Support’s Perfect Storm Rages On: Incident Volumes Up; Self-Service Success Down

An SSPA partner asked me this morning for an update on my 2006 stump speech, “Support’s Perfect Storm,” which documented how rising technical complexity was driving up incident volumes.  I just pulled the latest 2008 AFSMI/SSPA Benchmark numbers and compared them to my information from 2006, and I am sorry to say:  The Perfect Storm continues to run rampant over technical support operations.  With the financial services crash certain to create even more cost cutting for support operations, will technical support find itself riding out 2009 in a FEMA trailer?

Let me tell this story with some data.  Figure 1:  Check out the rising average monthly incident volume from 2000 to 2008.

Sure, there are a few explanations for the massive increase other than just complexity.  Today’s benchmark includes more companies than just enterprise hardware and software, there has been a lot of consolidation, etc., but any way you slice it, incident volumes are up.  By a lot.  “No big deal,” you say, “We have so much automation in place, we deflect a lot of those incidents.  Right?” 

Not so fast.  Check out Figure 2, showing incidents created via phone vs. eChannels (email, web).

Not much progress here, in fact, except for Enterprise Software, it appears that customers are relying on the phone channel EVEN MORE than in the past.  The biggest jump was for Enterprise Hardware, which according to the current benchmark database receives 69% of incidents via phone, compared to 51% two years ago.  “Oh,” I can hear you thinking, “But self-service takes care of so many more incidents today.”  Really?

Check out Figure 3.  The percent of visitors successfully finding their answer via self-service is also down, from 48% in 2003 to only 40% in 2008.

Are phone incidents up because web self-service isn’t working? Have customers become so frustrated with self-service they are being trained to call automatically?  Gosh, I hope that isn’t the case.

Clearly we have some work to do here, and I hope you will be attending our Fall Leadership Conference next month in Las Vegas to learn about technology and processes to stop this alarming trend.  Learn how to build more supportability into products.  Learn how to partner with professional services to ensure go-lives are faster and have fewer problems.  Learn about new self-service technologies to deflect more incidents.  Learn about harnessing the power of communities for peer-to-peer support.

Just LEARN.  Because business as usual means there is a FEMA trailer waiting for you in 2009.

Thanks for reading!

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, Consumer Support, Enterprise Support, Technology

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4 Comments on “Support’s Perfect Storm Rages On: Incident Volumes Up; Self-Service Success Down”

  1. […] Ragsdale’s Eye on Service « Support’s Perfect Storm Rages On: Incident Volumes Up; Self-Service Success Down […]

  2. Greetings John:

    Are your metrics regarding self-service success limited to customer care for technical issues that often require quite a bit of back and forth before getting to a resolution?

    If so, I am not surprised by the trend since the technology available today to support this highly iterative support need is not much different than what was available in 2006. Not only do the user interfaces leave something to be desired, the resources required to develop and proactively maintain complex decision trees capable of supporting the relevant diagnostics can be probative and unrealistic for anything but the most common issues. Once a consumer unsuccessfully utilizes these online diagnostic tools, they tend to not go back.

    Conversely we have found that significant deflections to self-service can be achieved in cases where consumer and/or staff support needs can be addressed by quickly and easily getting users to succinct and accurate content. The trick is to have a good search engine, incorporate content creation into the support process and to get as many stakeholders of the content involved in evolving the content.

  3. jragsdale Says:

    Hi Chuck;
    I think you hit the nail on the head. Members who have high self-service success tend to follow the best practices I mention, including some kind of remote diagnostic aids and some really robust download libraries of docs, patches, etc.

    Companies that rely solely on an older generation knowledgebases (often the one that came free with their CRM system) and Web 1.0 search tools are the ones in a crunch. As you say, decision trees are endlessly frustrating and almost impossible to keep current (I know, I’ve tried). And you always need that *one* piece of information that you can’t find, which always leads to a phone call.

    Though I think innovative technology for self-service is one of the easiest applications within the enterprise applications umbrella to achieve fast ROI, not everyone does. And those that don’t typically have KM related process problems, like infinite publishing processes and little/no customer input.

    Chuck, what percent do you think is technology vs. process? Did your successful customers already have good processes in place, or was re-engineering processes part of the implementation?


  4. Hey John:

    What we have found is that customers can often achieve material gains in self-service deflections by just making sure the top 75 or so questions are readily accessible by the user in a form that is understandable and easily recognizable as answering the user’s question. Sounds simple, but you might be surprised how something seemingly so simple can go sideways so easily!

    However, to achieve sustainable gains beyond snaring this low hanging fruit, the process of content creation and evolution must be tightly integrated with all assisted-service channels. Otherwise pertinent new content is often not created and existing content that is not cutting it is not evolved. Customers that are already using a decent knowledge base often times are already doing this, but then again many are not.

    The great new frontier of getting broad community participation in improving KB content — both other non-support staff and external users (consumers and partners) — is brand new for all of us and definitely requires processes changes. We at Fuze are very excited about the potential here!

    See you in Vegas.

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