the concept here…
All that remains is for me to thank you for reading this far and wish you well on your quest! I hope to hear from you very soon…
Services marketing functions must master the “dark” art of misdirection whilst their services R&D relations manufacture next generation services that are capable of delivering magical customer experiences. Significant service quality impacting changes take time to develop and deploy. Customer benefits often take even longer to materialize. Customers are an impatient bunch at the best of times. They want instant gratification and they want it yesterday. Unfortunately, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither was a next generation service portfolio. Many service providers are unsure how to fill the void between the harsh realities of today’s less than ideal service experience and the promises of tomorrow’s value laden prevention-based interactive constituency-focused context sensitive experience. All too often providers try to dress up their existing reactive service lines in a proactive or predictive costume in the hope that the market and their customers won’t notice. This is always a mistake. Your customers are not stupid. They can tell when a provider is misrepresenting reality or peddling futures that don’t yet exist. Don’t go there.
So what should a provider do if futuristic fables or flights of fancy won’t work?
Well I guess you could always tell the truth. But a campaign based upon “we’re behind the times but we’re working on it” probably isn’t too appealing. That said, an open honest and frank “keep the faith” message accompanied by a published services roadmap outlining your planned route to prevention-based greatness may just be a very good thing! It will depend upon your customer base, the amount of hold you have over them, what your competitors are doing and current perceptions of your service quality…
Ok… In this particular instance, “honesty” may not always be the best policy…
Instead, why not learn a lesson from the great illusionists. Every great magician knows that stage craft is as important as the technical mastery of the mechanics of the illusion itself if they are to convincingly “sell” it to the audience. One of the key components of this craft is the art of misdirection. Misdirection comes in many forms. In its crudest incarnation it can be little more than someone shouting “Look over there! An elephant!!”. The audience look to where the noise is coming from and the performer takes the opportunity to do some slight of hand. A slightly more accomplished performer / marketeer may incorporate some subtlety and ask “Is that an Indian or African elephant?” instead.
So what sort of misdirection could / should a provider employ?
Most providers have some happy customers. Why not showcase how they are deriving value from your services? In the absence of customers “happy” enough to act as a diversion, why not extract benchmarking data from your delivery systems and allow customers to “go compare” how their experience rates against the crowd? If that fills your heart with dread, why not look at your current portfolio usage statistics and promote one of those hidden “gems” that only a small proportion of customers are taking advantage of? Every portfolio has them (or the service delivery execs that I talk to claim that they do anyhow). Although many providers seem unable to determine exactly what they are… Assuming you do know what they are, then why not promote the hell out of them? If you can’t find anything suitably “gem-like”, then why not “play the man, not the ball” instead… Focus on your grass roots service consumers. Elevate a very carefully selected subset of them to near heroic status – Make them household names (in households populated solely by system administrators). Praise how forward thinking they are for taking advantage of your services in the way that they do… Big them up big time. Help them to become aspirational role models for the technical masses. Still not convinced? Then perhaps you can become “cool” by association… Are any upstream or downstream technology providers ahead of you proactively speaking? Could you leverage “their” data to help tell your story?
The last refuge of a scoundrel is customer satisfaction metrics…
In the absence of anything more tangible, you could of course turn the magic mirror of self-delusion that is customer satisfaction and loyalty metrics back upon your customers and let them bask in the warm glow of your combined mutual happiness. “Everyone else says they love us so you should too!” may work some of the time but it is a dangerous game to play. Indeed, it could be argued that the normal rules of NPS don’t apply in the commercial hostage situation that is the long term support contract. 2010’s economic downturn saw 1000’s of “happy” and “loyal” customers cancelling or down-sizing contracts in their droves. And yet, providers had no inclination that this was probable as their customer sat scores were “the best they’ve ever been and getting better year on year” (If only I had a dollar for every time I have heard that phrase!). Scepticism (regarding the ultimate validity and usefulness of customer sat metrics in a world where you’re increasingly only as good as your last interaction experience and the crowd can turn nasty on a social media dime) aside, why not share the love?
So there we have it. There are a plethora of marketing opportunities for the “proactive provider in waiting” – Just be sure not to maintain radio silence as that does absolutely nothing to calm fears, allay doubts or clarify uncertainty. If you’re not talking to your customers you can bet that someone else is. And that someone probably hasn’t got your best interests in mind. The only way to set the agenda is to set the agenda. Crazy though it sounds, you actually have to talk to your customers. Unless of course, you’re a 200 pound gorilla and the first and only contact you make with your users is to demand your support renewal money with menaces once a year – you know who you are guys! I’m not criticizing… Really I’m not. But even the mighty Kong fell to his doom eventually
Remember… Mastering misdirection makes marketing magic!
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!
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