Products are lifeless inanimate things. How they are used determines the amount of business value that they deliver. Helping customers to use their products better is essential if they are to appreciate them and the organizations that manufacture and/or support them fully. Support providers have historically shied away from product usage related guidance and focused on the technicalities of making sure that the thing is running and theoretically capable of fulfilling its potential. This is a mistake. Theoretical capabilities help no one. The real life implementation of features and functions is paramount. Support providers must supplement and enhance their formal education offerings with content that helps customers to make the best use of their products. The increasingly data driven nature of today’s hardware and software solutions means that such an approach is no longer sufficient. Providers must identify and/or develop best practices and promote their usage. In a world where a million dollar server can be converted into a machine room heater by means of a few misplaced configuration data changes it is critical that all possible use case scenarios are supported. Providers must help their customers to get the best possible return on their technology investments (and continue to extract the maximum value on an ongoing basis).
Product advocacy is a potential differentiator…
The provision of technical guidance on the operation of a particular product is a given. Support providers looking to differentiate themselves or the products that they support must go beyond mere technical support if they are to truly add value. How can the supported product be used smarter? How can the benefits received from its usage be increased? What are the best practices related to its use? These are the questions that support providers need to address. Support providers must extend their reach beyond the their traditional audience within the internal technical support functions of the IT department and engage with end users and management within their customer’s lines of business if they are to avoid the constant price pressure that they face now. Only by adding value and demonstrating that they understand the needs of their customer’s business will they be able to become a trusted adviser.
This is all well and good, but how…?
When considering how your customers are using your stuff there are various indicators that should be considered:
- Configuration meta data analysis will indicate how the customer wants to use the provider’s stuff (although we must recognize that aspiration and reality are often very different).
- Inbound case analysis – Customers will report issues relating to the stuff that they are using. How often are corner case requests consigned to the black hole of the “unsupported configuration”?
- Transactional data analysis will give a reasonably good indication (but nothing more than that) of how the stuff is being used in practice. Will they allow you to extract usage data (without the transactional content obviously) to see how they are using their system? Never? Have you actually asked them?
- Reporting outputs (e.g. Report designs and report run frequencies, ad hoc reporting usage etc) show what the customer thinks is important (although this may not necessarily tally with your priority list)
- Feature / function awareness surveys – Try asking them (and by “them” I mean all constituencies) what they know about your stuff and how they are using it. You never know. They may tell you. If you never ask the questions you will never know.
- Business activity monitoring agents that track user and administrator actions allow a provider to understand how a customer actually is using their stuff in reality.
Note: Relying on a single source of product deployment data is always risky. Don’t do it. Invest some time and effort into truly understanding how your products are being leveraged in the field. Customer use cases are often very different to the product design parameters. Understanding how they are using your stuff now will help you to help them to use them more effectively in the future.
So is anyone actually doing this stuff?
Yes. CA, Sage, Salesforce.com and SAP (as part of their Max Attention offering) and others are all doing this to some degree or other. Are they doing it well? Perhaps. Could they do it better? Yes. But they have at least started down this path. Why are they doing it? A myriad of reasons. Some providers resented small niche players nibbling at the edges of their solution suite capabilities and using up discretionary customer budgets that they themselves wanted to get a bite of. Others wanted to differentiate themselves from their rivals. And some wanted to drive their products deeper within their customer environments so that they become stickier and harder to replace. Whatever the reasons for these efforts, the results are beneficial for the provider (and even sometimes for the customer).
OK, we get it. Helping them to help themselves, helps us in the long run?
Yes. Customer advocates help you to understand your customers better. Product advocates help your customers to understand how they can get better value from their investments in your products and your support services… Customers that understand your value are less likely to question it.
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Category: support-processes support-value
Tags: customer-perceptions customer-service gartner-product-support-maturity-scale processes-and-methodologies support-quality support-value-chain trkfam value-proposition
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