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:
by Rob Addy | October 23, 2012 | Submit a Comment
No. This isn’t an anti-Twitter or anti-Tweeting post. Twitter does very definitely have it’s place within today’s product support context. This is a post about support providers that think it’s a good idea to broadcast a never ending stream of overly generic and/or overly specific support related messages to the waiting world with apparently little or no thought as to the consequences of their actions or the effect that their tweeting noise has on their brand image and reputation. Broadcast is bad. Listening (when combined with rapid direct response to any individual concerned) is good.
Why oh why would anyone think it is a good idea to tell the world repeatedly about known product compatibility issues and open technical problems. Isn’t that akin to pouring salt into the open wound? At the very least you are reinforcing negative perceptions that exist. And potentially you are helping to create new ones. Certainly when on the odd occasion I do actually decide to “follow” a provider’s support feed it fills me with dismay to find my queue filled with inane generalities or worse, hundreds of overly specific messages regarding the myriad of products supported. Let us put to one side my concerns over the pseudo religious connotations of “following” and being “followed” for a moment. How many providers are actually analyzing their followers demographically and attempting to understand which of their products or offerings they are interested in? My guess is very few. Probably, none. And that isn’t because it’s difficult or time consuming (which it would be) but because they simply haven’t thought out what their tweeting policy should be. How many even have such a thing?? What would it contain if it existed???
Have these organizations never heard the tale of the little boy that cried wolf? Don’t they understand that many many people believe in the old adage that there is no smoke without fire? Do they not realize that the fastest way to be un-followed (if that is the correct term) is to pump out irrelevant tweets that annoy more than they inform? How much damage is being done to brands within the subconscious minds of customers as they see these streams of negativity? How many potential sales are being lost as followers build a less than rosy picture of the performance and quality of specific products from these tweets?
Yes. Broadcast is most definitely bad. Please please please don’t do it. By all means, actively listen. Listening is good.
Twitter is a communication medium similar to many others. Yes, there are differences but I would argue that there are far more similarities. Context and constituency focus are key. There is undoubtedly a need for providers to have multiple twitter streams to enable them to focus content more appropriately – yet many rely on just the one generic account…
Twitter is a tool. A tool that can be used for good or ill. Take a moment to think about how you are using it. Does it help your cause or hinder your progress? Make sure it is actively working for you, because if it isn’t then that probably means that is passively conspiring against you!
Rant over. I’m going to lie down in a darkened room to recover now…
Category: Support Processes Tags:
by Rob Addy | October 12, 2012 | Submit a Comment
The cloud is much more than a mere delivery mechanism. Much much more. Guinness know it. Learn from the liquid velvet creator. I urge every “Something-as-a-Service” provider to watch the following infomercial… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URxLYupra5s. It is not an advertisement. It is a road map to success.
I delivered a session entitled “To the Point: Releasing SaaS’s True Potential — More Than Just Software Delivery” at our US Outsourcing and Services Summit a few weeks ago. During that session, I demonstrated that the SaaS value proposition could be far more than just the traditional Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) reduction play.
The inherent solution configuration and usage visibility that “as-a-Service” providers have enables them to do many things that deliver increased customer value. As-a-Service Providers “see” many many things! (But most look but don’t see. Many don’t know what they know…). Here are some examples of the kinds of stuff they “know” irrespective of whether or not they know that they “know”:
- User profiles and behaviors
- Frequency of usage, user demographics, session durations, committed and aborted actions…
- Solution configurations
- Process definitions, meta data update frequency, degree of solution capability usage…
- Integration points
- Bottlenecks, delays, duplication, process dependencies…
- Transactional flows
- Inputs and outputs, levels of effort used, consequences of inactivity, what does good really look like…
Using these data streams, providers could create and deliver incredibly valuable services for their customers. Services that contain service elements such as:
- Pre-defined configuration meta data templates
- Reference data updates / imports
- Environmental monitoring
- Proactive interventions to prevent issues
- Benchmarking content
- Operational risk assessments
- Business intelligence services
- Role specific reporting and dashboards
- Best practice guidance
- IT Operations staffing / activity
- LOB process / procedures
- Process improvement recommendations
- Personnel performance data
- Activity vs. Productivity vs. Results
- Test and training environments
- Development sandboxes
- Load / Stress testing services
Providers must use the added visibility and benchmarking opportunities available to them from as-a-Service solutions to drive real business process improvement for their customers. Create optional aggregated obfuscated data sharing models to facilitate user benchmarking. Ask your customers to enrich their meta-data to help you to help them to conduct more meaningful analysis. Show your customers how you can help them to get the best possible return from their subscription. Tell your customers how their usage of your solution compares to similar organizations. Provide a road map outlining the features and value added deliverables described in this post. But above all else… Remember that As-A-Service’s true value is much much more than mere TCO reduction!
PS: Value Aware. Please deliver your services responsibly…
Category: Support Strategy Support Value Tags: "Guinness is good for you"
by Rob Addy | October 4, 2012 | 2 Comments
Despite the seemingly obvious and massive benefits of prevention-based support services, customer adoption is sometimes still not what it could or perhaps should be. The reasons for this are numerous and varied. However the six most commonly cited and observed reasons for delay or non-adoption include:
- customer ignorance over what proactive support is and their role in its realization
- security concerns related to giving providers access to production systems
- blanket bans on installing 3rd party software in production environments
- a skepticism as to whether or not proactive services actually work
- a reluctance on the part of those who would be most closely involved
- concern over the implications that adopting such a service would have on the role, responsibilities and structure of the retained in-house IT operations function.
Ignorance is bliss. But it also prevents proactive adoption
The Kevin Costner “Field of Dreams” model is flawed. If you build it, they won’t come. Ok, they might. But they probably won’t. Sorry. It just doesn’t happen. Technology on its own is rarely if ever enough. If you build it, then tell them again and again and again how wonderful it is then perhaps they might. Seriously. Many customers are tragically unaware of what it is that they are entitled to under the auspices of their existing support contracts. Let alone what is available to them under another service offering entirely. Inform them. Educate them of the benefits they are missing out on. Adoption doesn’t just happen. Passively providing capability helps no-one. Do you want to get them to use it or not? If you really do. Then you are going to have to make them aware. You are going to have to spark their interest. You are going to have to give them the compelling reason to change how they think about you. More than that, you are going to have to get them to actually change something. Apathy and inertia are mighty powerful forces. You must overcome both. You are going to have to sell them on the idea. You are going to have to promote it. And then you are going to have to promote it some more. If no-one knows about it, then don’t be surprised when no-one uses it. Even if they do, they still might not.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Customer account intelligence gathering to identify targets / contacts
- Support service focused marketing campaigns
- Sales compensation bonuses tied to proactive support adoption
- Regular message reinforcements / Sharing success stories
- Ambulance chasing activities / After-the-fact reminders of what could have been avoided
“Security” as a smoke screen for non-adoption
In the past, customer’s who were unwilling to adopt proactive services sometimes used “security” concerns as a reason for not permitting their service provider to monitor their environments in real time. Such objections were typically little more than delaying tactics from customers that did not want to adopt proactive services for other internal reasons. In order to get past these “security concerns”, providers have invested in secure encrypted end-to-end monitoring solutions that pose (and more importantly can be seen to pose) no significant risk to their customers. Remote control appliances can be implemented if required. And customer initiated screen sharing processes are common place. We have seen that even the most security conscious of security conscious banks are sometimes willing to give their maintenance providers direct real time access to their key business systems in return for improvements to system reliability, availability and stability. Organizations are used to balancing risk and reward. Your job as a provider looking to deploy proactive services is to show your customers how the rewards outweigh the risks. Negate the risks and emphasize the benefits if you want to overcome the “security” hurdle.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Willingness to participate within internal and external security assessments and reviews
- Customer references within security conscious industries
- External certification of monitoring solutions
- Use of pre-certified appliances to facilitate activities like remote control
Environmental lock downs that lock your proactive play out
The advent of remote monitoring technologies has all but negated the need to physically install monitoring agents on production systems for routine event tracking purposes. However sometimes the level and volume of data needed or the desire to perform real time local analytics or complex event correlation may require a monitoring agent to be installed in situ. Providing the support provider is willing and able to demonstrate the reliability and stability of their monitoring solutions and how they impact and interact with their host environments then we see fewer and fewer end user organizations that are unwilling to accept their deployment if the associated business related benefits from doing so are adequately demonstrated. Again, if you show them the reasoning behind the deployment and the benefits it will help them to experience then their objections will reduce. Mitigate their compatibility related exposure and operational risk and reinforce the positives.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Willingness to participate within the customer’s release management processes
- Ability to run your monitoring code with virtual containers to enable it to be isolated from the local host as far as is practicable
- Transparency over what your monitoring agent does, how it interacts with its host and what it collects
- Provide sufficient levels of monitoring agent configurability to enable customers to determine polling frequency, limit resource consumption and restrict what is tracked
Converting the non-believers
Despite prediction being common place within our daily lives from weather forecasts, to horse racing form guides, to election results – There is still a healthy dose of scepticism within the industry over whether or not proactive prevention based services actually work. This is a relatively “easy” as providers can “simply” demonstrate the incident rates for customers that are running in reactive mode in contrast to those that are adopting proactive services. We are already seeing some providers doing this. And the data being shared to date shows that proactive customers can expect reductions in incident volumes of anything up to 40%. This is huge. No, it is bigger than huge. The potential savings from failure related activities and the avoidance of opportunity costs should really make the adoption of proactive services a “no brainer” for most line of business executives. Your customers are undoubtedly using, or are in the process of developing, prediction models within their businesses – Seek out examples within their world and use these to help articulate your approach and make it real in their eyes. As long as providers have the right conversations with the right people within their customer organizations then we believe that adoption rates will increase dramatically. The key is finding those people and engaging with them appropriately.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Customer case studies and references that demonstrate the value received from proactive support services
- Published comparison data between key performance and delivery metrics for reactive customers and those that participate within the proactive support model
- Improved reactive response time SLAs for proactive customers as a reward for their participation (and in recognition of the lower cost of service delivery associated with supporting them)
- Willingness to underwrite availability levels with penalty backed SLAs (I know it’s heresy to some but it definitely shows a level of confidence in the value of the proactive service)
- Incentivize account executives to introduce a wider cross-section of the customer’s organization to the support delivery team. Prepare a prevention driven story line to show how your proactive support services can drive tangible benefits for the line of business execs.
The System Administrator Roadblock
Talking of talking to the right levels within customers, it is essential to develop approaches for those constituencies that will be most directly impacted by the implementation of proactive services. The “System Administrator Roadblock” is real. Providers must never underestimate the combined power and potency of self interest and fear within the lower levels of the technical ranks. Many of the historical consumers of their support services will be incredibly intimidated by proactive and predictive support services and are likely not to promote their adoption within their organizations as they may believe that the usage of such services will make their own personal positions less tenable and secure. We must be very careful never to underestimate the power of self interest and an individual’s self preservation instinct. Support service consumers are often advocates for the service provider and the technology that they support within their organizations, however they can also be a communications black hole for messages that they consider at odds with their own personal well being. It is a considerable problem that any provider looking to deploy proactive and predictive services must overcome. Alleviating concerns, removing technical barriers to adoption, eliminating the manual effort required and promoting the personal benefits of usage are all areas that providers must address if they are to be successful.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Case stories and references featuring the technical rank and file
- Example job descriptions and role definitions for next generation Sys Admins – Show them where they could be and what they could be doing if they play nicely
- Recognition programs for “System Administrator of the Year” (where a pre-requisite entry requirement is for them to actively participate in proactive support)
- Explain how you will “out” them using comparable performance metrics and how it would be better to be on board the train rather than standing on the track as it hurtles towards them!
- Send Bob and Gus round with their highly inappropriate yet highly effective baseball bat influenced persuasion techniques…
The final hurdle is often the highest…
The final sticking point that we are beginning to see is the “Human Resources Won’t Wear It” or “Cultural Change is Difficult or Impossible” scenario. Next generation support services will by definition require next generation IT operations models. Some customer CIOs are unwilling or unable to redefine their operational procedures and processes to be able to take best advantage of proactive support services. In the past the IT operations function were the ones that told the support provider what to do. In a prevention-based proactive world the reverse is more often the case. Providers must be very very careful not to underestimate the impact of this shift in emphasis. Some customer IT functions are not, and will not, be able to accommodate such a change in the short to mid-term. Helping customers by providing them with guidance on the roles and responsibilities of the IT Operations function in the brave new world is a start. But providers must bear in mind that although they can lead the horse to water, they can’t necessarily make them drink…
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Demonstrable savings associated with FTE reductions within the IT Operations function
- Customer reference stories that substantiate cost reduction claims
- Definitions of the optimum internal support function staffing model to augment and compliment the providers proactive support service
- Transition plans and road maps to adoption / Deployment strategies
Overcoming customer objections like these is not a trivial exercise. Nor is it something that can be achieved over night. But it is eminently achievable. And the ends do definitely justify the means. It WILL happen in time. The sooner the industry gets there the sooner it can reap the rewards of its efforts. The techniques outlined above may help. We have seen providers start their journeys along some of these roads already. There are undoubtedly other approaches that may work equally well. Indeed, we discussed a slightly more aggressive stance in a previous blog entry entitled “Reactive Uplifts are a Force for Good… – Discuss”. I am not saying that the softly softly approach I am describing today will work any better than brandishing the reactive uplift stick. But it might.
Ultimately, I think that both the stick and the carrot will be necessary. Necessary, because the transition to proactive support is necessary for the support industry (and the wider IT industry that it serves) to mature and develop.
Please please please let me know how you get on
Category: Support Messaging Support Strategy Tags: Marketing support services, Objection handling, Overcoming apathy, Promoting proactive, role of support, Value Proposition