What We Read This Week, 19 December 2014:

What’s Lost When Experts Retire – Knowledge Management and Retention are key for every support manager and we usually spend significant amounts of time and effort ensuring knowledge is well documented and shared. This post touches on a different perspective of departing employees and the knowledge they take with them (HBR).

Measuring Customer Value in Experience?Wim Rampen is a very thoughtful blogger on customer service and interaction. In this post he describes the current state of customer value definitions and how it fails – I am waiting eagerly for the next post in this series

Skype’s newest app will translate your speech in real time – Supporting customers in other countries has always been a challenge for companies with smaller, single-country operations. While still in the future, skype Translator can transform that part of the support business in a very profound manner (The Verge).

Who Will Make Money in the IoT Gold Rush? – Internet of Things is one of the hottest discussion topics in recent memory. In the post, the author reviews some of the business challenges surrounding IoT and tries to predict the winners. I believe the jury is still out on the business models and technologies for enterprise class IoT implementations (sandhill.com)

What We Read This Week, 12 December 2014, Math Edition:

This week I’d like to recommend two longer form articles touching on slightly mode complex mathematical topics. I believe each of these articles is very pertinent to managing customer support, and specifically to measuring and thinking about our workload:

First, I’d like to recommend Log-normal Distributions across the Sciences: Keys and Clues(pdf). It touched on an alternative method of measuring populations different to the very common Gaussian system we are all very familiar with. The following image compares the two distributions:

I am sure the image on the right is very familiar to many of us. The firs example that comes to mind is the number of cases closed vs. their age.

The second post I’d like to share this week is The Power of Power Laws from John Hagel‘s blog, Edge Perspectives. Power last distribution is sometimes knows as Pareto Distribution, or the 80/20 rule:

This post establishes some solid foundations for thinking about Power Law distribution which we should all be familiar with.

I’ll return to these two concepts in a future post and discuss how we can use them to greater benefit in managing support operations.

Image source for both images: Wikimedia.

What We Read This Week, 5 December 2014:

Managing 3 Types of Bad Bosses – Pretty self explanatory title. How many of us have encountered one or more of these types in our career? (HBR).

Customer Service Needs to Be Either More or Less Robotic – An excellent HBR blog post discussing the decision making latitude given to customer facing agents. It may be more relevant to those of us serving consumer products, but a worthwhile reading for everybody. If you have time, Masahiro Mori’s linked article, The Uncanny Valley, on IEEE Spectrum is a good use of it

David Kay has an excellent post about the cost of failure and makes an interesting point that cheap failure is a learning experience.

Last, ASP has announced their 2015 Ten Best Support Sites competition. I had the privilege of judging over the last two years and plan to do so this year as well, together with many other support leaders and influencers. Don’t miss this opportunity of having your website reviewed and the valuable feedback you will receive.

What We Read This Week, Black Friday 2014 Edition:

Slimmer selection than usual this week, still some worthwhile readings:

Why customer pain can be good for business – The author suggests a different way of thinking about pursuing excellence in service interactions (My Customer)

Are You Deliberate with Your Customer Strategy or Just Taking a Chance? – looks at building a customer experience culture within the company and the questions to ask in order to make it happen (My Customer)

IBM Works To Bring Engaging Consumer Experiences To B2B Organizations – From my former employers at Big Blue, dynamic customer experiences are now possible in B2B environments (Todd Turbo)

What we read this week, 21 November 2014:

The concept of customer success may be strange to some of us coming from the on-premise enterprise technology side. This post from Totango, and more importantly, the Forrester report it points to do a pretty good job at explaining the concept and pointing to the leading players.

Knowledge-Centered Support – The Methodology That Really Works – (Atlassian)

How to Reduce Waste with Process Mining – I recently came across the concept of process mining, courtesy of a coursera course Process Mining: Data science in Action. From the course description: “Process mining bridges the gap between traditional model-based process analysis (e.g., simulation and other business process management techniques) and data-centric analysis techniques such as machine learning and data mining.” From what I have seen so far, it uses event data (think your CRM’s or case tracking system’s audit trail) to analyze process bottlenecks and dependencies. I will provide additional reviews of the concept and the course when it ends, but if you have some time check it out, it is free.

The 7 Laws of Customer Success – More on customer success and the mindsets driving this rapidly growing discipline (gainsight).

How Do People Get New Ideas? – written in 1959 by Isaac Asimov and only recently published, this article discusses the conditions for creativity (MIT Technology Review).

What we read this week, 14 November 2014:

How can a customer journey lead to data enlightenment? – Mapping and instrumenting the customer journey through the company’s multiple touchpoint, and some ket points to consider (mycustomer.com)

Predicting Customer Lifetime Value – decisions about customer tier and service levels are frequently driven by the ability to predict customers’ lifetime, or long term, value. Frequently this prediction is based on past experience, “our best customers will continue to be our best customers.” The article describes a statistical model used to analyze those predictions and the challenges in doing that. Key quote: “We found that best customers continued to be best customers at a much lower rate than we expected […] If a significant proportion of future best customers comes from past poor customers, you risk losing them.” (Kellogg Insight)

How to Get People to Like You: 7 Ways From an FBI Behavior Expert – several helpful tips on creating rapid rapport with strangers (Time)

Are these the five biggest hurdles to successful customer service? – a good summary of common customer service failures in execution and management (mycustomer.com)

Don’t Be a Metrics Slave – Support organizations are highly instrumented organizations and easy to measure, and frequently metrics are used poorly to the detriment of all involved. This article points to several common pitfalls I have seen a number of people fall into frequently (Enterprise Irregulars)

What we read this week, 7 November 2014:

Welding with Autodesk CEO Carl Bass – How many CEOs do you know who can do their endusers’ job? (The Financial Times, subscription required)

Tailor Your Presentation to Fit the Culture – many of us managing global organizations often face communication challenges when implementing initiatives across multiple locations. This post discusses some of the deep cultural foundations behind that. I have to admit that I was skeptical before reading the post, but found it enlightening and worth sharing (Harvard Business Review Blogs Network)

Two Worlds Colliding: How LinkedIn Could Take On Salesforce – Considering how critical CRM systems are to every customer facing organization, what impact would supporting customers with additional linkedin input have? (Techcrunch)

Firestone Did What Governments Have Not: Stopped Ebola In Its Tracks – on preparation for crisis (NPR)

10 Ways to Spot Great Teachers (and Avoid Crummy Ones) – on what makes an excellent teaching experience (The Talent Code, link via FTWORKS).

Two articles about the current and future states of enterprise technology – The Future of Enterprise IT: An interview with Geoffrey Moore (CIO) and The Harsh Reality Of The New Enterprise World by Gainsight CEO, Nick Mehta (techcrunch) – articles offer distinct perspectives on the industry and are definitely worth your time

What we read this week, Halloween 2014 Edition:


A new feature on the blog, where we’ll list a few interesting articles touching on enterprise technology, support and services and other interesting topics. These are listed in no particular order:

On Financial Times, Big tech start-ups bypass Silicon Valley on the technology industry’s expansion beyond Silicon Valley (subscription required)

On Nir & Far, The Link Between Habits and Customer Satisfaction on creating and reinforcing customer habits for retention and profit

On mycustomer.com, Customer Journey Mapping Series, start with Why is the customer journey so complex and what does it mean for business? and continue

On Harvard Business Review blogs, The Key to Change Is Middle Management reviewing the critical role middle management plays in any organizational transformation effort

On Bloomberg View, Bad Math That Passes for Insight – how much of that do you see regularly?

Sometimes The Extra Mile Is Free

Restaurant scene

Recently I visited a coffee shop while waiting to meet a friend. Walking in, I was impressed – the place was large, well lit and tastefully decorated. The food and pastries in the display cases seemed attractive, with quality ingredients and professional preparation. Clearly, those who designed and built this business aimed high, and their prices reflected that. As a long time observer of service operations I started wondering – could they deliver on the promise of the decor and the food?

Considering I only had tea, I couldn’t tell anything about the food except that other diners seemed to be enjoying it. However, from the service perspective I left with a few nagging points that directly apply to other service organizations:

  • The food is served in nice porcelain dishes which the crew clears once the customer has left. But, they do not wipe the tables, consequently, each table had some crumbs. Very few, but noticeable. When clearing the tables they do not use a tray, so we got a chance to see one of the crew walking slowly with a pile of dishes on her arms, trying not to drop them. Solution – get a tray, and put a little wet towel on it. Clear the dishes into the tray, wipe the table and be done.
  • When ordering a drink they take your order at the counter and bring the drink to the table. But, the crew has no clue how to walk straight while holding a cup. It was very comical watching one of them holding a saucer with both hands and walking slowly trying not to spill the coffee. Solution – rehearse, work on your muscle memory.

In both these cases, not only did the operation look unprofessional, but the employees were visibly embarrassed.

  • Last – my tea was delivered to the table in a cup. There was nowhere to dispose of the teabag nor were there sugar or stirrer on the table. I had to get up and get them myself, negating the point of table service. Solution? You guessed it. Bring a saucer, and place a few bags of sweetener on each table.

Now, there is a common thread between all these points. Fixing them will cost the business absolutely nothing, but requires an observant manager with a burning desire to keep improving the service. This begs the question, how much improvement could each of us make to our support operations at zero cost while helping our employees increase their skill and professionalism? How much better can we make them? What if we took the time to observe our organization from the side, and inspect every move and every action as they are perceived by the customer? Sadly, in many situations this seems to be everybody’s last priority.

Broader impacts of organizational maturity

Office success

In a previous post we reviewed the various maturity stages for a support organization. Having done that, the next question becomes “so what?”, or in other words, how does support’s increasing maturity impacts the value it delivers to the company?

To answer that, let’s look at the relationships with internal constituents, such as corporate management and adjacent organizations, as well as external entities like partners and customers?

Most of us can imagine how the dialog between support and engineering evolves in line with the increasing maturity. Support organizations transition from a front-end where every customer case is escalated to identifying failures, advising customers on product use and having responsibility for the customers and for the well-being of the installed base. Similarly, the interaction with sales shifts from adversarial to a partnership.

But, how does all this deliver actual value to the company?

If we think about it, there are three ways customer support can add value to the company:

  • Increased efficiency, so support costs for unit of revenue grow slower than revenue does
  • Creating additional support revenue through value added services
  • Reduced discounting during the sales process through collaboration with sales, minimized problem impact on customers
  • Accelerated and enhanced consumption of the products, driving the customer to add capacity or licenses

Additionally, a mature support organization can provide the company extensive amounts of information about the products and the customers, for example:

  • Ways in which customers use the products
  • Challenges and difficulties customers face while using the products
  • The most commonly used features, and those used rarely or never at all
  • Interaction with third party partners, their capabilities and deficiencies
  • Customer satisfaction and its drivers and inhibitors

However, the reliability of this information and the ability of the support organization to be a valued partner depends on the maturity of the support organization, but also on the maturity of the entire company.

What’s your experience in taking your organization to higher maturity levels? Where did you encounter the biggest challenges?