Tech Support Mgt

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Introduction

This is Best Practice material as an example of the excellent content of “The Art of Support” http://www.ftworks.com/the-art-of-support book by Francoise Tourniaire.  The specific use icase covered is global B to B software support for a range of customers from small to Enterprise level.  It is based on actual implementation experiences, and I welcome additional input from your experiences.

The Customer Success model described in Chapter 2 has evolved to satisfy supporting customers in an XaaS environment.  As described in their book Technology as a Service Playbook, JB Wood and Thomas Lah introduce the LAER Services Model.  The components are:

Land - All the sales and marketing activities required to land the first sale of a solution to a new customer, and the implementation of that solution.
Adopt – All the activities involved in making sure the customer is successfully adopting and expanding their use of that solution.
Expand – All the activities required to cost-efficiently help current customers expand their spending as -sage increases including both cross selling and upselling
Renew – All the activities to ensure the customer renew their contract(s).

This model drives success in the Cloud (Subscription) Business Model where the Sales team is focused on Landing New customers.  The role of ongoing account management once the initial install is complete now falls on the Customer Support Manager (CSM) role for the midsized and larger customers.   Key to this approach is that the PS, Ed Services, Customer Support and R&D roles work together in a team approach to effectively handle the incremental product usage challenges a customer will experience. The basic principle of Customer Success is the effective Cross Functional experience the company delivers to facilitate the customer maximizing the value delivered for the products.  The CSM role is now a part of the overall product support planning process – including budget funding.

The Core Principles of Support – Self Service, Case Submission/Handling, Problem Resolution, 24x7 Support and CSAT measurements will be covered first. Then the Overall company wide processes involving Sales/System Engineer (SE), Professional Services (PS), Partners, Education Services and the Product Development team will be focused on.


 

The Core Principles of Support

Self-Service Support is a key foundation of the whole support experience, as described in Chapter 3. For this customer set KCS (Knowledge-Centered-Support) is a key component. It has become even more relevant with the evolving influence of the Millennials in the customer base. The base foundation of Product Documentation, Product Downloads, Updates and Alerts relative to product are key. A small specialized team can manage the content, collecting information from multiple sources, organizing and publishing Updates  on a regular basis. Support staff should have time allocated to monitor, and develop content based on specific case experience with customers. This provides a stream of valuable, current information. Monitoring and encouraging discussion Forums is very important, the current generation use these communication vehicles extensively, and it is important to make sure the content is technically accurate.

Case Submission/Handling described in Chapter 4 outlines the key components on how incidents are submitted, worked on, and resolved.  The recommended Web Portal submission works very effectively as it assists in doing front end issue information collection, and sets up queues for assignment supporting the Direct to Engineer model.  Email, phone and chat are used frequently by the customers and it helps to show them the benefits of Web Portal submission in their early experiences with your team. With the information collected the available engineers monitoring the queues can help determine best person available to handle the issue.

Underlying making this approach successful is the commitment to a robust Training Program including ongoing new product release training. Product skill development should be based on the Education Services Offerings as a foundation. The Level 2/3 engineers take the Product release input from R&D and develop additional Support training (mostly self study) that includes product diagnosis training for the specific products. This allows existing developed materials to be used in ramping the skill levels of new hires and Level 1 people.

The Touch and Hold model combined with an environment of team problem solving works well. The Cubicle layout can positively contribute to this approach by using the Open Cubicle design. This facilities easier communication, and team discussions with the customer.

The Follow the Sun Model works very effectively for 24x7 support once the investment is made to implement it – which can be time consuming. That investment includes a common case tracking implementation and roll out. It is important to have an effective case hand-off to next region process developed. I have witnessed large complex situations run through 2 days of continuous effort with the customer teams.

Team Problem Solving   - Based on Swarming approach described by Greg Oxton, Consortium for Service Innovation.

In the Touch and Hold Model, the Front Line Engineer monitors the incoming case queue and selects the next case based on Product skill set – Direct to Engineer Queue Management. This engineer is responsible for the case till resolution. If more in depth technical skill is needed a request for assistance is made to the back line engineers with the appropriate skill. The person assisting may change if different skills are required. The involved Front Line and Back Line engineers collaborate with the customer team till the issue is resolved. The collaboration can include live Webinars where team members from the Customer and the TS team are online. Backline Engineers have in depth product knowledge developed by working directly with the appropriate Product Engineering teams. They engage the engineering team in issue resolution when the issue is likely Product based, either defect or new feature related. Selected Backline Engineers are involved in the full Product Development Life Cycle starting with Product inception, Design Review, Product Testing to Enablement of new function to Frontline Engineers as a part of the launch process.

Both Engineering teams should have time allocated to documenting key learnings from the case handling process. These are published in Tips and Techniques documents published in the internal and external Knowledge Base.

Issue Priority

A core part of how cases are handled is a straight forward Issue Priority definition and processes to handle. Three Priorities can be used effectively. Priority 1 – Critical. This is for down, or non responsive systems. The processing goal is to restore operation working on a continuous effort basis by both parties. Once operation is restored, the priority is lowered to Priority 2 – Critical. Other cases can be opened as a 2 also. These issues impacting the business that need ongoing focused attention to resolve the issue. Priority 3 – Normal. The majority of cases opened are situations where assistance is need in addressing a problem the customer is having with the product. Most are handled either with first contact or with a few follow up interactions.

Support Tools

The foundation of the above is the Support Tools implementation. All of the Current CRM offerings include Case handling functionality, and it is important to work the Support processes to implement the tools consistently across all of Support. The new AI tools offer an opportunity to further automate currently manual tasks.  The RPA (Robotic Process Automation) tools are very useful in automating these tasks.  In addition, collaboration tools like WebEx are necessary to facilitate the ongoing communication of all parties involved through critical issue resolution.

Case Handling Metrics

The detailed case handling metrics described in Chapter 9 are a very important tool for the first line managers to monitor the work. For the larger more complex customer installations they become key to case management status tracking with Customer Management. The reporting becomes important to Executive management in the Customer and within the company on situations that get escalated by the customer. An additional valuable metric is a transaction based CSAT tool. A subset of all incidents closed are asked to complete a transaction base survey and the combined results can be reviewed on a quarterly basis. This allows review of the looking at results by Support Region and also by Product family. This approach allows early awareness of potential customer concerns that could escalate by contacting any Dissatisfied or Very Dissatisfied responses directly to work through the concern. In my experienced we used a 7 question Survey included in the Appendix. We drove to a 95% Satisfied/Very Satisfied rating on a quarterly basis for over 2 years. A key step in using this approach is to reach out for a one on one discussion with anyone who responded with a dissatisfied, very dissatisfied rating. This allows the diagnosis and rectification of issues with any steps of the process, including skill level of the person submitting the case. It also allows positive reinforcement of actions that led to positive results.


Overall Companywide Processes

The challenges of Support Portfolios in Chapter 1 are real. The current business climate has increased competition and put substantial pressure on pricing. Deep discounting on License or XaaS Subscriptions has led to equivalent discounting on Support offerings. A critical step to help manage this is to have working processes with the Support and or Subscription Renewal team. Key first step is to entitle check at incident creation time to make sure the customer is current on their payments, and to deny support if they are not. To mitigate Critical Situations a one week grace period works effectively. Next, at renewal time consider implementing an annual uplift program. 3% per year has worked in most situations where the discounting was deep. Having very good CSAT ranking described above helps this substantially. Restructuring agreements to adjust to actual license usage has increased through the last several years but is now stabilizing. I have witnessed stabilized Maintenance revenue with 90+% renewal rates using this approach.

The Customer Success Life Cycle in Chapter 2 is a good overview – the CSM role is critical in mid sized and large XaaS implementations as the Sales role is focused on the Landing the Customer. The CSM becomes the "Account Manager" to deal with ongoing implementation subjects.

The initial sales process with SE's and PS involvement is important in setting expectations. Highly product trained SE's with deep product knowledge help tremendously in properly scoping and sizing the configurations. Reasonable product demonstrations that match the function and scale as closely as possible are key. Where the situation requires a POC, engaging PS and making the POC billable is often appropriate. Further it lays the foundation for detailed requirements gathering that improves the formal PS proposal.

Robust Training offerings with Certification Testing that are effectively planned with the customer early – substantially reduces downstream support challenges. Creative delivery models are necessary to adapt to the current challenges that companies face in what they can afford. Options include SelfStudy, Remote class attendance, recorded sessions that can be individually streamed are all examples.

During the implementation phase any Product related issues should be raised through the Support team directly to the Products team. Product review of workarounds can help mitigate complex implementation issues. As described, the PS to TS project handoff should be formalized. Best time to start the process is at the beginning of the Project QA cycle. As a part of the handoff all Project Documentation is made available to Support. A discussion between PS and Support on issue resolution should clarify how PS Project issues that arise will re-engage PS to deal with. A joint meeting with the customer's support team to clearly establish roles on how product related and PS related issues will be handled.

A very important organization to have as a partner to Support is the Product team. The Support team should participate in the whole Product Release cycle, including initial product design discussions, reviews of documentation, early access to product for lab testing. If appropriate the TS Team can do a case review analysis to identify areas of the product that need targeted work to reduce customer operational costs. I experienced this having a very positive result with one of the product families my team supported.

For Perpetual License sales the Product Release Strategy is important in defining Support coverage periods – an example is 3 years of full support, 1 year extended without fixes, and formal end of life for support. These are defined and communicated up front. Subsequent releases of critical fixes are also important to accumulate and make available to upgrades and new customer sales. Most important is the agreed process on joint issue resolution on critical customer situations involving product quality related issues. These require direct interaction between Support and R&D in the issue diagnostic phase which means the availability of skilled developers on real time basis. This can be included in the Product organization planning cycle. This complete company organization commitment to high quality experience with the implementation and operation of its products leads to CSAT results that consistently exceed 90%, and satisfied, referenceable customers.

The unique operational characteristics of the Cloud Environment yields business benefits resulting from the vendor hosting the IT Infrastructure in a Multi Tenet environment.  This produces savings resulting from elimination of IT Hardware, and Facilities/Operations staff. The Cloud Vendor can scale the Host IT infrastructure at lower overall cost to each tenet as a result.

The current environment is customers doing new application implementations that are Cloud based.

A major change in Cloud based projects is the Business Organizations is leading the Project instead of IT by defining the Business Requirements, researching and assessing Vendor Offerings. IT role is assisting in Testing/Rollout/Production processes.

Keys to Implementation success in this approach is adapting the Business Processes to Functional Content of the selected offering. This includes the requirement to minimize the need for customization. The team Develops, Test and communicates the software content committed to. The changes to the implementation are driven by the vendor to assure they small and frequent. They include on going Operations Management for issue resolution, ongoing functional upgrades, adjusted to specific Implementation and communication of other user implementations requirements that have been added. The Vendor manages the process.

The other key process is Migrating an existing Perpetual operation to the Cloud. Depending on the level of customization in the implementation this can be quite challenging. It is an opportunity to revisit the Business benefits of the content implemented. The process to complete requires rigorous assessment of the functional content in the Cloud offer. This includes identifying the Business Process changes that will be required – and gaining agreement to the cost to so. Then – building a Plan to change processes as part of implementation plan.

Workday has a very good paper on their website describes the benefits of the migration: leading-companies-made-smooth-migration-cloud

The benefits of Cloud implementations are substantial. The included the Elimination of IT Infrastructure Costs, including management and complexity of the environment, the ongoing maintenance cost and the upgrading complexity and business impact. By implementing standardized applications, it minimizes customizations, allows faster functional content growth and additions. Further, it provides the Business Users access to Industry Best Practice functionality. It minimizes the cost of customization maintenance. The Vendor offers are targeted to Industry Sub Segment uniqueness which leverages the above benefits further. Finally, it offers the advantage of conforming to Industry Standards for Compliance and particularly for conformance to the EU GDPR.

For Cloud based products the evolution of the product in terms of fixes and functional additions happens in an iterative way, and needs to be managed well.


Conclusion

This should help you assess your current operation, and with "The Art of Support" content identify opportunities for improvement. I am interested in your comments and feedback.


Appendix – CSAT Survey

In regards to your recent incident, please rate the support you received on the following scale

  • 5 – Very Satisfied
  • 4 – Satisfied
  • 3 – Neutral
  • 2 – Dissatisfied
  • 1 – Very Dissatisfied
  1. The incident overall
  2. The time to respond to your issue
  3. The time to resolve your issue
  4. The effectiveness or completeness of the solution
  5. The technical knowledge of the representative who assisted you
  6. The customer service skills of the representative who assisted you
  7. In comparison to support you have received from other companies, please rate your recent experience with Technical Services

Finally, please feel free to respond to the following to questions.

  1. Is there anything that we could have done better?
  2. Is there anything that we did especially well?