I joined the SSPA in 2006 as their first research analyst, and one of the big draws for me was the opportunity to work with Bill Rose, SSPA’s founder. As SSPA evolved into TSIA, Bill headed up the support services research arm, doing benchmark reviews and fielding inquiries from members. It was an honor to have Bill as a boss, a mentor, and a friend over the last 5 years.
Now that Bill has officially retired from the TSIA, I expected him to show up on the pro golfing circuit. But no, he wasn’t sick of the support industry yet! After a 20 year corporate career with companies such as IBM, Candle Corporation, and Hitachi Data Systems plus another 22 years leading SSPA, Bill has now formed Bill Rose I.N.C., offering consulting, training and speaking services to keep getting the message out about the value of great customer service. And he’s not doing this alone–Bill is developing an Industry Network of Consultants (INC) made up of the top independent consultants out there today. Under Bill’s guidance the INC can complete projects that cross specialty areas and ensure that there is a seamless transition from one person to another.
I had a chance to sit down and talk to Bill about his new adventure, and his views of the support industry. Here’s a peek at the conversation.
John Ragsdale: As the founder of the SSPA, you know more than anyone about the day to day challenges of running a support operation. As you look back over your career in customer service, what would say has changed the most, and what has stayed the same?
Bill Rose: We have seen a lot of change over the past 20 years. The most notable is the increased value to companies of the services that they offer and the individuals that provide them. In the early days the tech support group was a stepping stone position to move into a “real job” within technology companies. They were paid less, got no respect, and typically located in the basement. Over the years this has changed in a very positive way. In fact, for the right person, the tech support job is the best possible opportunity for growth and development..and for promotion and compensation. We really see this “value” in the service management ranks where compensation levels have increased to fair market value. Service execs are valued and highly compensated for their specialized skills.
The one thing that has not changed much over the years is our inability to provide responsive service that resolves customer issues. Most tech companies are still struggling with response time and resolve time issues. These are still the most important customer satisfaction areas but they still create headaches for most service managers. Even if a company is extremely responsive to their customers, chances are pretty good that they still struggle in trying to get customer issues fixed faster. At the end of the day, fixing customer issues or answering their questions is all that matters. Support organizations need to keep focusing on the entire process of “resolution management” from first contact through to cleaning up backlogged cases.
Ragsdale: I think the SSPA, and now TSIA, does a good job of helping companies see they aren’t alone—or unique—in their challenges. And this realization is definitely leading to more outside consulting on services people, process and technology, especially with groups like yours with proven industry expertise. Could you talk about how you identify and select consultants to be a part of Bill Rose INC? Who are some of the consultants in your network?
Rose: There is a great unmet demand in our industry for specialized consultants to assist member companies to get stuff done. The combination of senior people who specialize in a particular service area can assist management in completing projects that they could never get done internally. Independent consultants do this full time and have gained specialized skills over the years. For example, there are service operations, service technology, service strategy, and service process specialists that solve issues and implement solutions that improve the overall service delivery process. The challenge with these specialists is that for large projects they rarely work together. This means that the head of services who has a day job will need to find the right consultant, then find another one, and then find another one. There is a real need for someone to act as a “general contractor” and provide the exact specialist at the right time to complete complex projects at a reasonable rate.
I have been fortunate to work with most of the top-level industry consultants out there today. They are all ex-service management with extensive backgrounds in their speciality areas. My first step in building out the Industry Network of Consultants (I.N.C.) was to go to these well-respected professionals and present the concept of collectively working together with other specialists. The response was overwhelming and partnerships were formed immediately. Top names in our industry such as Dave Brown, Francoise Tourniaire, and David Kay, to name a few were excited about the potential opportunity to work together and provide value to our member companies. My role in the I.N.C. is to scope out consulting opportunities, select the best suited people from the I.N.C. and oversee all consulting projects through to completion.
Ragsdale: I’m looking over the matrix of capabilities offered by your new INC ecosystem of industry experts, and I’m curious about a few of them. Under Service Operational Assistance, you include Resolution Management. You did a lot of work over the last year with TSIA members on defining what ‘resolution’ means, and how to calculate resolution time. Why is this such a stumbling block for companies, and what do you recommend?
Rose: The biggest challenge in our industry today involves our inability to understand the elements included in the resolution management process and to measure them in a singular fashion. For example, some service organizations measure “resolve time” using the calendar days that a case was opened. If it was opened on the first of the month and closed on the 30th of the month then they count the resolve time as 30 days. Other organizations use actual work time to calculate the resolve time. Regardless of how long the case was opened if they only spent 2 days working on it then they count 2 days as their resolve time. As you can see, there is a hugh disparity between these two methods of “counting the beans”. There are also varying methods of measuring first contact resolution, customer wait time, development work time, and backlogged cases.
All of this means that we have no common base that can be used to benchmark our performance against others. We need to work together to develop the common elements necessary to effectively measure the resolution time and this is not a simple process. I am proposing that we employ a TSIA Resolution Index that encompasses multiple data points to form a simple 2 digit number. If we adopt this index then we can all use the same yard stick to measure our effectiveness in resolving customer issues. I will be presenting this Resolution Index concept along with Dave Brown at the TSIA conference in Santa Clara.
Ragsdale: Let’s talk about dashboards. You and I have joked in the past that support managers track so many metrics—we’re up to around 350 in the support services benchmark alone—they can’t see the forest for the trees. Dashboards were meant to help here, giving a streamlined view of what’s going on so it is easier to spot problems early. But there is SO much data! Where do you recommend companies start with their dashboard initiatives?
Rose: At one time our dashboards were stacks of printed reports that we would receive the day AFTER we actually needed them. Today, we have more data than we could possibly consume to drive our service business. The secret here is to identify key areas of your business that truly affect customer satisfaction and monitor them closely. For example, we know that any data collection point that gives us a clear picture of the amount of time it takes customers to get through to our support people is an essential part of our overall success. By setting thresholds and only viewing those data points that are starting to reach an unacceptable level we employ “exception management” practices. We effectively only need to look at the “exceptions” and not everything else.
Ragsdale: The hottest topic in support today is social media, which covers everything from online communities to allowing customers to report problems via twitter. I must admit, even I am tired of all the hype around social media, especially with so many companies investing with no ROI models established. Do you think social media is the Second Coming, just another support channel, or somewhere in between?
Rose: I love SM for what it is…social. I am struggling to find companies with a proven track record of using SM for pure tech support. Even if we did find great examples of companies that were using Twitter, FaceBook, or Linkedin to handle support requests we would still classify this service as “assisted support” because we need bodies to staff it. The service solutions for the future need to be squarely based on a migration to “unassisted support” where our support people are using a one-to-many delivery process. If email’s use as a tech support delivery tool is the “quick sand” of all of the methods we can use for customers to report problems, the lack of information provided by Twitter is even worse. SM has a firm foothold in the B2C marketing world but has yet to be proven as an effective method for delivering tech support.
Ragsdale: One of the interesting areas you include in your matrix is integrating support services after a company acquisition. I’ve been lobbying to get a conference track on this topic, but it hasn’t happened yet. With consolidation accelerating within the high tech industry, this is a problem all of our members are dealing with. Could you offer some advice for companies on an acquisition binge? Should they merge support as quickly as possible, or keep them separate? How do they decide?
Rose: Every service managers that reads this blog has a great chance to be involved in an acquisition integration project within the next couple of years. It is the nature of our business to see consolidation and mergers and the pace is quickening. The service organization is the one place where customers really see the effects of a less than perfect integration of services. Differing cultures, customer expectations, and operational standards almost guarantee that two companies that integrate their services are going to have a difficult time pleasing all of the existing customers. The integration of services must be a major factor in the overall acquisition strategy and cannot be an afterthought. There are actually two groups that will be very concerned about what will happen to the level of service delivered when two different companies combine. The first is obviously the customers who want to ensure that they at least get the same service they have received in the past after the acquisition. But, probably most important are the people who actually deliver the services. These people are deeply concerned about their jobs and all of the changes that consolidation will bring. For example, will my support center be closed and will I be asked to re-locate to another state? The secret to success for acquisition integration is to plan well and act swiftly to minimize concerns from both customers and support professionals.
Ragsdale: Thanks for taking the time to talk, and I wish you great success with Bill Rose I.N.C.!
Rose: My pleasure John, I’ll see you at the TSW event in Santa Clara!