If people think about vendor product support at all, it is probably to consider it as a necessary hygiene function which is there to jump on issues as they arise. But done right, support can be so much more: a way to delight with customer experiences, a source of competitive differentiation or even a unique selling point, writes James Thomas, Global Head of Customer Support, Unit4.
Like so much in business, vendor product support comes down to keeping the customer happy. Do that and churn will be minimized and chances of cross-selling and up-selling increase. And although most people may think of support as being something that happens post-deployment, it really should be involved all the way down the line from pre-sale, during the installation and pilot process as well as providing an ongoing resource after projects go live. By working closely with other teams, support can play a big part in successful roll-outs.
Support is key in three areas:
- Building trust and credibility by delivering great customer outcomes that result in improved satisfaction
- Providing experiences that ensure customers feel the vendor support is like an extension of their IT team
- Developing “white glove” services that can also be monetized to flip support from cost centre operation to a profit centre driving function
To those ends, progressive support operations need to outperform, focus on enhancing the customer experience and invest in people that have more than technology skills. We look for people with excellent IT credentials as a given, and it helps a great deal if they have been users of our products.
But we also seek people who are communicators and can show empathy with emotional intelligence. Customers with support issues are under pressure and often stressed so it’s important that we have people who understand that and, consequently, are trained to use the right language and tone, as well as knowing the product inside out.
Getting creative with vendor product support
It also means being creative in how we approach and deliver support, making use of automation and AI where they make sense to reduce the cost of service delivery. But it also means constructing and curating a knowledge base of known issues, how they arise, what dependencies exist and so on. In this way we can simplify self-service. For instance, of all our customers who use the Community4U portal to link with Unit4 experts and their peers, 70 per cent of these visits did not result in the need for help or advice from support leaving our team more time to focus on the support tickets of a higher complexity. This is backed up by recent research from the Technology & Services Industry Association (TSIA) that found a growing preference for use of community forums.
On this topic, Dave Baca in On-Premise to Cloud: Understanding Support’s Vital Role is Key to Success wrote, “As part of the core support work, such online forums do a great job of escalating unanswered discussion posts to the contact centre and certainly they excel at crowd sourcing expertise from the community,” he added, “And further, XaaS companies excel at listening to conversations across multitudes of social channels.”
Just as when the printer won’t work, end users conduct Google searches first, so not every support issue requires a support ticket to be raised. That’s why we measure self-service deflection metrics forensically and fine-tune our offer to meet customers’ needs. When issues escalate, we have to act quickly but having an effective community means we are all standing on the shoulders of giants, and it also means we can give valuable time back to our consultants to focus on more complex or obscure issues. A good support operation needs to be omnichannel - offering community, chat, messaging, email, video, social network, portal and direct human touchpoints.
Of course, any software support operation will face challenges but there is a real opportunity to turn those challenges into positives. Just as a company that suffers an outage or other issue can enhance its brand by responding quickly and communicating effectively, any support issue is a chance to improve and show a devotion to customer service excellence. There’s great satisfaction to be had in turning a dissatisfied customer into a loyal advocate.
The cloud changes everything
Support is changing. Just as the generational shift from on-premise to cloud revolutionized computing deployment and consumption, it also led to a profound swing away from traditional support models.
In the on-prem world, customers made their own changes to software, customizing and often creating what were effectively bespoke systems. The cloud model simplifies deployment radically, minimizing custom code, which makes it easier to diagnose issues because our knowledge base is centred on repeated, near-identical experiences across the customer base. Customer deployments are far more transparent and understandable. In the SaaS/cloud model, one defect impacts many and we no longer need to delve into odd dependencies, unknown add-ons or unknown configurations with our SaaS products.
Cloud also lets us see details of screen usage, how many times processes run and how long for. Without being intrusive, we gain a deep understanding of how people interact with our services, so support becomes proactive rather than reactive and feeds into both product development and the Customer Experience team. The cloud world is a win-win in that it means we can identify problems early (sometimes even before customers), make fixes faster and resolve trouble tickets in a sleeker way, so customers are happy.
In the modern world, there’s no hiding place for weak support operations. We make comprehensive use of surveying and are keen students of Net Promoter Scores as we strive to think about an “outside in” approach to continuous improvement. Gamification is another way in which to deliver strong returns on Community4U. By highlighting star respondents, scoring responses with kudos, we create a sense of competitive passion among people who are keen to help others. And, if that falls through, then we know how to automate the promotion of relevant knowledge articles.
Support may sometimes get overlooked - except when there’s a negative - but we support focused customer champions can make a powerful case for saying we are leaders in putting the customer first.