Archive for September 2012

Five Lessons B2B Service Should Learn From the B2C World

September 28, 2012

I had an inquiry call yesterday with a TSIA member, and we were talking about how some of the emerging best practices in the B2B tech support world were already established practices in the B2C contact center world. They suggested I compile a list of the most significant learnings from B2C companies that B2B companies could benefit from, and I thought that was a great idea. With their huge volumes and high churn rates, B2C companies are forced to come to terms with people/process/technololgy challenges with a major sense of urgency, and these best practices can greatly benefit enterprise support.  I’ve given this a bit of thought between conference calls and webcasts, and here’s what I came up with:

  • Upsell/cross-sell. No one should be surprised this is at the top of my list. Consumer telco and financial services came to terms with selling as part of servicing a decade ago, when Do Not Call made it harder to market to customers, and it only makes sense to leverage every inbound interaction as an opportunity to increase wallet share. Campaign management and offer management software automated the process so agents were prompted to extend offers in context of the interaction, and specific to the customer, so the customer doesn’t even perceive the offer as selling. B2B companies know that upsell/cross-sell is coming, and forward looking companies are already embracing it. TSIA members wanting more information should check out this recent piece of research, “Best Practices to Increase Offer Accept Rates,” which includes lots of lessons learned from consumer firms.
  • Customer experience. B2B companies seem to focus a lot on customer satisfaction, while consumer firms focus more on customer experience. Interaction satisfaction is only one part of the customer experience, and I think B2B companies need to get savvier about understanding the total ownership experience, from dealing with sales reps, through the PS and education process, how billing is handled, how releases are delivered, PLUS the entire post-sales support lifecycle. Customers often complain how difficult a certain vendor is to do business with, but the vendors seem blind to the process problems, as they don’t look beyond after-phone satisfaction scores.
  • Many paths to the truth for self-service. I’ve talked about this one again and again, but the best way to boost self-service success is to offer multiple paths to content that meets needs of different users, and B2C companies understand this. While tech savvy users may use the search box, less technical users want an index tree or ‘guided search’ to step through, while novice users prefer FAQ lists. And for simple questions, offering a virtual assistant can have a huge impact. Though we’ve given STAR Awards to companies like Cisco and Avaya who embrace this approach, most enterprise firms still rely on the search box alone. Especially as we move toward more cloud solutions, with less IT involvement and more interaction with end users of the products, embracing the consumer approach to self-service, with more focus on simple questions and procedural “how do I” questions, and providing tools for less technical customers, should be a requirement for every B2B support team.
  • Channel agnosticism. Over the last 2 years we’ve seen B2B companies finally recognize Chat is a valid channel for technical support, with low costs and high satisfaction compared to phone and email. What I’m not seeing, however, is a cross-channel strategy. B2B companies continue to add new customer channels, like chat, as standalone “channel islands” not connected to the CRM system or incident tracking system used for phone. B2C companies know that an order may come in via phone, with a follow up by email, and a shipping question on the order via chat. Having a cross-channel view of the customer, and offering an identical experience regardless of the channel, must be a priority as we expand B2B channel coverage.
  • Adoption speed of new technology/leveraging trends. Let’s face it, consumer firms have to respond faster to consumer trends than enterprise firms. I understand that. But I question the lag time between B2C adoption and B2B adoption on many areas, including mobility and video. While most consumer device firms now offer video libraries of trouble shooting and procedural guides, B2B companies usually have nothing but an aging knowledgebase of text articles. While B2B companies have been fairly aggressive with online communities, other social media channels are ignored…despite success stories showing their potential. Keep in mind that every consumer trend ultimately impacts the enterprise world (how many of you are reading this blog post on a mobile device?), so we should stop waiting for big consumer trends to be “proven” for the enterprise world. They are inevitable.

What is missing? Please add comments if other things occur to you. And next up, I’m going to do a list of B2B practices that B2C companies should learn! I’m open to suggestions! And as always, thanks for reading.


TSIA TechBest Awards: Best in Satisfaction

September 18, 2012

According to the TSIA Benchmark, customer satisfaction with enterprise software averages 3.92 on a five-point scale (with 1 representing very unsatisfied and 5 representing very satisfied). It is troubling, then, that the satisfaction scores for the categories covered in the 2012 TSIA Member Technology Survey range from a low of 3.32 to a high of 4.02—all but two categories are under the industry average of 3.92. While there are many excuses (service managers are tough customers, IT sometimes forces technology on business users, aging CRM tools and infrastructure), the fact remains that service technology is not meeting or exceeding customer expectations for average satisfaction scores to be so low.

Average satisfaction score by category, 1=highly unsatisfied, 5=highly satisfied

Luckily, there are definitely technology and service providers bucking the trend, and when I filtered the satisfaction scores by product, it turns out there were multiple companies with high scores. The three TSIA partners with the highest satisfaction scores will be announced as finalists of our very first TSIA TechBEST Awards for Best in Satisfaction. The finalists will be announced on October 15 at Technology Services World in Las Vegas, and I will interview the finalists on the Solution Stage in the EXPO at 12:45, which opens the conference. The company with the highest satisfaction score will be awarded the Best in Satisfaction award during the awards ceremony which closes the conference on October 17.

The other new TechBEST Award is Best in Show. Conference attendees vote for which partner in the EXPO offered the best demo, the best information, the best overall experience. Having spent time in my career as a Demo Dolly, I know creating a memorable experience for booth visitors is a challenge, and this award will recognize the partner who goes “above and beyond” to educate, entertain and enlighten attendees. Voting will be via the TSIA Mobile App, and I will also present this award at the closing award ceremony.

Look forward to seeing all of you in Las Vegas!

Customers Top 5 Pet Peeves About Field Service

September 11, 2012

This post was prompted by an interview request from Darren Weiss at The SmartVan, a blog and news aggregator focused on field service people, process and technology (the resulting story can be found here). I dug out some customer survey work concerning the top customer complaints about field service, and used a poll to identify which of the five give you the most grief. Here’s what you said:

No surprise that the dreaded 8 hour appointment window remains the biggest complaint about field service. Unfortunately still common in the consumer world (ask my phone company), giving a customer an 8 hour window to sit at home and wait for a repair person is just ridiculous. Even without all the automation created in the last decade, you’d think “morning or afternoon” would at least be an option. And with mobile scheduling tools, getting down to a 2 hour window…heading toward an exact appointment time…should be in reach for most organizations.

The last time I had a problem with my land line, I received an 8 hour appointment window: 8am to 5pm. I started calling around 4pm when no one had showed, but they said they would definitely be there. They didn’t call me until 5:30 to say they wouldn’t make it, but they would be there tomorrow….between 8am and 5pm. If your customers has already spent an entire day waiting for you, and you didn’t show, the least you can do is give an exact appointment time for the next day. Another 8 hour window just adds insult to injury.

Having a tech not familiar with the equipment, and/or having to schedule another appointment to fix the problem, tie for 2nd place in biggest field service complaints. Especially if you already gave up an entire day with an 8 hour appointment window, being told they have to come back tomorrow is maddening. And from the provider’s perspective, it costs $1,010 for an onsite repair visit according to the TSIA field service  benchmark. If you can’t fix the problem and have to schedule a 2nd appointment, you are now up to $2,020 for the issue. Being ineffective can be very expensive.

Missing an appointment time without alerting the customer comes in 4th. This is another problem I encounter frequently. I live in a fairly remote area, and about 30 minutes after most appointment times, I receive a call saying, “We had no idea you were so remote. We can’t be there for another hour.” And they usually get lost finding me after that, especially since Google maps and every car navigation system puts me half a mile down the road in the middle of a forest.

It is a bit sad that of the top customer complaints about field service, having an unfriendly tech barely raises an eyebrow, with only 7% of respondents to the poll saying this was their hot button issue. I suppose we are so grateful to finally get a warm body onsite we don’t care how rude they are.  But it definitely impacts the customer’s perception of the brand, and their likelihood of repurchase.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the poll! And as always, thanks for reading!

A Conversation with Sath Sathyanarayan: Seven things everyone engaged in offshore outsourcing must know

September 4, 2012

We all receive a lot of emails advertising white papers, and I wanted to call attention to a report from outsourcing guru Sath Sathyanarayan, whose firm Offshoring Success LLC helps companies create more effective and profitable relationships with service providers. The report, “Seven things everyone engaged in offshore outsourcing must know to address budget overruns and frustrations,” is clear, succinct, and full of great advice—not the usual marketing speak and vague recommendations. I reached out to Sath and he was willing to answer a few questions about the paper. Here’s a peek at the interview:

John Ragsdale: Outsourcing is one topic we don’t have internal expertise on at TSIA, so I’m always happy to talk to industry experts willing to share their expertise. Let me ask you a few questions about your latest white paper. Your opening point is that “low bidders” almost always become a high-cost solution. I’ve seen this over and over—companies making their first outsourcing decision always seem to focus on cost per call and go with the lowest bid, not considering quality. It rarely ends well—but is a good lesson for future partner relationships. Why do so many companies make a decision to cut costs at the expense of the customer experience? Is this one of those mistakes everyone has to make in order to learn?

Sath Sathyanarayan: It is hard to generalize why so many companies make the same mistake. In my working with a range of companies, I have found raising awareness is the key. Once my clients understand the full impact of their decision they are very willing to choose the “right” vendor on their first try rather than try, fail and choose again.

John: Another point you make in the report is “How excessive employee turnover creates cost overruns for you.” I just checked the data in our benchmark, and “owned” employee turnover is less than 15%, but turnover for outsourced offshore workers averages 22%, with some members reporting turnover rates as high as 60% per year. Could you talk about why turnover is so high with offshore workers? Is it just that the opportunities are so good they tend to jump ship for a better offer, or are companies not doing enough to make workers feel like a part of a team, creating unsatisfied workers?

Sath: “Own” operations have salary structures that are in general much higher compared to the salaries offered by vendors. Combined with this, it is easier to operate are “one organization”, because it is! Less issue of us vs them. When you outsource to a vendor often the attitude of HQ management is that turnover is “their” problem. However, companies who have been successful in keeping turnover lower take a different approach. While vendors have to implement, they work in partnership to understand reasons for turnover and do things within their purview to mitigate turnover.

John: Your report also talks about how to deal with low offshore productivity, and you give several approaches, including regular audits. One of our members who knows a lot about outsourcing, Tarik Mahmoud at Cisco, told me that having a frequent in-person presence at offshore centers is absolutely a requirement. Of course, that means he’s on the road most of the time, but he keeps everyone on their toes. It seems that many companies write a check to the outsourcer and feel their responsibility ends there. How often should companies visit offshore centers, and what level of company employee should make visits? Executives? Product experts? Support all stars? All of the above?

Sath: Writing a check and sitting back is a recipe for almost certain failure! Successful companies get involved. They treat the offshore service provider as a partner and they actively manage the relationship at all levels. From the executive sponsor to the hands on project manager.

  • Visits: All of the above. Executive level: Once a year. Hands on managers — Once a quarter. Needs to be adjusted depending on the stage of the relationship (launch vs ongoing)
  • Regular Audits: I am referring to a comprehensive look at the relationship in its entirety. Major issues to understand: Does the strategy and reasons still make sense? Do we need to change the business mission in light of current and future direction of the company? What operational issues are we experiencing — quality, deadlines, turnover etc? Do we have the right staff of managers offshore? Do both sides have or continue to have understanding of each others cultural issues and their impact? Do we have the right metrics in place? Do we have the right organization in place? Do we have the right management processes for visibility and control?
  • People and organizations continue to change. I recommend once a year audit to make sure that the offshore operation continues to stay on track.

John: The last section of the report discussion moving to a “outcome based” metrics approach with service providers. In my experience, tech companies struggle with how to define these metrics, how to approach the negotiation, etc. Could you talk a bit about outcome based metrics? For companies considering this approach, is this something you can help them with?

Sath: Traditional outsourcing models focus on input; for example man hours, person months, emails answered or number of calls processed. On the other hand outcome-based focuses on output i.e. reaching a business goal such as customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, support cost as a percentage of revenues etc. Outcome based approach can dramatically improve benefits from offshore outsourcing. But it is not for everyone. Moving to an outcome-based model requires that you establish a win-win model both for you and the vendor replete with both business and operational considerations. This is the reason many companies struggle with implementing this approach. Yes, we can definitely help companies to evaluate and implement outcome based approach in their operations. Your readers can also download a white paper I wrote “Outcome-based Offshore Outsourcing.”

John: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. Great information!

Sath: Thanks for having me.