We take for granted that consumer functionality -- easy-to-use GUIs, mobile devices, standardized physical connections and protocols, simple upgrade paths, and so on -- will eventually bleed over into the enterprise IT world. Today this happens so quickly and is so widespread that the divide that once stood between consumer and enterprise IT can be hard to see. The “prosumer” helped drive this shift and benefits greatly from it.
Not surprisingly, we see the same thing happening in enterprise customer support. What consumers demand regarding support responsiveness from their brands is echoed today in what people managing IT want from their IT suppliers. The emphasis in both worlds is in two key areas:
- Speed: Rapid response to problems and minimal time-to-problem-resolution. And beyond response time, the availability of online self-help tools so that customers can often solve their own problem without waiting in a support queue.
- Personalization: Connecting with customers through whichever channel they want, in whatever language they want, whatever time of day they want, etc. This can also mean distinguishing between customers depending, for example, on the support contract level (the old Gold-Silver-Bronze choices) as well as how much customers spend with the supplier, or how long they've been a customer. Vendors today also have the tools to understand customers and their problems well enough to quickly match them with the right skillset on the supplier support side, when problems develop. This naturally helps with the time-to-problem resolution equation.
Indirect Service Delivery Poses Special Challenges
The largest IT vendors -- HP, IBM, Cisco, EMC, among others -- have made considerable investments in service technologies and skilled people over the years to ramp up speed and personalization. This is a particularly good thing for their large, direct-sales customers. The challenge comes when service & support needs to be delivered by partners (integrators, channel firms, etc.). Although it's still the "HP" or "EMC" brand on the product, the service delivery is coming from someone else. True, the partner may be certified to deliver services on behalf of a particular supplier. But chances are mid-level integrators do not have the same toolset available for delivering services, though they may get some access to tools from their vendor partner. The big guys realized awhile ago that they could not directly support all of their customers, especially in the SME and consumer segments. And needless to say, their channel partners covet the services opportunity--witness EMC coming around to the idea that delivering services through Acadia (now VCE) would create channel conflict. The reality is that medium-sized and smaller business customers, not to mention consumers, often need more hand-holding, not less. These are the segments where service and support capabilities often matter most.
The challenges of customer care today are daunting and growing (see Dave Vellante's post on "Customer Care in the Era of Big Data"). As on the consumer side, enterprise IT support teams now must manage multiple customer touch-points and make sure that the end-result is a positive customer experience. On-line forums, chat, email, even social media, useful as these can be, change the game in customer support.
Not long ago, one of the hard things in technical support was obtaining enough information about your customers and their problems to be able to respond quickly and solve the problem. Now the task is to manage the flood of information generated daily by direct contact with customers as well as indirectly through various channels. You could make the case that the best IT service and support organizations in the future will be those that most effectively harness this information and put it to good use. When service is delivered indirectly, as some must be, key data points can get lost in the shuffle -- not a good thing.
Action Item: IT suppliers must re-double efforts to deliver excellent service through indirect channels, as demands for speedy response and time-to-resolution will only grow in the future. This means making more training, toolsets, and certification programs available to service and support partners, many of whom have limited budgets but need the services revenue stream to keep afloat and keep customers happy. It is also critical that the “big data” collected by service partners regarding customer interactions not get lost in the shuffle.
Footnotes: Check out more services angles.