Archive for March 2011

How Service Can Get Marketing’s Attention: A Conversation with Kathy Macchi

March 24, 2011

The term ‘value added services’ was first coined in the telco industry, as companies started marketing additional services to consumers and businesses to increase wallet share (think call waiting, inside wiring coverage, additional lines, etc.). Today, the high tech B2B industry has fully embraced valued added services with offerings such as Platinum level support, dedicated technical account managers (TAMs), extended support hours, etc., which not only generate additional services revenue, but can help customers speed the adoption and consumption of technology, ideally delivering additional business value and accelerating the repurchase cycle.

But a challenge for many TSIA members is services marketing: how to get the word out to both the sales team and customers that these options are available, along with sales tools to explain the advantage and ROI of each offering. While our professional services cohorts, who are typically closely aligned with sales, have no trouble pitching the value of the services they provide, this isn’t a set of skills a lot of technical support teams possess. Until now. Kathy Macchi, managing partner of Allegro Associates, is along time partner of TPSA and now TSIA who specializes in developing demand generation and lead development programs for large enterprises. Kathy will be leading a professional development course entitled, “How To Jumpstart Your Services Demand Generation Engine,” at our upcoming Technology Services World Conference on May 2 in Santa Clara, CA. I had a chance to chat with Kathy last week about the importance of services marketing and her upcoming workshop. Here are some highlights:

John Ragsdale: I sometimes think “services marketing” is an oxymoron. I’ve talked about the “reluctant hero syndrome” before—people attracted to customer service roles are more likely to receive gratification from helping people than being a “rock star.” This makes marketing what you do difficult when you can’t easily brag about your role. Do most companies have a services marketing team, or is this an emerging practice?

Kathy Macchi: Most companies do have service marketing roles now. They seem to start with the Professional Services organization and over time their scope broadens to include education, customer support programs and other non-product areas. Marketers I have met, rarely suffer from the ‘reluctant hero syndrome’ so they have no problem talking about their areas of responsibility. Where Service Marketing is difficult is not working with the service or support groups but getting the service message out internally and externally where the majority of company effort goes to the product. Articulating value and having it understood and heard is the challenge.

Ragsdale: Let’s talk about the organization of services marketing. Is this a partnership with marketing? Are there dedicated marketing folks hired to work in support? Or marketing savvy support people doing double duty? What structures are the most common?

Macchi: I believe the TSIA survey data shows about half Services Marketing personnel reporting to the Marketing organization and half to the Services organization. I have found that the reporting structure did not matter as much as the overall company’s charter and viewpoint on role services and support plays. That role can determine the level of collaboration that services marketing plays with the larger marketing organization.

Ragsdale: I know that field marketing was cut heavily by many companies in 2008-2009, and field marketing is usually the group doing customer case studies and providing field sales with success examples. Is this putting even more pressure on the services team do provide their own marketing? No one else is doing it for them anymore.

Macchi: Services Marketing typically has two audiences: internal and external. Their internal audience can be their toughest audience. With the majority of resources focused on the product, service and support can take a back seat at times. The key to success is to partner with corporate and field marketing. Both organizations have experienced cuts and are always looking for materials that are relevant to prospects and customers to create demand for the company’s products.

Who better than the services and support teams to provide content? Your teams consist of experts chock full of knowledge about the products and customers. By partnering with the corporate and field marketing organizations you get information about your capabilities, team and expertise out to the internal and external audiences. Working with the marketing organization can produce far better results than working alone.

Ragsdale: You mention in your abstract that IT buying habits have changed, and this is impacting service sales. Could you talk about what is changing?

Macchi: IT Buyers are pushing salespeople out of the early stages of the buying process with search, industry influencers, their peers, and social media. Buyers find and consume information anywhere, anytime, from many different sources and channel. This puts pressure on vendors to “be everywhere” – pursue a multifaceted strategy for engaging with customers. And their means for finding information has shifted/expanded … trusted sources matter … as it helps to filter out the noise and find relevant information. So with all the changes – services / support can play a larger role in the buyer’s journey in what I call “trusted educators”. This role, I think, will be the role marketing plays in the future.

Ragsdale: One of the changes I’ve seen is that support is more visible in the initial purchase than in years past. As an example, Gartner has started evaluating customer service as part of a company’s standing in a Magic Quadrant. I’m glad to see the increased visibility, but I’m not always sure what they base those ratings on. Should customer support have more involvement in how company’s work with the big analyst firms? Having come from Forrester, we only talked to marketing VPs, never anyone from service.

Macchi: Yes, VP of Services / Support should be working with the VP of Marketing to tell the story because it is a changing story. The days of charging a flat 18% a year for support are over. Customers are savvier and want to know what they are paying for and what they are getting. Same with Professional Services. Gartner evaluates Professional Service organizations on completeness of vision (understanding customer needs, value proposition, etc.) and ability to execute (scalability, SLAs, best practices, etc). The VP of Services / Support should be the person that can speak to the criteria Gartner uses to evaluate services / support organizations. Partnering with the VP of Marketing to get that information and point-of-view into the report is critical.

Ragsdale: Could you give an overview of how your professional development course is structured? How will attendees spend their day?

Macchi: The morning presents research on how the IT buying process has changed. We discuss how these changes affect how buyers choose solutions and the effect this has marketing solutions. Marketing organizational structures and functions are reviewed to see where services marketing can have an impactful role.
The afternoon will be more hands-on with frameworks presented to help participant create value propositions and marketing plans. I want people to leave the room with a couple of good ideas they can go back to their organizations, implement and see results.

Ragsdale: Thanks so much for your time!

Macchi: My pleasure, John. I look forward to seeing you in Santa Clara!


If services marketing is important to you, there are several deep dives on the topic at TSW, including “Making the Intangible Real for Customers: Best Practices for Marketing and Selling Professional Services” with Teradata and “Services Revenue Generation Panel: Best Practices for Driving Top Line Growth,” moderated by Kathy Macchi, along with panelists from SAP, Teradata and Kronos. Hope to see you there!


Breakthrough Knowledge Management: A Conversation with David Kay

March 22, 2011

While as a services technology analyst I cover lots of different types of tools, there is no denying my real passion is knowledge management. Early in my career as a support manager, a KM implementation revolutionized the way we did business, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve worked for knowledgebase vendors, I’ve been a product manager for KM products, and I’ve implemented KM in the field for dozens of companies. As an analyst, I’ve been answering KM questions and making product recommendations for IT and service professionals since 2001. And one thing is very clear: while this may be maturing technology, with oceans of best practices and now recognized industry standards for KM in ITIL and Knowledge Centered Support, very few companies have it all figured out.

One person who does have it all figured out is David Kay, principal at DB Kay & Associates, and a longtime friend and partner of the TSIA. David is my go-to guy when I don’t have the answer, and he always has great insight and examples from the real world. David will be leading a professional development course, “Breakthrough Knowledge Management: An Introduction to KCS,” at our upcoming Technology Services World Conference in Santa Clara, CA on May 2nd. I had a chance last week to chat with David about current KM trends and his course on KCS. Here are some highlights.

John Ragsdale: For the uninitiated, could you give a brief overview of Knowledge Centered Support (KCS)?

David Kay: Sure! KCS is the industry best practice for capturing, structuring, reusing, and improving knowledge while delivering service and support. KCS has been around for nearly two decades, and many TSIA members including IBM, Cisco, Intuit, Yahoo!, and Symantec have contributed to making it as mature as it is today.

The big difference with KCS is that knowledge management is integrated into the job, so the knowledgebase is created and maintained as a byproduct of doing the things that people are already doing. Over time, without extra effort, the knowledgebase becomes a valuable repository of the organization’s collective experience.

Ragsdale: Over the last couple of years I know you have done KCS workshops with many TSIA members. Do you have a feel for the adoption of KCS in the high tech industry? It seems to have become a recognized standard.

Kay: Oh, it really has. When I started this eight-plus years ago, things were so different. The key premise of KCS, the fact that the people actually solving customer issues are the best people to capture their resolutions in a knowledgebase, was actually very controversial. People assumed you needed knowledge specialists or English majors or something. And the dirty secret was that some organizations didn’t really trust their own people to solve problems correctly. (In which case, we might ask, why were they putting them on the phones?)

It’s very different now. I remember at a recent TSW workshop, I asked people “how many of you are doing KCS?” and almost the whole room raised their hands. I was shocked! It’s silly, but I was somehow under the impression that I should have known at least some of them if they were all doing KCS. But it is really so much bigger than any one person or organization can keep track of now. It really has become the standard.

So perhaps the question to ask today isn’t whether you’re doing KCS or not, but how effectively are you doing KCS?

Ragsdale: I’m seeing more CRM/multi-channel/knowledgebase solutions being designated as KCS compliant. If you buy a KCS compliant product, what can you expect? What are some of the requirements for support platforms to be KCS compliant?

Kay: The Consortium for Service Innovation has a KCS v4 Verified program for technologies (and consultants like us). Details are here, but you’re right about the high-level goals.

To support KCS well, technologies must
– integrate knowledge capture into the case-answering process, avoiding duplicate effort
– make it easy to improve content in the workflow
– search effectively
– track how knowledge is reused when resolving cases
– support solution approval and publication without formal review queues
– report on knowledge activities and quality, as well as business outcomes

Beyond that, we’ve found that tools really need to keep things simple for the users. I expect you have the same reaction I do when watching some tool demonstrations with complex feature after feature…who has time for all that? So, as the KCS Practices Guide says, “tools must function at the speed of conversation.”

Ragsdale: In your course description, you talk about having the right culture for KM success. I’ve had 2 inquiries just this week from members who are having a hard time getting new support techs to fully document incident notes or create new knowledge articles. Could you talk about making a cultural shift to value—and participate in—a KM program?

Kay: I’m glad you asked about this, because this is tremendously important…and why starting a KM initiative without executive support is nearly impossible.

It all starts with the question, “why does our organization exist?” Sometimes when I ask that, people laugh a little bit and describe themselves as a “necessary evil,” or just shrug and say their product isn’t perfect. But mostly, especially at a senior level, they realize that the point of their organization is to help customers receive and perceive value — to make customers successful, to create loyalty, to drive repeat business, referrals, and deeper relationships. In short, they realize they exist for precisely the reasons that J.B. Wood wrote about in Complexity Avalanche, and that you and TSIA have been researching for years.

We’re all fixated on closing cases, getting to the next call, and reducing backlog. And closing cases is important. But viewed from the bigger perspective of customer success, closing cases is just one means to that end. Sharing knowledge on the web can help ten times as many customers–or more. Knowledge reuse can drive product improvements, pre-empting customer problems. And sharing knowledge internally can make every case go smoother, faster, more consistently, at first contact–all the things that delight customers. Viewed in that light, what could possibly be a more important job for support techs than capturing and sharing what they learn?

Leaders must articulate what the organization’s mission is, and why knowledge is central to that mission. Couple that with including knowledge into job descriptions, making knowledge part of the employee review process, communicating effectively, and recognizing contributions, and what we’ve seen is that the culture change is unstoppable.

Ragsdale: I’m working on a report right now about how many KM programs fail because there is no ongoing maintenance of content, project champions move on and efforts stall, and project staff get moved to something new 6 months later. Could you talk about the importance of ongoing maintenance to the success of a KM program? Does KCS include recommendations for content maintenance?

Kay: Hey, anyone can start a knowledgebase. The trick is keeping it up to date.

The traditional approach to this is to make knowledgebase maintenance someone’s job. Expire content every 365 days and, boom!, it ends up in their inbox to review for currency. But this is completely non-scalable. Who can keep up with the hundreds of articles that “expire” every day? Who has that breadth of expertise? What happens when they leave or get reassigned? Do we really want to wait a year to check to see if everything’s up to date? And who honestly wants to do this job, anyhow?

KCS recommends the only practical approach I can think of, which is to make every use of knowledge a review. If I’m working on a customer issue and I find a relevant article, if I use it as is, I’m effectively saying “This article is just fine.” If I see that it needs to be updated–it needs clarification, or it applies to a new software release, or maybe I’ve just learned a better way to solve the issue, it’s my job to do the update. Assuming I’m certified, I make the change then and there. Otherwise, I flag it with a comment for someone else to change.

The beauty of this is, the more frequently knowledge is used, the more often it’s “reviewed.” And besides, who’s in a better position to review content than someone who’s actually trying to use it to solve a real customer issue?

Ragsdale: Could you give an overview of how your professional development course is structured? How will attendees spend their day?

Kay: We’ll stay busy! We’ll set a little context by exploring what knowledge really is, and how shared knowledge is so powerful. We’ll look at the details of the KCS practices, many of which your questions touched on today. We’ll dig in to the structure, format, and style of content, which ends up being really important–we keep it really simple, because we don’t want people to think they need to become technical writers to contribute.

Perhaps the most enlightening section is our conversation about measures. Many KM initiatives fail because managers focus on numbers, rather than on behavior and outcomes. (Exhibit A: how many of us have made the mistake of setting quotas on how many articles everyone has to contribute to the knowledgebase?) We work through a scenario to show which metrics to track, but more importantly, we explore how to use those metrics.

We’ll close with the practical steps to go back to the office and actually roll out KCS. One of the things that has made me feel the best about TSW Professional Development Workshops is the fact that attendees have gone home and successfully implemented KCS, in many cases with no further help from me. That lets me know our time together was well spent.

People who want a five-minute preview can check out (which I made for our last TSW conference in Las Vegas.)

Ragsdale: Great to talk to you David!

Kay: Thanks for the opportunity! I’m looking forward to seeing you, and many TSIA members, in Santa Clara.


We’re going to have some great KM content at the TSW event, including case studies from VM Ware and IBM/Netezza, a session from Avaya (2 time STAR Award winner for best knowledge management practices), and more. I hope to see you there. And as always, thanks for reading!

Creating a Customer Experience Management (CEM) Strategy: A Conversation with Dennis Gershowitz

March 17, 2011

According to the 2010 Member Technology Survey, 81% of TSIA members, across all service disciplines, are using some sort of technology to track customer satisfaction (CSAT), making this the second most adopted technology by tech companies–second only to incident management. And other than financials, CSAT is also the only metric tracked across all services disciplines (support, field, PS and education). But satisfaction tracking has become much more complicated in the last few years, and now the C-Suite is involved as the discussion moves beyond satisfaction to include the importance of the brand, the customer experience, and longer term loyalty. As a result, satisfaction, experience and loyalty are perennial hot topics with TSIA members.

Today I bring you a conversation with an expert on the topic, Dennis Gershowitz of DG Associates, a longtime TSIA partner who works with companies on challenges such as: Services Strategies, Building Customer Loyalty Culture, Best Practices, Voice of the Customer and Process Improvement. Dennis, along with Bill Moore, Director with DG Associates, will be leading a professional development workshop at our upcoming Technology Services World Conference on May 2nd, “Customer Experience Management Strategy Boot Camp.” I had a chance to talk to Dennis about all things experience this week, and here are some highlights of the conversation.

John Ragsdale: Let’s talk experience. I sometimes see companies that are so focused on transactional customer satisfaction surveys that they lose sight of the overall customer experience. Could you talk about the difference between CSAT and CEM?

Dennis Gershowitz: Good question John and one that I am often asked. From a pure definition standpoint, CSAT is part of an overall CEM Strategy. CSAT is the measurement of the degree of satisfaction to which a product or service meets a customers expectations. CEM is a business strategy for acquiring-retaining-growing and winning back customers. Imbedded in this over all CEM business strategy is the component of CSAT. CSAT can often be looked upon as a one time occurrence. For an example, a company might conduct an annual survey to its customer base. This effort certainly fits the definition of CSAT. CEM on the other hand, is not project driven but rather a life-long journey that a company commits to making, whose objective is to continuously exceed the customers expectations and to achieve the ultimate end goal-customer loyalty. In fact, as Tom Peters used to say…to continually deliver that WOW experience to your customer. As I always say to senior level executives, every touchpoint with your customers, prospects and employees is of importance and has an effect, positively or negatively, on satisfaction and loyalty. Make them all count.

Transactional surveys are a great way to measure satisfaction with the service and support your organization is providing the customers. It provides a good look into the day to day interactions with customers, but it only tells part of the story. A holistic, actionable CEM Strategy includes transaction surveys, relationship surveys, employee surveys. CEM communications, in-depth analytics, CEM training for customer facing personnel as well as management and most importantly, and buy-in from the executive suite. When a company has embraced the concept of CEM and runs their business with the customer experience as vital piece of its success, then it has moved beyond CSAT and begun the journey of CEM.

Ragsdale: We just did a webcast on gaining executive buy-in and support for customer loyalty initiatives, and it was a very popular topic. I thought most sales and marketing organizations were onboard with customer experience and loyalty programs, but turns out that is not the case. How can service organizations get cross-enterprise visibility for the work they are doing, especially with the long-term profit implications?

Gershowitz: I actually watched that webcast and thought it was excellent. The question you ask is at the root of a company’s commitment to Customer Experience and loyalty. I work with hundreds of service organizations during the course of the year and find that many of them are very proficient at getting the message of customer satisfaction and loyalty through the organization. There are many ways for this to be accomplished. A mission and vision statement relating to the service organization and entire company’s commitment to continuously exceed customer expectations is a good starting point. Company wide communication tools are great ways for the service organization to continually gain visibility across the company. We have, for example, worked with clients to implement a CEM Communications Strategy. This strategy includes disseminating customer satisfaction and loyalty results electronically via LCD display units throughout the company in places such as the corporate lobby, customer service area and the cafeteria. Also tools such as short State of the Union video promoting satisfaction and loyalty levels within key accounts, marketing pieces that help differentiate your company from direct competitors based on level of service provided, a customer satisfaction annual report that highlights the state of customer satisfaction and loyalty within your customer base, are excellent ways to get the message across the company. One thing is certain, product revenues have slowed over the years but service revenues remain a good point of growth and profit for many companies.

Ragsdale: Is a CEM program only for $10B+ companies, or can small and midmarket firms benefit as well?

Gershowitz: This question reminds me of a story. A few years ago I had an associate who used to frequent a small pizza shop, whose owner became increasingly concerned about losing customers to a new pizza parlor in town. He wondered how satisfied his customers were, how loyal to his restaurant they were, what was important to them regarding the product and service he was providing and were they recommending his place to friends and colleagues. Knowing my profession, he asked me about the possibility of conducting a one time market research project for him that would provide him with the answers he was looking for. Remember, this was a five man pizza and sub shop in New Hampshire. Compare that story to the work that done for a multi-billion dollar medical manufacturing company who was worried about very similar problems. Were their customer’s loyal? Would they recommend them to others? How susceptible were they to the competition? What was important to their customers? CEM is a concept that any company/business with a customer base must be concerned with and take on.

Ragsdale: When we’re in Santa Clara, I want to hear the rest of the pizza story! In your course abstract you touch on one of my favorite topics—mining customer interaction data for valuable insights. Today’s analytic platforms are enabling some exciting and sophisticated reporting. Could you give some examples of insights companies have gained by analyzing the oceans of customer data they usually ignore?

Gershowitz: There are really two ways for companies to look at customer satisfaction and loyalty data. They can look at it from a quantitative perspective and they can look at it from a qualitative perspective. Both are important and will provide in-depth analysis and both can tell you a pretty good story about the overall health of your customer base. Mining of customer insights and feedback is critical when determining what actions should be taken after the analysis of the data is complete. Quantitative data tells you the “what” of satisfaction and loyalty but qualitative data tells you “why”. It allows you to look at Key Drivers and Root Causes of satisfaction and loyalty. It allows you to drill down to the real issues that are either driving loyalty or making your company vulnerable to the competition. Are there particular issues that continually appear when mining customer feedback? Is time to resolve a continuous function that your customers complain about? Is professionalism and courtesy of your service organization a problem that is eliciting negative feedback from your customers? Are you able to slice your data to focus on the feedback and comments from your Key Accounts, the ones that provide your company with the bulk of revenue and profit? These questions can be answered by mining customer interaction data.

Ragsdale: In your course, you explain the 12 basic building blocks of a best in class CEM strategy. Would you be willing to give us a sneak preview of some of those building blocks?

Gershowitz: Sure John, I’d love to give you a quick preview of the 12 basic building blocks of our CEMDNA Playbook Strategy. The premise of the entire strategy is that companies really have two sources of revenue; new accounts and existing accounts, and both are important. We center our twelve step methodology around the core belief that this approach helps companies with customer Acquisition, Retention, Growth and the ability to Win back lost customers.

The 12 Steps are broken down into four distinct phases; 1) Measure 2) Analyze 3) Act 4) Assess. Within each of these phases are modules that help you to accomplish the goals of each phase. We begin with helping companies outline a Road Map to CEMDNA and end by looking at the ROI of successful CEM programs. In between, we look at areas such as the importance of Account Management, Enterprise Feedback Management reporting tools, benchmarking, building corrective action plans, employee engagement as it relates to customer loyalty, communications to stakeholders and the importance of Executive Briefings. The objective of a CEM Strategy is to evolve a business’ DNA to the point where every employee is on board working together to continuously exceed customer expectations. This accomplishment results in a major competitive advantage for the business and ties in directly to increased revenue and profit from both new and existing customers. In the end, the company has e a customer centric philosophy and journey and culture.

Ragsdale: Could you give an overview of how your professional development course is structured? How will attendees spend their day?

Gershowitz: Absolutely. If attendees are thinking about taking this course and are looking for a six hour lecture then they are looking at the wrong course. This course is designed to be highly interactive, with attendees sharing their best practices as they relate to CEM. Having given this course many times over the past number of years, I am always surprised at what I learn with each new session I present. The key to this sessions continued success is rooted in its participants. There are many group activities that take place. There are side breakout sessions, continuous question and answer phases, as well as a day full of educating the attendees on the latest and greatest in the field of CEM. Our goal is that each attendee walk away with one or two Key Learnings. This will help them increase revenues and profits by continuously exceeding customer expectations and maximizing loyalty within their customer base.

Ragsdale: Thank  you Dennis, always a pleasure!

Gershowitz: You’re welcome John, I am looking forward to seeing you and all of the attendees in Santa Clara.


I hope you are all enjoying this month’s series of interviews with industry experts. Coming next week: Breakthrough Knowledge Management: An Introduction to KCS with David Kay of DB & Associates, and a deep dive on services marketing with Kathy Macchi, Managing Partner, Allegro Associates. Thanks for reading!

The TSIA 2011 Member Technology Survey is NOW OPEN

March 14, 2011

Today marks the launch of my 2011 Member Technology Survey. This annual survey, open to all technology support organizations–whether you are a member of TSIA or not–tracks adoption, planned spending, and satisfaction with technology across 24 categories. If you work in support, I hope you or someone on your team will take this survey. Here’s the link to get started.

This is the only survey I do, and the data I gather is used in my research throughout the year. Output from the survey results include:

  • 2011 Heatmap. The Heatmap is a color-coded guide to technology adoption, using blue/yellow/orange/red to show how “hot” each area is. Not only do I publish Heatmaps for each TSIA discipline, the Heatmap is also turned into a touch screen for our conferences. When you attend a TSW Expo, you can touch a square on the Heatmap to see a map of the Expo floor indicating which exhibitors sell solutions and services in that category.
  • 2011 Spending Reports. I will publish separate reports for each discipline highlighting year-over-year trends in adoption, satisfaction and spending, including lists of the most popular tools deployed by survey respondents in categories like knowledge management, search, incident tracking and CRM.
  • Inquires. These survey results are used to answer many–if not most–of the inquiries I receive from members. I can tell you satisfaction for individual products to help you create a short list of tools, and help companies benchmark technology adoption according to industry averages.

There are several changes to the survey this year, including:

  • Focus on education. Now that our Education Services discipline is live, I have included some new categories to help track adoption of education tools, for example Learning Management Systems and Content Development Tools.
  • Virtualization. After several member inquiries about application virtualization, I’ve added a category to track this. Virtualization is used by education services to create virtualized versions of applications for training environments, and by tech support to create virtualized versions of devices (such as smartphone emulators) to allow troubleshooting by device without having a big box full of devices at every support center.
  • Parts depots. To add to existing field service categories (scheduling optimization and parts/logistics), I’ve added ‘parts depots’ to track technology and service providers who specialize in parts depots, product returns, return merchandise authorizations (RMAs), and depot repair services.
  • Broadened categories. As we see more technology use expanding across services disciplines, I’ve generalized a few category titles to be more inclusive. These include “Customer and Employee Communities,” “Knowledge and Content Management,” “Mobility in Service,” and “Customer Satisfaction/Enterprise Feedback Management.”

There are 24 categories in the survey, each category has 4 questions. If you aren’t using tools in a category, the survey skips over those questions. The opening page of the survey has more instructions, as well as procedures to print out a copy of the survey before beginning, in case you want to prepare your answers. It should take about 20 minutes to complete the survey.

The first 50 people to complete the survey will receive a Starbucks gift card. Also, there is an option to request a copy of the 2011 spending report, which I am happy to send to all survey respondents when it is published on May 2nd.

The survey will be open through the end of the month. But why not take it now? Here’s the link.

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for taking my annual technology survey!

Innovation from Cross Cultural Teamwork: A Conversation with Melissa Lamson

March 10, 2011

When we polled members last year to see what topics they were most interested in for professional development courses, one of the top answers was cross-cultural teamwork, a topic we had not tackled before. Our events team put out inquiries to identify some experts in this field, and we were thrilled to find Melissa Lamson, who has 15 years of experience in the cross/intercultural field. She has worked on projects in over 30 countries, has insider knowledge into how people do business worldwide, and has consulted on German-American business partnerships, as well as publishing a book on German business culture. Melissa offer programs in selling, presenting, marketing, and expanding globally.

Melissa will be presenting a professional development course entitled, “Innovation from Cross Cultural Teamwork,” at our Spring Technology Services World Conference on Monday, May 2nd. Earlier this week I had a chance to sit down and chat with Melissa about the course, and the topic of innovation with today’s global workforce. Here’s a portion of the conversation.

John Ragsdale: 52% of TSIA member companies have operations in North America, EMEA and Asia/Pac, so global, cross cultural work teams are a daily occurrence. Are you saying that the 1 hour of corporate training on cultural sensitivity, given every 5 or so years, isn’t enough?

Melissa Lamson: Actually, I wouldn’t say any training is necessary. But knowing where support is needed as a team leader is key. If one is able to create an environment in a cross cultural work team that’s open for knowledge-sharing, suggesting ideas, and presenting creative solutions, then innovation will exist.

Furthermore, leaders can be responsive to the diverse needs of individual contributors if they excel at listening and responding, and they should be able to hold team members accountable for leveraging global perspectives.

John: After the outsourcing revolution, the high tech industry is used to terminology like “accent neutralization,” and other training to minimize cultural differences when working with customers. I’ve sometimes detected some xenophobic undertones when talking to companies about the need for this training. Do you find companies need a kick start to celebrate cultural differences instead of trying to ignore them?

Melissa: You can’t blame companies for trying to standardize procedures and methodologies worldwide. That’s the core business of the high tech industry especially. That is, to streamline business processes and optimize efficiency across multiple locations. Diverse cultures have different concepts of business etiquette, decision-making, project management, as well as technology usage and we can’t assume others see it the same way we do. If we can accept this, it will as well, foster more tolerance for different ways of doing things and may even promote celebration!

John: Of course, you don’t need to work for a global firm to have culturally diverse workforces. Here in Silicon Valley, for example, with such a diverse population, working with people from all over the globe is common. Could you talk about some of the day to day challenges you see companies facing with culturally diverse workers?

Melissa: The main struggles I see companies facing today are 1) getting buy-in or commitment from team members or business partners globally 2) convincing others to take action, and 3) getting feedback, particularly when working virtually. We deal with all of these topics in the workshop.

Take feedback for example, depending on the cultural background, there are different understandings that lie behind the meanings of words. The phrase “No problem” is tricky because it can mean, “I heard you”, “I understand you”, “I’ll do it” or “I don’t know what you’re talking about”.

Additionally, creating a culture of feedback, that is, general responsiveness, giving accolades, or providing constructive criticism, is complex across cultures. Everyone has a different way of expressing (or not expressing) whether they agree or disagree, are pleased or displeased. I facilitate another workshop called, “Creating a Culture of Feedback in Your Organization”, where we grapple with such issues.

Creating incentives or motivating others is another culturally determined success factor in business. It could be money, a new title, sense of responsibility, or the relationship to co-workers that motivates individuals to work in an organization. Motivation determines whether an individual will take action or not and it’s important to implement the right incentive to get deliverables met.

John: I’ve learned a lot over the years doing speaking events for European and Asia/Pac audiences. One of my lessons learned is that my self-deprecating sense of humor doesn’t translate well. Making jokes at your own expense may win over the audience in North America, but it can kill your credibility in the UK, and cause you to ‘lose face’ in Japan. Could you give us some other examples of typical North American attitudes or behavior that may not be effective in other countries?

Melissa: In the U.S. specifically we’ve been taught that being assertive, proud, and enthusiastic is the way to establish credibility and win business partners over. This can come across as pushy, arrogant, and unrealistic to many European or Asian cultures. The question I often get about the U.S. is, “Do they really think everything is great?” I regularly explain the reasons behind U.S. behavior in business, especially to those trying to establish joint ventures in the U.S.

Another aspect is in writing emails. By European standards especially, American emails are perceived a bit rudely. We often sacrifice the etiquette of greetings and sign-offs for the convenience and speed of one-sentence answers or requests. Our version of politeness is the “Thx” at the end of an email. This often isn’t enough for Europeans. We’ll go into more detail about expectations in email-writing across cultures in the workshop at the TSIA conference.

John: In your course abstract you talk about deriving innovation from cross-cultural teamwork. Having spent years brainstorming with diverse groups, it seems hard to gain input and participation from everyone, especially when you have a few big egos in the room dominating things. How do you make sure you are getting input and involvement from everyone?

Melissa: It is the responsibility of the team leader and team members to expressly keep the big picture at the forefront. If we’re going to be successful across cultures, we have to take global business perspectives into account. And the only way we can learn what those perspectives are is to talk about them.

It might be a question of egos, but more likely it’s a question of communication style. In Asia and Eastern Europe it is often the case that speaking up in a group format is not done. The perception is that it challenges the competence of the perceived hierarchy in the room. The meeting moderator, presenter, or highest level manager in the room should ask meeting attendees if they have something to contribute to the discussion. This isn’t the same in North America and Europe, where it is quite normal to jump in and share one’s opinion or ideas even if they don’t represent the hierarchy in the room.

John: Could you give an overview of how your professional development course is structured? How will attendees spend their day?

Melissa: We’ll start the workshop with getting a sense of the challenges in the room. This provides a good foundation for knowledge-sharing amongst the attendees. Then I’ll share the key cultural dimensions out of my research that impact deriving innovation from cross cultural teamwork. Further, we’ll use those dimensions as points of analysis for real-life business cases. I also have a short film about how to kick- off and manage a cross cultural team successfully. And finally, I’ll share best practices from relevant country locations (out of the 30+ locations I’ve led projects in worldwide). The session is very interactive and focused on skill-building in the area of deriving innovation from cross-cultural teamwork. The goal of the workshop is for attendees to be able to implement best practices immediately after the session.


This is a fascinating subject, and I hope you will take the opportunity to attend Melissa’s workshop and make sure you are maximizing all of the talent in your organization. See you at TSW! And as always, thanks for reading!

Calculating the ROI of Community Projects: A Conversation with Francoise Tourniaire

March 7, 2011

This month I am going to publish interviews with the instructors for our Professional Development Courses scheduled for Monday, May 2nd at our Technology Services World conference in Santa Clara, CA. We have pulled together five courses, each with an instructor who is a recognized expert in their field. The courses from from 8am-1pm, and are a great way to educate your team, reward top performing employees, and get them enthused about a new topic.

First up is a long time partner and supporter of the TSIA, Francoise Tourniaire, founder of FT Works. Francoise is a very popular author and visionary on KM and social media, leading workshops and providing consulting services for dozens of TSIA members each year. Her professional development workshop, “A Gold Mine? Calculating the ROI of Community Projects,” hits on the single hottest topic in service today. I had a chance to chat with Francoise last week about her course as well as industry trends. Here are some highlights.

John Ragsdale: I’m thrilled to see you offering a workshop on the ROI of customer communities. Talk about jumping into the lion’s den—this is the hottest topic in support today. About three fourths of our members companies offer a customer community. Does it surprise you that so many companies adopted this technology without an understanding of where the ROI comes from—or if there is ROI?

Francoise Tourniaire: The rational side of me hates jumping into any large initiative without a good metrics strategy – but at the same time experiments are wonderful and mind-opening. Support organizations tend to be very conservative so it’s great to see them taking risks. My view is that it’s always ok to try something new, and that part of the experiment must be to measure the success of the experiment. So sure, get going without being certain you will see an ROI, but take steps to measure the ROI.

Ragsdale: According to our most recent social media survey, 65% of members active in social media say they are unable to measure ROI—they don’t know how or where to start. Many companies assumed they would easily deflect phone calls to the forum, but I don’t hear many stories out there of dropping call volumes. What are some of the financial benefits other than call deflection?

2010 TSIA Social Media Survey

Tourniaire: In my experience the bulk of the quantifiable savings comes from case deflection so it would be interesting to see why volumes are not affected. At the same time, I see lots of my clients experiencing significant benefits on the knowledge management side. Rather than having to invest large amounts of resources in creating and maintaining knowledge, they find that the forums create a strong “tribal” knowledge base, which can be even more useful to customers than something built internally. So that would be one area to investigate. Another area is how increased customer satisfaction (and customers are overwhelmingly happy with forums) can translate into repeat purchases, additional purchases, and referrals. It’s not easy to track them, but it’s worth trying.

Ragsdale: One of the complaints I’ve had from members is the reporting tools for their community platform are insufficient, and there aren’t enough prepackaged reports to get them started. In the workshop, do you make recommendations on what ‘best practice’ reports companies should be tracking?

Tourniaire: Reporting is an issue, yes. Some of the problem lies with what the limitations of what community vendors offer today, but a big part of the problem is that support communities are often rolled out without much forethought and without solid thinking around metrics. If you think through the metrics requirements and implement with them in mind, you can gather those “best practices” metrics much more easily.

Ragsdale: Let’s talk about integration. Francoise, I believe you were at Scopus about the same time I was at Clarify, so we both have a CRM-centric background. I have to say I am saddened that only 8% of our members have integrated communities to CRM—and that number remained flat from the 2009 survey! Clearly CRM integration isn’t a priority, but in my mind, it should be. Does the 360 degree view of the customer not include community activity? Or is CRM no longer the center of the customer data universe?

Tourniaire: Fifteen years ago when Scopus was pushing the 360-degree view of the customer I totally, absolutely believed that we would deliver just that to all our customers. But even then I could not help but notice that even our customers were not always purchasing an entire solution from us, and with the proliferation of functionality I think things may be worse today than they were at the time. With communities, integration is rare because many times communities were started as a skunkworks project, under the radar of the structured and slow-moving CRM team. So it will take time to hook up all of the pieces. I’m very hopeful in the long term.

Ragsdale: Let me get back to your course. You have a lot of ground to cover in a 5 hour workshop. Could you give us an idea how the day is structured?

Tourniaire: It’s going to be very hands-on, with the goal that every attendee takes away a custom model for his or her organization, so it will run as a hands-on workshop. We’ll start with some best practices discussions on ROI in general, and then we will dive into practical topics, from measuring case deflection to estimating knowledge management savings, drawing on my experience working with a variety of clients on community ROI. The workshop will be very attendee-driven. Ideally I’d like to be able to put the power of the attendees of the workshop behind each and every ROI we build. That’s the power of communities!

Ragsdale: I’m so impressed you are actually giving class attendees a spreadsheet model for calculating community ROI. That’s one heck of a take away!

Tourniaire: I’m a generous person 😉 — and I’m all about practical, tangible results.

Ragsdale: Francoise, thanks for taking the time for this interview!

Tourniaire: John, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. And I want to mention that I will also facilitate a workout with Rob Shapiro of Oracle on Tuesday afternoon at TSW on the topic of community best practices and metrics, so that’s another opportunity to talk about my current obsession, support communities.