Several weeks ago Harvard Business Review published a blog post by Vikram Bhaskaran, titled “Customer Support Hierarchy of Needs” which I read carefully but found unfocused and lacking in depth. Consequently I felt the challenge to develop a better, more coherent, model for enterprise technology support.
Eventually I came up with the following as a base model (see the bottom of this post for the naming choice). It is still a work in progress and as it is being refined I’ll post additional versions to the blog.
The model attempts to capture the two most critical investment any organization makes, technology and people, and show the path they progress along in order to deliver a more comprehensive experience. It is based very loosely on the concepts introduced by the various CMM models and progresses through the various maturity stages.
We can all understand that the various maturity phases will not have clear transitions. In fact, most support organizations I have seen tend to have different segments of their operations at different maturity levels. The common theme for all, however, is the desire to make progress along the path to a more mature level of operation. Obviously, as companies expand, efforts may be directed to other pressing concerns, such as global expansion, supporting additional product lines, or adding third parties to the support chain. However, the need for continuous progress up the maturity levels is shared by most support executives I have met.
As a a first step I’d like to define a few of the essential characteristics for each phase identified earlier:
- Chaos – Usually exist only very early in a company’s life, ad-hoc process, lack of infrastructure, metrics or dedicated staff. Support is provided by engineering teams and frequently personal heroics are key to resolving problems with any significant urgency or complexity. Third party partners may provide some support to specific customers, but the interaction is mostly at the technical level.
- Managed – Basic processes exist, along with entry level staff to manage non-technical customer communication (e.g., case opening, status requests). Technical interactions still managed by engineering. Basic case tracking and multi-channel capabilities exist. Metrics are used but will usually focus on cost and volume. Basic offering parameters defined and communicated to customers.
- Professional – Processes more elaborate than those at the Managed level, and may include various escalation guidelines. Technical staff is added to the support organization, and the infrastructure becomes more sophisticated in capabilities as well as utilization. Customer Satisfaction will be added to metrics. Sporadic collaboration with engineering. Additional services may be offered, such as Support Account Managers or extended coverage (e.g., around-the-clock or weekend) to supplement standard offering.
- Proactive / Predictive – Knowledge management is used, customers are alerted to potential problems through proactive notification. Close collaboration with engineering teams to ensure high impact or widely encountered problems are addressed rapidly. Vendors can predict which customers or hardware components will encounter certain failures and act accordingly.
- Invisible – Support integrated into other organizations in the company, resting a continuous customer experience through all points of interaction. Multi-channel interaction through forums and other social and traditional channels channels managed consistently. Customer intimacy used to eliminate failures, reduce their impact on customers and increase value derived from products.
How does this model fit with your experiences? Surely everybody who has been in this business for some time has a similar concept about the progress support organizations make over time. It does open the door to understanding the different perspectives to this progress, which we’ll discuss in future posts
The main reason I chose to call the model Enterprise Support Maturity Model as opposed to the frequently used Hierarchy of Needs is that while an individual’s needs have hierarchy, an enterprise customer has choices. We can imagine a hungry person might give up dreams of self-actualization while searching for food. A customer, on the other hand, will go looking for other, more competent vendors.