Archive for June 2012

Six Key Decisions Driving Your Field Service Mobile Device Strategy

June 29, 2012

I had a great inquiry from a TSIA member today who is working on a mobile device strategy for their field service operation. They asked me what the key elements were to include in a mobile device strategy, and I came up with these six key decision points:

#1: Do you own your field service staff, or are they outsourced?

If you own all your resources, then I would encourage getting creative with devices and applications that offer high usability and enable the best user experience. If a big portion of field agents are contracted, however, then you must have a mobile strategy that focuses more on web applications running on a smartphone browser. With outsourced workers, you can’t control what device they have, so you have to plan for the lowest common denominator–a browser-based thin client that can run on a mobile device (i.e., no Flash, few graphics, fast loading pages).

#2: What should we mobilize first?

The biggest ROI improvements from field service mobility come from increased productivity due to more accurate schedule/dispatch, and improved first visit fix due to better access to corporate knowledge, training videos, collaboration, etc. With this in mind, think through what corporate systems (knowledge bases, content management systems, online libraries of product and repair manuals, how to videos, etc.) should be available via mobile device at a customer site, and prioritize developing mobile clients for these systems. On the scheduling/dispatch side, be sure you have the GPS aspect of your mobile strategy figured out up front, so you can make location-specific scheduling and routing decisions from Day 1 of go live.

#3: What device should we use?

I’m seeing a move away from laptops for field service techs and toward more sophisticated mobile devices that can do everything a laptop can. The two best examples are the iPad and Intermec rugged devices. If your field service software provider has embraced the iPad, that can influence your choice. (Check out a demo of the sexiest iPad field service app available today, from ServiceMax.) I’ve talked to multiple companies buying 500 iPads for their field service techs, and if your field service vendor offers a specialized iPad app, it is definitely tempting to go in that direction. My alternate recommendation is to look at the Intermec CS40, a mobile device specifically designed for rugged environments. It is a very sophisticated hand held computer, running Windows, and it even has a built-in scanner. You can’t kill it—you can drop it, slam it, or kick it across the parking lot, it just keeps going. Intermec says their customers love the devices so much that when the company upgrades to newer devices after 3 years, the field techs refuse to part with their old Intermec.

#4: Do we need online/offline capability?

In some field service environments, connectivity cannot be assumed. In the medical device industry, field techs make a lot of visits to medical centers, and connectivity is forbidden in many hospitals and medical equipment areas.  Other heavy machinery environments may be inside steel walls, or deep underground, making any connectivity impossible. If  this is a frequent issue for your field teams, I would also include a requirement in your mobile device strategy that your devices and mobile applications offer offline/online synching, so the techs can record what they need to record in offline mode as necessary, then synch the records when they step outside and reconnect. This feature is not yet available in all mobile field service applications or devices, so this requirement can help prune a long list to a short list pretty fast.

#5: How do we ensure security?

Another key decision is about security. If a field tech looses a mobile device, you don’t want someone using the device to access corporate information, customer data, etc. Be sure whatever device you select has the option to do remote “wipes” of data, or you can buy software to enable this. Purpose-built devices like the Intermec CS40 have very strong security options. For consumer devices, you should work with your IT Security team to identify the right applications and procedures.

#6: How do we support our mobile field techs?

As mobile devices and applications grow more sophisticated and complex, we have to figure out creative ways to support employees when they have problems with the devices. The remote control vendors, who allow support techs to remotely access a customer’s computer to check settings and fix problems, are now moving toward supporting mobile devices.  Bomgar allows full remote control of BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, and limited remote access for  iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android smartphone, and Android tablet devices. Another innovative vendor, LogMeIn, provides remote control for Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Symbian devices as if they were holding them in their own hands. Your IT help desk should be involved in the mobile device strategy, so they can have a plan in place to keep your field employees online and productive.

The other thing I usually recommend including in any strategy for new technology is employee adoption, i.e., getting employees involved in the selection process as early as possible so they will be more likely to embrace the new technology and processes when they go live. But so far, I haven’t heard of a single company rolling out mobile devices for field service that faced any adoption problems—the field techs fight to get into the pilot group.

What other factors should companies consider when architecting a mobile device strategy? Please chime in with comments. And as always, thanks for reading!


Causal Relationship: Hold Times and Abandon Rates

June 27, 2012

I had an inquiry this week on hold times, asking what a good target would be. According to our benchmark data, the average hold time is under 2 minutes, which definitely shows our B2B technology support slant–I assume the consumer numbers would be much higher. Or maybe I’m still on edge from my last marathon hold session–over an hour–for our local energy monopoly. My usual guidance is that anything under 3 minutes is acceptable to customers, and when hold times stretch beyond the 3 minute mark, callers start to bail out and hang up. (And I don’t care how many times you play the “your call is important to us” message. Clearly it isn’t or you would have more staff.)

The percentage of callers who aren’t willing to wait on hold any longer and hang up is called the abandon rate. Logically, the longer the hold time, the higher the abandon rate. To see if this logic played out with data, I divided the survey responses for hold time into three categories: Pace Setters, those with the lowest hold times, Average Performers, those with median hold times, and Low Performers, those with the highest hold times. When you average the abandon rates for each group, you can clearly see the impact of longer hold times:

The Pace Setters, with an average hold time of just over 30 seconds, have the lowest average abandon rate (3.3%). As hold times increase, so do abandon rates, with the Low Performers (average hold time 4.7 minutes) jumping to a 7% abandon rate.

It is important to understand which metrics have a causal relationship, i.e., impacting one metric automatically impacts the other. This is helpful when you are trying to move a specific metric so you know what the influencers are. Another example of a causal relationship with support metrics is First Contact Resolution: the higher the FCR, the lower average resolution time is; and usually, the higher the percent of issues resolved at Level 1 is as well. Also, members usually see impacts to CSAT when critical service metrics (FCR, resolution time) improve.

I have an example in my book, Lessons Unlearned, about a US airline who wanted to increase productivity (calls per shift) and lower hold times by cutting call length. Obviously, if you spend less time on each call (or email or chat), you can handle more interactions per shift, which reduces hold times and abandon rates. Sounds like a win:win:win, right? Wrong. In this case, by putting an arbitrary time limit on inbound reservation calls, agents were cutting off calls before reservations were completed, or before customers could be routed to hotel and rental car partners. As a result, revenue dropped dramatically, and marketing and sales had to override the call center manager who thought limiting talk time was the answer to everything.

Don’t look at metrics in a vacuum. They all inter-relate, and you must carefully think through any plans to shift one metric to understand what the trickle down impact will be across the organization.

Thanks for reading!

Your Opinions Can Get You Fired: Think First Before Posting, Texting, Tweeting and Emailing

June 19, 2012

When I published my first book, Lessons Unlearned, last month, I didn’t intend to start a conversation about free speech in the workplace. But I’ve received a number of comments about 2 sections of my book related to how sharing your thoughts can threaten your job security, and there are some items in the news this week that made me think this a worthy topic for a blog, even if it is outside customer service.

Here are the two topics in my book that people keep commenting on:

  • I talk about using a “magic slate” for stress relief when dealing with difficult customers because you can scribble a word that describes the customer, show it to your cube mates to elicit empathy and release some stress, then lift the plastic sheet to erase what you have written, eliminating any audit trail. This hit a nerve with multiple readers, who say it is politically incorrect to criticize customers at their company, regardless how irrational their behavior is. I learned early in my career that making rude, however accurate, comments about customers in case notes will definitely get you in trouble.
  • In the chapter on startups, I talk about the importance of establishing company culture, and how one company I worked for destroyed its culture by shutting down the email system one weekend, reading everyone’s email archives, and firing anyone who had made a negative comment about management in an internal email. While clearly this company had some unhappy employees, this didn’t fix the problem, it only inflamed it, making all employees paranoid and distrustful of management.

I think most of us have an internal editor that keeps us from going too far in emails, blog posts, Facebook posts, Tweets, text messages, etc. We’ve all probably typed something in anger and regretted sending it later, and I try really hard to not hit ‘send’ on ‘flame’ emails until I’ve had time to calm down and re-read my text. As a manager, I’ve certainly encountered problems when employees were rude or indiscreet in written communications, and typically I am pretty understanding and counsel them to go ahead and write down the frustration, which helps purge you of the stress, but definitely don’t send or post until later.

There are two things in the news this week that make me think this is going to be a bigger problem for future managers than I ever experienced in the past. The first is a story in today’s San Jose Mercury News that a sales executive is leaving a major Silicon Valley high tech firm for texting opinions about the company that not only weren’t outrageous, they reflect the opinion of many analysts and technology reporters. I suppose I can understand why the executive needed to leave, but this wasn’t a company email or statement to the press, this was a personal text message he never intended anyone else to see. Definitely worrisome, and I hope the company learned something about the importance of internal marketing.

The other story in the news this week is that Facebook is exploring options to allow kids under 13 to join. Now, my friends with kids tell me they are all on Facebook already, registered using 5-10 year lies on birth year to get around current restrictions. Be that as it may, if I, in my 40s, have yet to learn to self-edit 100% of the time, how can we expect kids to know what is safe to post and what isn’t, knowing that every single word and picture will follow them around on the internet for the rest of their lives? There is even pending legislation being discussed because some employers and schools have demanded that applicants hand over their Facebook passwords so they can view their profiles before hiring or admitting them. Big brother is watching.

As a child of the 70s, I grew up being told to express myself and revel in free speech. And I do. But there were also some common sense limitations to this, such as not discussing topics that are incendiary (politics and religion), and not to put anything in writing you don’t want your mother to read. Those common sense limitations don’t seem to have made it to the younger generations.

I’m sometimes shocked at the political and religious comments made by people I’ve known for years. In polite conversation, we usually avoid topics that are controversial, but that internal edit doesn’t seem to apply to Facebook. I’ve “unfriended” several people who I genuinely like, and interact with in real life, because I can’t stand to read their off-the-deep-end political views. I have one friend who spends his days at work posting comments about how much he hates his job and how stupid his boss is. When I asked him if he was concerned about being fired for those posts, his reply was, “I don’t share my posts with my boss.” Well, all it takes is someone to print out pages and pages of those posts and mail to him, and next stop is unemployment. I’m sure the software sales exec who lost his job this week had no idea that the personal text message he sent would come back to haunt him.

Bottom line, be careful what you post, email, Tweet, whatever. Here are John’s rules to not letting social networking destroy your livelihood:

  • Think before you post. Writing your frustrations down is a great way to vent, but take an hour and think about it before hitting ‘send.’
  • Don’t social network after drinking. On Mondays I look at pictures and comments posted by friends over the weekend, and there is usually something really embarrassing from 2am on Sunday morning. Once posted, it is really hard to delete.
  • Steer clear on overly controversial subjects. If you wouldn’t express that opinion in the company lunchroom for all to hear, maybe Tweeting it isn’t the best career move. You can believe what you want on your own time, but realistically, people will judge you for outrageous views, especially narrow-minded views. If you really believe “the earth is flat” keep it to yourself.
  • Your ultimate distribution list is larger than you think. Don’t think for a second that your text won’t be forwarded or that ‘non friends’ will never see your Facebook posts. In 2012, that is extremely naive.

What do you think? What are your rules about what to post and what not to post? What are your pet peeves about “over sharing?” Have you changed an opinion about a friend or co-workers based on social posts? If you have kids, what advice do you give them? And as always, thanks for reading!

How to Stream Training and Support Videos to Any Device? Ooyala to the Rescue!

June 15, 2012

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking with Caitlin Spaan, VP of Marketing for Ooyala, a very cool company enabling streaming video content delivered to iPhones, iPads, Android devices, Facebook, YouTube and more. I’ve published a lot of research over the last 2 years on mobility and video in service, and I’m starting to receive more questions from TSIA members about how to get started in this area.

Streaming video has several use cases for service. For education services, shifting from classroom training to OnDemand video training requires a lot of work not only to create the video content, but figure out how to deliver it to customers when they want, on the device they want, with high quality and consumption tracking. For support services, tutorials and “how to” videos are an excellent way of increasing self-service success–let’s face it, Gen Y customers are unlikely to search your knowledgebase or read your FAQ list. The mobile aspect of this is important, because early adopters created some fun online video sites using Flash, which of course isn’t consumable on popular mobile devices. Whatever content you decide to make available to customers must be accessible across all the flavors of mobile devices. There is no faster way of alienating a customer than to say, “Here’s all this great online content, but you can’t view it because you have a droid.”

Ooyala to the rescue. This Silicon Valley-based company enables content management and streaming of online video solutions for multiple audiences, including media companies (ESPN, Miramax, US magazine) and brand companies (Sephora, Victoria Secret, REI, Dell). On the brand side, Ooyala is working with companies to deliver training and support content, including makeup tips and “how to” videos for Sephora (who needs RuPaul’s Drag U?), video tutorials from REI on everything from fixing a flat bicycle tire to getting started kayaking, and Dell, who is using Ooyala as a video solution for sales (product overviews and feature demos) as well as support tutorials:

We are seeing companies get started with service videos on YouTube (including HP’s stellar YouTube channel, which I mentioned in my book, Lessons Unlearned), and that is a great place to get your feet wet. But when you want more control over the video streaming, including charging for content (key for education services) and/or inserting paid ads into content, a solution like Ooyala is required. Just to show how dedicated Ooyala is to customer success, their Senior Vice President of Customer Success is none other than longtime SSPA/TSIA board member, Dave Hare, a Silicon Valley service legend, who ran service operations for PeopleSoft, Oracle and Symantec before joining Ooyala.

If you are ready to take your service video strategy to the next level, check out Ooyala. With the broadcasters, publishers and consumer brands already using the service, this company knows all the ins and outs of successfully leveraging video, and they can help you define and execute your cross-device video strategy.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Fall 2012 TSIA STAR Awards: Nominations Due June 29th

June 14, 2012

TSIA’s STAR Awards are presented to association members at our Spring and Fall conferences. To win, members must submit applications which are judged by the applicable partner advisory board (Support, Field, Education, PS, Revenue Generation). This is a rare opportunity to tell your story and receive industry recognition, and even if you don’t win, you receive written feedback from the advisory board members about your operation. Over the years we have made adjustments to the program, changed a few categories and the application itself, and for Fall 2012, we have a number of new awards. The STAR Award categories for Fall 2012 are:

  • Innovation In Education Services Go-To-Market And Sales Strategy. This award recognizes the education services organization that exhibits innovative go-to-market and sales capabilities as demonstrated across the four framework pillars of a comprehensive strategy.  This may include the introduction of a go-to-market and sales strategy where previously none existed, or it may be a transformation of an existing go-to-market and sales strategy.
  • Innovation In The Application Of Social Media For Technology Services. This award recognizes the company that has advanced the effectiveness or efficiency of its services organization through innovation in the application of social media. TSIA’s definition of social media includes web- and mobile-based technology platforms that enable the creation and exchange of user-generated content and dialogue between organizations, communities and individuals. Social media technologies take on many different forms; including online forums and communities, blogs, microblogs, social networks, wikis, podcasts, photo and video sharing, rating, and social bookmarking.
  • Innovation In Closing The Consumption Gap. This award recognizes the company that has innovated in finding ways to close the consumption gap in the use of its products, whether on-premise or cloud-based, thereby delivering higher levels of business value to its customers.
  • Innovation In Leveraging Technology For Service Excellence. I’ve been pushing for this award, and this Fall we are offering this category for the very first time. Open to all service disciplines, this award recognizes the company that has best leveraged technology to improve operational performance, service levels, and the customer experience.  The winning technology project will be the focus of a case study written by me!
  • Innovation In Enabling Customer Success. This award recognizes the service organization that demonstrates the most innovative approach to the enablement of customer success.  Successful candidates should not only be able to demonstrate strong culture and process, but also clear benefits to the service organization, the company, and the customers, as a result of its customer success innovation.
  • Innovation In Professional Services, Large Enterprise. This award recognizes the large enterprise professional services (PS) organization that has most clearly and effectively embraced innovation to increase consultant productivity, project performance, customer satisfaction or other measure of PS business success. For purposes of this award category, “large enterprise” is defined as corporate revenues of US$250M and greater.
  • Innovation In Professional Services, SMB. This award recognizes the SMB professional services (PS) organization that has most clearly and effectively embraced innovation to increase consultant productivity, project performance, customer satisfaction or other measure of PS business success.  For purposes of this award category, “SMB” is defined as corporate revenues under US$250M.
  • Innovation In Recurring Services Portfolio Management. This award recognizes the company that has demonstrated the most innovative renovation of its recurring services portfolio, as evidenced by an overall growth in service revenue and/or profitability.
  • Innovation In Product Supportability. This award recognizes the company that most convincingly demonstrates innovation in product supportability through the deployment of remote monitoring, embedded diagnostics, and “self-healing” functionality.

Applications are due by June 29th. For more details and application criteria, click here. I look forward to reading your stories!

Dealing with Difficult Managers: Applying the 4 Employee Types to Managers

June 1, 2012

Yesterday I did a webcast about my new book, Lessons Unlearned. In the book I talk about the four personality types common in support, and how to manage and motivate each type. When I covered this material in the webcast, someone in the audience asked this question: do you have advice about working with different manager personalities? What a great question!

I’ve had some amazing managers over the years. Judy Walden, who believed in me more than I believed in myself, and Dean Wortham, who paid me a huge compliment by saying I had one of the biggest funnels (ability to process multiple streams of content and tasks) he had ever seen. But I’ve also had my fair share of horrible managers. Nitpicking, condescending, mean spirited, hysterical…I’ve worked for some real jerks.

Let’s take the 4 personalities from the book, and see how they would apply to managers.

  • The Slammer. This manager seeks results, and sometimes cuts corners to get there. With his eye on the prize, he tends to minimize the effort involved in some tasks, and overlook details along the way. On the positive side, this type of manager should have an open communication style (some may say blunt), so you always know where you stand, and have very clear goals and directives. Under pressure, this manager will tend to steamroll to get the results he wants. If you have a Slammer for a manager, look to him or her for priorities, and if you happen to be a very analytic person, you may bump heads when you want to analyze more details before acting. Learn to commit, make a decision and go for it, and if you are wrong, the good news is The Slammer tends to view failure as a learning step along the way, not a career ender.
  • The Geek. This manager loves technology, is enamored by complexity, and in extreme cases, can get stuck in analysis paralysis before making a decision. The Geek is a great management type in technology companies because they are eager to share their learnings and expertise. However, they may not be incredibly patient with people who take longer to process new information than they do, and they may clash with “Slammers” who value results over process. If you work for a Geek, take the opportunity to hone your technical skills, but try to find an area to specialize in that isn’t a pet area of your manager–you may end up in competition to show who is smarter.
  • The Socialite. Socialite managers are fun, as they are great communicators, treat employees as people first, and work at having positive team dynamics. But just like support tech Socialites who may spend too much time on the phone with customers, Socialite managers may over communicate, sometimes wasting employee’s time…especially extreme Socialites who over-share personal details and spend too much time gossiping (a fun manager to have, but not so great for getting the job done). The Socialite manager may value satisfaction way more than productivity, which can be irritating for Slammer employees. With their strong interpersonal skills, your Socialite manager probably has a wide circle of friends or acquaintances across the company, so look at this as an opportunity to meet lots of people outside of your own organization and begin to raise your own visibility across the enterprise.
  • The Creative. Let’s be clear–with the Creative’s pushback on policy and questioning of every procedure, you don’t see a lot of Creatives move into management roles, they typically pursue a technical path. However, if you work at an early stage startup, you are likely to have a group of Creatives running things–they tend to be innovative founders of cool technology companies. Working for a creative has pros and cons. On the positive side, every day is adventure, if you are able to roll with the punches and you thrive on change, having a Creative for a boss is terrific. However, if you are a Geek or Slammer and like clear direction and defined processes, the “seat of your pants” approach may make you insane. If your Creative boss makes you crazy, establish a special project or topic area that you have full ownership for, so at least one area of your job has consistency and measurable results.

The key here is that all of us–employees and managers–need to become comfortable working with different personality types. There will always be co-workers and managers who push your buttons, but if you try to understand the cause of the conflict, you can learn to live with the discomfort. As a self-professed Slammer (you have to read the book to find out how I was diagnosed as a Slammer), I have been driven nuts over the years by managers with analysis paralysis who couldn’t make a decision, and by creative types who want to discuss options instead of take action. Both types taught me more self-control and patience, and projects tended to flow more easily when I put a bit more thought up front instead of plowing ahead. The sad truth is, the person at work who frustrates you the most is probably the person from whom you can learn the most.

Thanks for reading!