According to the UK government; “Tax doesn’t have to be taxing”. But I guess they would say that, seeing as they require millions of UK taxpayers to do the paperwork for them through self-assessment… Self-assessment or self-analysis is an interesting concept. Can we ever truly be objective? Do we have the capacity to see ourselves as others see us? And even if we could, would we apply subconscious filters to mask the truths we don’t want to face?
Now of course these are all interesting questions but they do little to forward the cause of the support industry. So let’s park them for now and look at how we (or you) compare against the best of the rest. You could evaluate your portfolio and internal processes against your peers using the mini case studies within “Gartner’s Fantasy Football Product Support XI, Summer 2011”… You could use the Gartner Product Support Maturity Scale (as first defined within “Market Insight: Introducing the Gartner Product Support Maturity Scale”) as a framework to understand your relative level of service maturity. Or if you are feeling particularly brave, you could ask your most important and vocal customers to use the cosmo-quiz style assessment as laid down in “How Proactive Is Your Support Provider?” to determine where and how you need to improve. All of these assessments are valid and useful. But they do not tell the whole story, for that you must look inwardly and reflect on your particular position in the firmament of your organization. Are you the shining star, the twinkling jewel or the vacuous black hole? Only you can tell for sure.
Support quality and value is often directly proportionate to the level of importance placed upon it by the business. When we evaluate providers, it may appear that we are solely interested in the composition of the portfolio, adoption metrics and tangible quantified customer benefits. It’s not to say that these factors are not important. They are. But they are not all important. We also look to see how the support function itself gels within the culture of the provider – How support is perceived internally and how it perceives itself… So how do we make such a subjective judgement? Well it’s a combination of many data points gathered over multiple interactions – Many of which are outlined below. I urge you and your colleagues to consider these questions and refer back to them periodically to see how your actions are affecting the way in which Support is perceived…
- Does the most senior product support executive within the business report directly to the CEO?
- Does the head of support attend all board meetings? Are support related issues routinely discussed at such meetings?
- Are support related performance metrics included within monthly management reports? Are these metrics meaningful and focused on the needs of the business?
- Where is the head of support’s parking space in relation to other senior executives?
- Is support seen as a necessary evil or cost of doing business? Or is it recognised as a valuable business contributor?
- Does the support function actively participate within routine business reviews? Does support raise warning flags about customer satisfaction issues to the business and provide non-renewal or product defection risk analysis?
- Are there regular interlock sessions between every aspect of the business and support to ensure requirements and constraints are fully understood?
- Is support actively involved within ongoing continuous improvement programs and/or business process re-engineering activities?
- Have key customers and product lines been identified within the support business? Has their importance been communicated to everyone within the support function? Could every member of support tell you the financial impact of each customer if they were to cancel? Could they tell you what the new business pipeline associated with each customer is?
- Do customer experience initiatives originate from within the support function or are they instigated from within the business itself? Is support the focal point for such activities or are they ran from elsewhere?
- Does the business understand the technical constraints under which the support function operates and any limiting factors (e.g. legacy versions, compatibility issues etc) that may prevent them from meeting the needs of the business in the short or medium term?
- Is product support seen as a tactical or strategic issue by senior management?
- Do senior executives in non-support functions accept and openly recognise the contribution that support makes to the areas under their control?
- Does everyone within the support function understand the different roles, responsibilities and dependencies of other business functions and how they combine to deliver value to customers?
- Can support management articulate the value proposition of the business that they support? And can everyone within the support function describe what it is that the business does? Would your front line support representatives be comfortable giving a 30 second elevator pitch about your organisation?
- Can management in areas outside of support articulate the product support value proposition? And can everyone outside of the support function describe what it is that you do? Would your account executives, developers, marketeers and executives be comfortable giving a 30 second elevator pitch about your support offerings?
- Is there a formal 3-5 year plan for support within the business? Is this plan reviewed and approved by the board? Is everyone within the business aware of this plan and its content?
- Do senior support executives review the short and long term business plans of other business functions?
- Are support representatives regularly invited to local departmental meetings?
- Is there a suitable vehicle (newsletter, open forum etc) to communicate support related information to the business? What level of readership / subscription is there?
- Is the support section of the organisation’s intranet accessed frequently? Does the support function have a dedicated section? Was it updated within the past 14 days?
- Does support proactively approach line of business leaders and suggest ways in which support could be leveraged more effectively in their areas?
- When was the last time a member of the support team was voted employee of the month / invited to attend an off site team building event for another department? Are support employees eligible to win and/or attend corporate recognition events? When was that last time that a member of support was recognised in this way?
- Does the new-starter induction program include the support function and how it contributes to the success of the business?
- Do all support staff follow the corporate dress code?
- Could every member of the support team tell you the current stock price, who the major competitors are and where your business sits in relation to them in the marketplace?
- Could every member of staff name at least one member of the support management team? Does everyone in the business know the support helpdesk number / website URL?
Interesting and valid questions I hope you agree. Questions that will hopefully help you to understand your position a little more clearly and to initate actions to change it where change is needed. At least that is the hope anyhow.
Well that’s enough navel gazing for now. Next time, we’ll look at how we change these perceptions…
Until then… TRKFAM!
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