Getting started, or why managing customer support is like going on a road trip

Customer Support is a heavily regimented, process-oriented operation that easily lends itself to measurement.  Consequently, many of the questions surrounding changes to the organization revolve around metrics, with the two most frequent being “what should I measure?” and “what goals should I set?”  However, the answers to are very much context dependent.

With this post we will define the basic environmental parameters that help with the understanding of the context in which the customer support organization operates

My favorite analogy for managing customer support organizations is driving a car.  Before embarking on any trip in our car, however long or short it may be, we have four variables we need to know:

  1. Destination – Where do we want to be and when do we need to be there?
  2. The capabilities of the car – Can it do what we expect of it?  How long will it go on a single tank of gas?
  3. The rules of the road and obligations we made – How fast can we go?  Did we promise to stop somewhere to visit a friend?
  4. Environmental patterns and user behavior – When is rush hour?  Will we be driving on the busiest driving weekend of the year?  Will we get stuck behind heavy, slow commercial traffic?

Let’s see how these variables apply to the support world:

Destination – What do we want the organization to accomplish, and by when? Reduce costs?  Increase support revenue?  Increase product penetration?  Increase customer retention and maintenance renewals?  Do not forget that the objectives of the customer support organization cannot be disconnected from the overall corporate strategy and level of maturity.  Several writers address the different objectives of customer support organizations based on the maturity of the company they are part of.  For an excellent discussion see Thomas Lah’s book, Bridging the Services Chasm

Organizational Capabilities – What can we realistically expect from our organization?  A start-up company’s support organization will be radically different to that of a mature corporation in culture, motivational drivers, management capabilities, available resources and ability to accept change.  In fact, one of the recurring themes in several consulting engagements was the need to transform an organization from a hero-based culture of a start-up company to a more process oriented operation that can leverage the resources available to a larger corporation

Rules and Obligations – what are the existing obligations we have, what can we change and what not?  Take time to understand the existing contracts your company has with its customers and resellers, as well as any regulations that may impact you in the various locations you operate at, ranging from data retention and privacy policies to employee compensation.  A failure to follow those can get you and your company in deep trouble very quickly

Environmental Patterns and User Behavior – Are there any specific sensitivities or patterns we need to be aware of?  For example, specific seasonal behavior (we are all familiar with end-of-year lock down on one hand, and end-of-quarter sales rush on the other), industry specific patterns, or anything else that impacts the organizations ability to provide service or customers’ attitude towards it

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