Interview with Tina Lux-Boim, New TSIA Partner Advisory Board Member

Posted September 11, 2014 by jragsdale
Categories: Technology

One of the more fun duties of my job is chairing TSIA’s Partner Advisory Board. This is a group of executives from our partner ranks who gives us input on market dynamics, industry trends, and helps us plan our events and various partner program offerings. I’m very pleased to announce that we have a new board member, Tina Lux-Boim, President & CEO of Managed Maintenance (MMI). MMI’s technology and services are front and center to a number of key TSIA initiatives and “big ideas,” so I wanted to take this chance to introduce Tina to all of you. I recently had an opportunity to chat with Tina about MMI and some hot industry topics, and thought I would share that conversation with you.

John Ragsdale: Welcome to the TSIA Partner Advisory Board! Very happy to have you onboard.

Tina Lux-Boim: Thank you, the MMI team is so excited to be a part of such a forward thinking organization and have the ability to bring more insight to the industry while gaining a deeper knowledge of the landscape ourselves.

John: MMI’s products and services are so strategic to TSIA’s B4B messaging around revenue generation, protecting maintenance revenue, and managing consumption. Could you give us a quick overview of MMI?

Tina: MMI was born in the technology channel, our solutions enable technology manufacturers (OEMs), their channel partners, distributors and service providers to maximize service contract and equipment replacement revenues, and help end user organizations ensure uninterrupted maintenance and support coverage.

ONEview is a globally hosted and dynamic, interactive, web-based SaaS application that allows organizations to maximize recurring revenues through an end-to-end automated solution. In the age of Big Data, ONEview enables executives to eliminate complexity and streamline the contract management and renewal process. MMI’s ONEview application with contract management, consulting, and other value-added services provided by our professional services team and Six Sigma consultants reduces the cost of maintenance, increase productivity, and help suppliers and service providers find new – and existing – revenue not presently at their fingertips. This combination of people, process and technology have allowed MMI to become the preeminent market leader in outsourced asset lifecycle and service contract management among OEM’s world including IBM Contract Management and Renewals, CISCO, HP, and many others.

John: According to my 2014 Global Technology Survey, only 14% of B2B companies currently have a recurring revenue solution in place. However, over a third of companies, 39%, have budget for recurring revenue functionality in 2014-2015. To add insult to injury, some of the popular cloud CRM tools being used today don’t even offer very robust contract and entitlement capabilities, which used to be standard for OnPremise CRM. Are you seeing this demand in your pipeline? What sort of companies do you see as early adopters for more sophisticated tools such as MMI offers?

Tina: Simply stated, yes. We are seeing demand for a cloud based system like ONEview that allows for a closed loop automation of the renewal process starting with the development of an opportunity pushed into ONEview from the clients CRM or pulled from the client’s CRM into ONEview, through quote preparation, client notification, opportunity development and communication and ultimately acceptance of the quote and possible communication to the vendor for solution entitlement. Our pipeline and experience shows the three leaders in adoption of these types of tools to be small start-up manufacturers of hardware and software products, distribution channels of these products and TPM’s or 3rd Party Maintenance and support providers.

John: I used to joke that “services marketing” was an oxymoron, and honestly the same can be said for “service sales” at many tech companies. Our data shows that product sales people are not very effective at selling services, and services people traditionally don’t have the best sales skills. 3 years ago I noticed a trend that some very large tech firms were doing an honest assessment of their service sales and renewal operation, and realizing they needed to look to a third party for help. Unfortunately there aren’t many service providers with expertise in B2B service sales. Luckily MMI has that expertise. Could you talk about some of the common problems you see with tech companies trying to manage service selling and renewals themselves, and how you are able to improve their renewal rates and revenue numbers?

Tina: There are many challenges that MMI sees facing tech companies choosing to pursue annuity based sales through traditional sales team. Let me just touch on a handful.

  • Many renewals are high volume, low value transactions at face value. This makes them unappealing for the sales representative to want to invest in. A view that can compile the data so all renewals across each customer can be seen and pursued offers an opportunity for the sales teams to view the renewal sales by customer as a more lucrative sale.
  • For most renewals it requires data from 5-7 systems to prepare one (1) renewal opportunity. The time investment for sales team to prepare a quote suitable for presentation is often perceived to be too significant to justify the end sales.
  • Tech Companies often have a large “bag of tricks” they are selling. The messaging, presentation and sales of annuity type businesses is often a departure from their core offerings and something many sales teams are not comfortable in positioning or familiar with. With sales teams “coin-operated” they are more likely to gravitate to the solutions and products in their comfort zone and procrastinate or ignore the potential annuity sale.
  • Annuity sales often involve on-going management once the sale is completed. if the sale is remain in good standing and be positioned well at renewal time, this kind of sale requires specialists / customer success managers who are comfortable and adept at managing long term on-going client relationships and managing details. They can’t be left to a sales hunter with low patience and interested in the “kill” or final sale as measure of success.

John: Big Data is a big topic with our members, who love the concept of analytics but aren’t always sure how to get started. And, few of them have the resources of a data scientist available to build custom dashboards. I’ve seen some impressive analytics in your ONEview demo. Can you speak to how analytics can inform and empower renewal teams?

Tina: Managing enterprise assets is a complex, confusing endeavor – even for the teams dedicated to doing so. Asset and part data, warranties, and service agreements are often tracked in Excel spreadsheets or in proprietary systems that may not scale or flex with business needs. Staff members spend a good portion of their time performing lower-level tasks such as entering, cleansing, and maintaining detailed data and cannot always guarantee the accuracy of this information. Acquiring accurate, real-time information on enterprise assets is a necessary first step to driving effective asset decision-making and performance.

SaaS applications provide transparency into the corporate asset base by opening the door to big data access and leverage. IT managers can choose to pair high-value assets with RFID and Wi-Fi technology and receive a continuous stream of information on asset location and usage. VARs can harness systems to analyze sales, services, and maintenance data, identifying opportunities to save money for the customer and build their own services revenues.

In the new model of doing business, the entry point can be anywhere, but data is the common thread for designing and delivering customer-centric services. IT resellers can also use their own SaaS portals to identify customers’ emerging needs, manage customers’ global asset portfolios, and build their own maintenance businesses.

Data analytics show that customers notified 120 days in advance are 30% more likely to renew a service or support contract than those notified 30 days or less prior to expiration. It is essential to capitalize on the “golden hour” of contract renewals, or about 90 to 120 days prior to expiration. With enough lead time, IT suppliers can structure sales conversations and tailor services and contracts to customer needs. VARs achieve an average renewal success rate of 80% when they act on customer contracts at least 90 days before expiration.

Those top IT service and warranty performers who invested in technology to improve analytics and management capabilities achieved an 86% customer retention rate and increased contract renewal rates by 4% over the previous 12 months. Those who choose to remain using manual and home-built systems retained just 42% of their customers and a 1% or more decline in renewal rates.

SaaS solutions that allow notifications and on-going communications through automation helps to focus on proactively proposing solutions based on the automated analytics of the big data rather than remaining focused on a one-time sale. Lack of communication and interest by the client can alert the firm of a customer disengagement and allow the seller to put proactive measures in place to “salvage” the customer.

Automation brings greater predictability in terms of volumes and revenue potential. The tools help stabilize sales and revenue cycles. Companies investing in growing their recurring revenue streams grew their business 20% faster with 25% higher profit margins than their peers.

On lower cost more disposable product sets, the early notifications lead to markedly higher hardware sales for companies due to proactive refresh solutions.

John: I’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat with me today, and I look forward to you joining us for the Partner Advisory Board meeting next month!

Tina: John, thank you for including MMI and we are looking forward to bringing value to TSIA and the technology industry in general as well as learning from the best practices of others.


Changepoint Acquires Daptiv, Adding Cloud PPM and PSA to OnPremise and Hosted Portfolio

Posted August 21, 2014 by jragsdale
Categories: Professional Services, Technology

Tags: , , , , ,

Today Changepoint announced their acquisition of Daptiv, adding pure cloud solutions for professional services automation (PSA) and project portfolio management (PPM) to the Changepoint portfolio of OnPremise and hosted products. Changepoint, a long time TSIA partner and advisory board member, has been the top installed PSA platform for the last two years, according to my annual Global Technology Survey, and this acquisition will give them even more reach into PS, IT and development organizations wanting a SaaS solution.

PSA has three main modules: resource management, project management, and project accounting, and is used by professional services teams to automate the staffing of projects to maximize utilization rates, as well as providing dashboards so managers can track project status, costs and margins, identifying problems early enough to step in and correct the problem before the customer or project is impacted. PPM offers similar capabilities for IT and development project teams, matching skills and experience to projects, tracking project milestones and deliverables, as well as total costs for internal projects.

Changepoint’s PSA offering, available in OnPremise or Hosted options, is ideal for large organizations needing sophisticated capabilities. I’ve praised them in the past for their innovative approach to analytics, imbedding IBM Cognos into a release last year to deliver real-time management dashboards. However, with IT departments being downsized, more companies want at least one pure SaaS provider on the short list when evaluating PSA vendors, and Daptiv gives Changepoint a competitive edge, since they now can compete in deals for any deployment model.

Daptiv has been receiving good reviews for their technology, including a strong position in the Leader quadrant in the 2014 Cloud PPM Magic Quadrant from Gartner. Gartner even notes that Daptiv has been moving upmarket, with their average deal size now more than 200 seats, meaning they are competing with traditional players for large enterprise deals. Interesting, Daptiv has also imbedded IBM Cognos into their application for sophisticated analytics and dashboards, which provides a nice consistency across the Daptiv and Changepoint product lines.

Congratulations to the Changepoint and Daptiv teams on the deal! And as always, thanks to you for reading!



Best Practices for Successfully Migrating to a New CRM Platform

Posted August 19, 2014 by jragsdale
Categories: Best Practices, CRM, customer support, field service, knowledge management, Professional Services, Technology

Over the last few months I’ve received multiple inquiries from companies moving to a new CRM platform, asking for any best practices to make the migration efforts less painful, and to ensure a successful result. Most companies I talk to have 3-5 different systems in place, usually due to acquisitions and mergers, so they have an even bigger task of migrating everyone off disparate systems onto a single platform moving forward. Based on my experience working for CRM vendors, doing consulting projects as an analyst with companies implementing CRM, and many recent conversations with companies moving to a new CRM platform, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Change is hard. No matter how long you’ve had your old system, and how much people may grumble about using it, getting employees to embrace a new system isn’t easy. The #1 complaint from employees when I do system audits is “they shoved this new system down my throat.” This is one of those times when you should over-communicate with employees. Tell them why you are making the change. Give them demos of the new system. Buy everyone a mug or t-shirt with the new vendor’s logo. Do what you can to get them informed and excited about the new system before you start training them to use it. This will go a long way towards getting acceptance and rapid adoption for the rollout.
  • Change is good. The biggest mistake I see companies make when they migrate to a new system is just replicating the old screens and process flows on a new platform. You need to take a very hard look at your legacy implementation and figure out what’s working, and what’s not. Do a real audit of the current system so you know what NOT to recreate in the new platform. I even recommend surveying employees about what they like and don’t like in the old system, which goes a long way toward getting them invested in a new system. Typically, a lot of fields and process flows were added over the years for one reason or another, and many of them need to be eliminated. Process analysis isn’t fun, but you need to look at all your customer-facing processes and identify where changes should be made. Implementing a new CRM system is a wonderful opportunity to change what’s not working.
  • Minimize customizations. Popular CRM systems have thousands of customers, and their “out of box” capabilities and screens reflect the most common, i.e., best practice, approaches used by their customers. Try to stay “out of box” as much as possible. If you see areas—and you will—that need major customizations to meet your current processes, ask yourself if those processes are really providing competitive differentiation for your company. Maybe going with a common industry approach is the right thing to do. The other thing to keep in mind is that the traditional OnPremise CRM platforms are fairly complex, and customizations may require a highly trained system administrator with some programming skills. In newer cloud CRM platforms, customizations are very simple to do with little training. This is both a blessing and a curse. Because customizations are so easy, companies go crazy making constant tweaks, which can wreak havoc for users and degrade usability. Make sure you have a process in place to evaluate and approve every customization before implementing it.
  • Prioritize integrations early in the project. I’ve done a lot of writing and inquiries about integrating CRM to other systems to enable “quote to cash.” There are many 3rd party applications you should consider integrating with CRM to streamline processes and avoid employees juggling multiple applications. Knowledge management is an obvious example, with integration performing automatic searches of the knowledgebase based on incident text and field values. PSA is another example, with integration to CRM automatically passing along new project information to the PSA system to enable resource and project management. The majority of the time, companies say, “Let me just get CRM up and running, and we’ll do the integrations in Phase 2.” The problem is, Phase 2 never happens. Hopefully, you have selected a CRM platform with integrations in mind, as each CRM vendor has a set of ecosystem partners with packaged integrations to minimize the effort required. Get a realistic estimate early in the project about time/costs to integrate each 3rd party system, and try to get as many integrations as possible into the initial project phase.
  • Pick your implementor with care. I guess this goes without saying. But I’ve heard some horror stories about really bad implementors, so be sure you carefully evaluate their credentials and check several of their references. As I said previously, implementing cloud CRM may not require as much technical/programming skills as OnPremise CRM systems. A decade ago, most CRM implementors worked with big accounting firms, and you were assigned a project team with deep experience in process optimization and certified on the CRM platform so they knew every bell and whistle in the system. Unfortunately, today I see companies hiring some yahoo whose only experience was implementing a cloud CRM system for small non-profits or a 5 person insurance office, and they have no clue about “best in class” processes or any real depth of knowledge about the platform.

I know many of my readers know as much or more than I do on this topic, so please submit comments with any other suggestions you may have on what to do–or what to avoid doing–to make moving to a new CRM system successful. Thanks for reading!

Technology Trends: Complexity, Remote Support, Managed Services

Posted August 12, 2014 by jragsdale
Categories: Technology

Tags: , , , ,

Back in my Forrester days, in addition to customer service technology I also covered IT help desk and related tools. When I moved to TSIA I stopped having much visibility into tools developed for IT, but that is changing as external support organizations begin investing in many of the same tools IT departments use to automate problem management and streamline problem resolution with remote monitoring and diagnostic capabilities. As TSIA members grow more interested in this topic, we are starting to add new partners to our ecosystem with expertise in this area. One of those new partners is SolarWinds®, a provider of network management, system management and help desk automation, security information and event management, and database management. In preparation for an upcoming joint webinar on August 21st, “Managing the Complexities of Technology Support,” the team at SolarWinds interviewed me for a blog post about industry trends I’m tracking that may be of interest to the SolarWinds community. I thought I would share that interview with my readers to help give you an introduction to SolarWinds and the problems they solve. Here a look at the conversation I had with Vinod Mohan, Product Marketing Manager at SolarWinds:

Vinod Mohan: TSIA has published a lot of research about the rise of technical complexity and the impact it is having on enterprise support organizations. Could you talk about this complexity and some of the related drivers/trends?

John Ragsdale: In our support services benchmark survey, we asked the question: “How complex are the products your company supports?” The range of options include standard complexity, moderately complex, and highly complex. In 2003, less than half of tech firms defined the technology they sell and support as “highly complex.” Today, more than two-thirds of companies say their products are “highly complex.” This rising complexity has big impacts on support organizations. When I first started as a technical support rep back in the 90s, by the time I finished training and went live on the phone, I knew how to handle more than half of the problems I would encounter. After about 6 months on the job, I’d seen just about every problem customers could potentially have. Today, because products are loaded with features and customization options and run on a myriad of platforms, it takes years to really become an expert on a product. This makes the learning curve extremely steep for “newbies” just out of training. In addition to product complexity, technology environments are contributing to the complexity. Today’s hardware and software tools are so tightly integrated and interconnected that it is hard to identify a single failing component. As a result, we see average talk times and resolution times stretching out and first-contact resolution rates trending downward.

Vinod: Each year, you do a survey that tracks technology adoption and spending plans for tools used by service organizations. I know that remote and proactive support technology is one of the categories you track. Could you share some of your data around this technology category?

John: Currently, just over one-third of enterprise technology firms (37%) have remote/proactive support tools in place. However, just over half (51%) have budget for these tools in 2014-2015. Any time you see half or more of tech companies investing heavily in an application category, you know that an industry shift is occurring. In this case, service organizations are looking for opportunities to dramatically improve service levels without hiring more employees, and remote and proactive support tools can help achieve this. I expect to see the adoption numbers rising each year until the technology is as common as CRM, incident management, and knowledge bases. I really can’t imagine a technology support organization in 2014 functioning without remote diagnostics and monitoring.

Vinod: TSIA launched a new association discipline on managed services last year. Could you tell us TSIA’s definition of managed services and why you see this as a hot investment area for technology firms?

John: The easiest definition of managed services is “paid to operate.” Clearly, IT departments don’t have the staff they did a decade ago, but their hardware and software environments are bigger and more complex than ever. When a company is struggling to manage all the equipment and software in their environment, they often look to the vendor of that technology to assume responsibility for maintaining it, customizing it, upgrading it, and supporting it. In other words, the vendor’s managed services team becomes an extension of the customer’s IT team. TSIA sees this as one of the fastest growth segments for services, and more tech firms are looking to managed services to generate additional services revenue. While many companies are investing in cloud solutions to minimize their IT footprint, the truth is that many cloud solutions are best suited for smaller firms. Large companies need highly sophisticated enterprise tools, which usually means owning the implementation. Managed services allows a company to have a “best of breed,” on-premise implementation, but with none of the ownership headaches.

Vinod: Earlier this year you conducted a survey of your managed services members specifically around the technology they use to remotely support and manage customer hardware and software. What were some of your findings from that survey?

John: George Humphrey, head of our managed services research, will be publishing the findings from that survey in time for our October conference. But a sneak preview of the data shows that the majority of managed service operations have made heavy investments in technology to support remote customer equipment, including proactive monitoring of application and network performance, ITIL-compliant help desk tools for incident and problem management, configuration management databases (CMDB), and release and capacity management. This survey was what first brought SolarWinds to my attention, because half of the companies surveyed were using SolarWinds for application and network monitoring.

Vinod: We see great interest from our customers around improving the efficiency of support and ITSM when there is always a growing volume of tickets and a lean support staff. How big of a role do you think technology like SolarWinds plays in efficiency improvements?

John:  I’ve been involved in the support industry for more than 25 years, and I can tell you that more than any other department in the company, support and help desk operations are experts on “doing more with less.” We are often the first hit with budget cuts and downsizing, and unfortunately, many service teams are still being operated as a cost center. We hire smart people, train them well, and our processes are fine-tuned and compliant with industry best practices. In my opinion, it’s up to technology to “take us to the next level” for efficiency and productivity improvements. Over the last decade, tools proven to work within IT help desks are finding larger adoption among external customer support teams, and definitely within managed service operations. Flexible and customizable help desk software for ticketing automation can easily reduce the time to open and manage incidents. IT asset management is critical to know what equipment is where and who is using it. Change management can automate common, repetitive processes—from adding new users to upgrading systems—making sure every process is complete and accurate. Underlying all of this is knowledge management—capturing new information in a searchable repository so no one ever has to “reinvent the wheel” to solve a problem.

Vinod: You have conversations with companies about selecting and implementing remote support technology. Where does the ROI for this investment come from?

John: Remote and proactive monitoring technology has huge potential for lowering support costs, increasing service levels, and ultimately improving customer satisfaction, loyalty, and repurchase. By identifying problems at a customer’s site quickly, support can fix the problem before it impacts end-users. This increases uptime and lowers the cost of supporting customers. In fact, we’ve had members present case studies at our conferences showing that customers who encounter problems and have them fixed rapidly have higher satisfaction and tend to buy additional products—knowing that you will take care of them no matter what happens. A surprising fact one large hardware company uncovered is that customers who experienced a fast resolution to a problem are actually more satisfied than a customer who never encountered a problem. And, we are seeing more companies leveraging remote support to generate revenue by offering this capability as part of a premiere support package.

Vinod: John, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today!

John: It has been my pleasure. Thanks for having me!

I hope everyone tunes in to our live webinar, “Managing the Complexities of Technology Support,” on August 21st, at 10am PT. If you aren’t able to attend, register anyway. We’ll send you a link to watch an OnDemand version of the event, as well as a link to download all the presentation materials. And as always, thanks for reading!

TSIA’s 2nd Annual Knowledge Management Survey Is Now Open!

Posted August 1, 2014 by jragsdale
Categories: Best Practices, knowledge management, Technology

Tags: , , ,

I am pleased to announced that TSIA’s 2nd annual Knowledge Management survey is now open! Knowledge management (KM) is one of the most frequent inquiry topics from TSIA members across service disciplines. In fact, 24% of my inquiries over the last year were about KM and self-service, which is pretty impressive considering I cover 24 categories of tools and services in my research.

Though adoption of KM tools is very high, most companies are not happy with their existing implementation. In my 2014 Global Technology Survey, KM received an average satisfaction score of  3.6 on a 5 point scale–hardly an endorsement of existing KM tools. As a result, over half of technology firms have budget for new or additional KM tools in 2014-2015.

KM Spending

Drivers for KM spending include retiring workers, mobile access, and increased interest in internal and external collaboration. TSIA’s 2nd annual KM survey examines core KM processes, tools and metrics, as well as emerging topics such as:

  • Capturing lessons learned by consulting and protect teams
  • Corporate culture regarding knowledge sharing
  • Expertise management, unified search, and crowdsourcing content

This short survey will only take 5 minutes to complete. The survey findings will be unveiled at my Power Hour session at the Technology Services World Conference in Las Vegas on October 21, 2014, and all survey participants will receive a copy of the published survey results. Your responses will be kept confidential, and only reported in the aggregate. The survey will remain open until midnight on Friday, August 29th. Here’s the link to participate:

Thank you for your interest in knowledge management, and for your support of TSIA Research!

Dispelling Myths about Professional Services Automation, Reporting and Analytics

Posted July 15, 2014 by jragsdale
Categories: Technology

When I look over all the member inquiries I’ve received in the last year, it is no surprise that CRM and knowledge management top the list. But you may be surprised to hear that my #3 FAQ from TSIA members is professional services automation (PSA). Companies want to know exactly what modules are included, who the top players are, key selection criteria, ROI model, etc. According to my annual Global Technology Survey, 57% of B2B technology companies have budget for PSA in 2014-2015, which explains why inquiry volumes are so high.

This Thursday I’m doing a webinar with TSIA Partner Planview at 10am PT about the myths surrounding PSA tools, reporting and analytics. Specifically, we are going to talk about:

  • A project management tool or an elaborate spreadsheet is good enough to run a services P&L. When I survey companies about PSA, a large percentage are using home grown tools based on Excel, or a project management tool. PSA covers three modules: resource management, project management, and project accounting. You won’t get all of these capabilities in Excel or MS Project.
  • It’s OK for resource management tools to be totally separate from business reporting and analytics tools. If you really want to improve utilization rates, you need to introduce analytics into resource scheduling. Every staffing decision can be made to balance experience, skills, certifications, billable rates, utilization rates, etc.
  • Professional Services Automation & Service Resource Planning are just for consulting engagements. I’ll share some PSA data about the shift away from “pay as you go” custom projects, which are less common in a cloud world. Also, I’m seeing PSA tools used beyond the PS organization, including education services, field service and managed services.
  • Getting executive and team buy-in is very difficult. I hear this at conferences. Consultants enamored with mobile tools and the promise of higher utilization rates say, “My manager will never go for it.” And executives wanting project insight and real-time dashboards say, “My consultants will never adopt it.” Unlike SFA, which sales management loves and sales reps tend to hate, PSA has value for everyone. I’ll also share some tips on ensuring adoption.

I’ll also share some data from the PS benchmark showing that companies adopting PSA have better performance in key areas, including better project margins, lower field costs and improved billable rates. Here’s the link to register for the webinar: If you aren’t able to attend, go ahead and register. We’ll send you a link to an OnDemand recording of the live event you can watch at your leisure.  Hope to see you Thursday, and as always, thanks for reading!


2014 Mid Year Trends: KM, Social and PSA

Posted June 16, 2014 by jragsdale
Categories: Best Practices, customer experience, customer satisfaction, knowledge management, Professional Services, social media, Technology

Just over a month ago we had our Spring Technology Services World Conference in Santa Clara, and any time I wasn’t presenting, I was in 1:1 meetings with TSIA members and partners. I’ve been thinking about what I heard, as well as follow-on inquiry conversations after the event, and I wanted to report back with what I’m hearing as the 3 top trends in service technology so far in 2014:

  • The concept of knowledge management has expanded. It used to be so easy. Buy a knowledgebase tool, train all your support techs on KCS basics, and start receiving value. But lots of things have changed to complicate this. Don’t get me wrong, the knowledgebase continues to be a critical element for success, but today’s service organizations are now seeing the knowledgebase as step one of a more complex knowledge infrastructure. Communities are now rated as more useful in solving customer problems than the knowledgebase, according to the TSIA Support Services benchmark. Unified search tools are becoming a ‘must-have’ technology to index and search all your corporate content, including online documentation, release notes, customer configuration files, and incident history. Expertise management is growing in popularity, to analyze your corporate content and identify experts on any topic or feature, so you know who to reach out to when you hit a knowledge or content gap. Though every company seems to come at this complex mix of technologies from a different direction, just about everyone I talk to today is interested in leveraging corporate content, and expertise, and definitely looking beyond the traditional knowledgebase.
  • Social media listening as early warning system. According to Cisco’s Doug Pluta, customers frequently talk about product or service issues via social media channels before the issue is reported via traditional assisted support channels. My inquiries on social media have completely changed. The last few years the questions were transactional: what social channels should we support, how to automate incident management, how quickly should we respond to social issues, etc. Today, the incident traffic regarding social media is focused primarily on monitoring social for voice of the customer analysis. What are customers saying, what sort of sentiment is being expressed, are there thoughts or suggestions floating around we haven’t heard from traditional surveys, etc. It is good to see more support organizations getting active in social listening, and not leaving it to marketing to monitor. Marketing cares about the perception of the brand more than individual products and features, and there is a lot of value to be gleaned from actively listening to these social conversations.
  • ERP integration boosts PSA value. A lot of members tend to start their search for a professional services automation (PSA) tool by looking at who integrates with their CRM platform. But based on inquiry conversations, as well as audience discussion in the breakout session I did at Santa Clara on selecting a PSA system, tightly integrating PSA to ERP delivers more value, faster, than plugging into CRM. Since tightening up billing cycles and reducing DSO on PS bills is a hot button for most companies, it makes sense to plug your PSA system into your billing and accounting system. Project details, milestones, signature approvals and travel and expenses are all passed automatically, with enough audit trail detail to satisfy even the toughest customer. One member told me that they have received 100% compliance in submitting expense reports and project updates by COB on Friday by tying a percent of the consultant’s bonus to getting those reports in on time. I plan to put more focus on existing ERP systems when speaking with companies shopping for PSA from here on out.

Many other topics are brewing as well. A rising trend in inquiries is asking how to reduce the cost of a CRM deployment, with many companies complaining that their cloud CRM vendor is “nickel and diming them to death,” charging extra for every new feature. Mobility continues to be a hot topic as well, with more field service organizations investigating devices and mobile capabilities. Collaboration is another big subject in 2014, especially with more at-home workers making it impossible to ask questions across the cubicle wall.

2014 is seeing a lot of companies shopping for new and interesting technology to take them to the next stage of productivity, as well as new levels of insight/visibility into operations.  I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on other big trends in service technology. Feel free to add a comment! And as always, thanks for reading.


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