For more than 25 years, we’ve been hearing that Service quality is going to be the new competitive advantage, that Customer Centricity is the new industry paradigm, or that Customer Experience is to become the key factor in gaining and keeping customers. But despite all the hoopla and hyperbole, the truth is that little has changed in the technology industry over the years. Companies still race to get products out the door and to capture market share, and Support still gets to deal with the consequences. All along, at the end of the day, it has all been about selling the technology. Take the money and run. However, we’re finally coming to the end of that day, and that market reality. The industry is moving into a new era — call it Software as a Service, and/or “Cloud Computing’ — whatever the label, the game is changing, and with it, the old requirement for some begrudged level of Customer Support. What will that mean for you and your company?
It’s time for some answers.
When you take the desktop operating system layer out of the Support equation, and condense all of the myriad instances of application programs and databases into one, and put the result at last where you can monitor it in real time — what happens to the expensive need for Support teams? Do they just go away? Or, freed at last from the treadmill of endless Break/Fix incidents, will there be a new role? And a new profession — this time, about enhanced Profitability?
The beginning point of The SaaS & Support Project was the realization that while the advent and proliferation of the SaaS model over the past few years has been bringing dramatic changes both to the market and to the software vendor organization, the full realization of the impact of the “SaaS tsunami” is yet to come. Sales and Marketing strategies, compensation and deployments have had to be reinvented. It’s a whole new ball game in Engineering. But the most profound changes of all are happening in the area of Customer Support, affecting both the size and the nature of the workforce as well as the tools that will be needed.
The Work Begins
There was a great deal of interest in the Project from the start. Three key professional associations signed on as Sponsors: The Association of Support Professionals (ASP), the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), and the newly formed TechAmerica.org all encouraged their memberships to participate in the research. OpSource provided strong support in helping to promote the project through its newsletter and email channels. CodeBaby created a digital character, “Sage,” for the 2009 research to explain the purpose and the details of the project and to help turn visitors into participants.
The first step in the work was to design a thorough research survey form that would probe and measure what was actually happening in the back rooms of SaaS vendors under the label of “Support.” The survey instrument dealt with four key factors: Strategy, Process, People and Technology.
Strategy: There are eight basic types of revenue conduits inherent in the Software As A Service Model income stream. How many are typically in play in a SaaS vendor? To properly identify hybrid firms, those who offer perpetual software licenses or who are open-source companies as well as SaaS vendors, the selection included these options as well. The survey then asked about the patterns of customer ownership, retention practices and the principal perceived causes of churn.
Process: A Customer Support group is essentially a knowledge inventory operation, with access channels, repository sources and fluctuating levels of demand. The research looked into different types of access channels, operational hours and case/request volume levels, asked about center performance metrics and the impact of self-support or “community support” being experienced by the respondent companies. What role did the vendor’s Channel partners play in Support?
People: Staffing levels were a key aspect of the study. How many reps were involved, and how were they deployed in the organization? What role did outsourced agents play? Who “owned” the Support team, and was it a cost center or authentically run as a profit center? How were staffing levels determined, and what were the key performance metrics used to evaluate line reps and their managers? How long did it take to train a new rep enough to be effective, and what is the typical duration of a support career?
Technology: The Contact Center Technology Suite is at the heart of any Support program, and includes three main groups of tools. The first is Access Channel Management, dealing with the flow of requests/cases into the center through the various conduits. The second key area is the management of the cases and of the knowledge repositories. The last group is concerned with the management of the center as a whole. What tools do SaaS vendors use, and how are they different from what is typical for a traditional software vendor?
The SaaS & Support Project Report 2009
The first written Report of the Project’s findings has been published, and is available to members of the Project and to Research Members of The HotLine Magazine. Click here to learn about membership. To join, click here.
Revised: June 6, 2011