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3 Shaky Pillars of Customer Support – through the lens of metrics.

Direct the rider, Motivate the elephant and Shape the path — important lessons for leaders.

2011: (latest article only)

Einstein and the Pursuit of Gross National Happiness‘ — lessons on measurements from disparate sources like Einstein, an ancient Egyptian cartographer and a tiny, landlocked Himalayan kingdom.


Measures, Metrics & Madness: The new world of ‘guiding’, not ‘grading’.
For a few years now, leaders at progressive support organizations have talked about moving customers from a ‘transaction-based’ support model to a ‘relationship-based’ one. This involves changing customers’ perceptions, from seeing your support team as a place to contact only when there are breakfix or how do I questions, to one that understands their business, including the technical and business context of their queries

After early successes in this journey, many organizations run into a seemingly impenetrable wall. Your senior team ‘gets it,’ but this understanding does not seem to trickle down to most mid-level managers and frontline teams.

Do they just not get it? What exactly is going on?

Read the full article here.


December 2009: Zen and the art of Software Maintenance

Many of you have heard me refer to software maintenance fees as “bad” revenue. While it is very lucrative, it’s bad because customers are unhappy paying it – ask any CIO. To give you a sense of how massive these fees are, Oracle made $12 billion last year – no, that’s not a typo – $12 billion from services and maintenance fees, according to Information Week.

I did some research on how other industries demonstrate value for their maintenance fees, and found it in an unlikely source – aircraft engines.

All the major players – Rolls Royce, GE, and Pratt & Whitney reportedly lose money on the sale of the engine. They make up to seven times the revenue from servicing and selling parts. Interestingly enough, Rolls Royce has embraced two concepts that go beyond what the vast majority of companies provide in the software space.

You can read the full article here.

August 2009: Common customer service & support traps

Trap #1: Treating all customers the same
Trap #2: Missing the trees for the forest
Trap #3: Ignoring important details (did you know that 20% of a large passenger jet’s fuel is consumed carrying the fuel itself?)

You can read the full article here.

March 2009: Meeting the service needs of the booming global middle class

For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population has joined the middle class. This startling development just happened in the past year or two. Why should you care? I believe this development will have a profound impact on service and support leaders all over the world.

Let’s start by defining “middle class.” Most economists agree there are actually two types. One consists of those who are middle class by any standard. Their income is somewhere between the average Brazilian’s and Italian’s (i.e., $12-$50 a day). While this segment is growing fast, they make up only a tenth of the developing world. The second type consists of those who are middle-class by the standards of the developing world but not the developed (rich) one. This group earns between $2-13 per day. (I’ve always wondered about the significance of $2 per day. It turns out that amount is considered poverty anywhere in the world. $13 is the poverty line in the United States.)

You can read the full article here.

January 2009: Creating good luck

It has been a particularly harsh winter in the northeastern United States. Add the barrage of bleak economic news, and a lot of people are feeling blue. During times like these it’s easy to spot the eternal optimists. You know the type: the ones who think the glass is more than half full. (Confession: guilty as charged.)

Being optimistic is a pretty good trait to have, it turns out. In fact, it is one of the four principles of people who are lucky. Yes, you read that right. There are traits you can adopt to improve your luck.

In a 2003 book called The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: The Four Essential Principles (Miramax), Professor Richard Wiseman scientifically explored psychological differences between people who considered themselves exceptionally lucky and unlucky. Wiseman states that people are not born lucky. Instead, lucky people use four basic principles (often without realizing it) to create good fortune in their lives.

Read the full article here.


December 2008: Can messing up actually increase revenue?

It really doesn’t seem fair, does it? On one side you have senior management breathing down your neck, pressuring you to deliver more revenue and/or better margins from your existing services portfolio. On the other, your customers are looking to slash costs, and are unlikely to forget (or forgive) companies that force them to do anything that smacks of a price increase.

It’s not easy for you and your overworked team to add new services in this economic climate, so here’s another source of revenue to consider: service recovery. After all, mistakes are like death and taxes: inevitable. At some point we all will make mistakes that affect our customers. Stuff happens.

Read the full article here.

October 2008: Expert for Hire — or Trusted Advisor?

I recently re-read Clients for Life: Evolving from an Expert-for-Hire to an Extraordinary Adviser by Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel. In it, they interview CEOs and advisors to see what distinguishes a client advisor – an irreplaceable resource – from a tradable commodity like an expert.

  • Experts are specialists; advisors become deep generalists with broad perspective.
  • Experts are for hire; advisors have selfless independence.
  • Experts have professional credibility; advisors have deep personal trust.
  • Experts analyze; advisors synthesize.
  • Experts supply expertise; advisors are educators who provide insight and wisdom.

Read the full article here.

August 2008: What to do in Tough Times

With many economies around the world sputtering, most of you are helping prop up balance sheets by slashing discretionary spending, renegotiating contracts and putting off purchases.In this kind of atmosphere, it is tempting just to make the necessary cuts and hope that you will be spared further scrutiny. Making cuts is always painful. I was part of one of the biggest IPOs in US history (at the time) followed by the dot-com crash and our eventual return to profitability with great margins. Just about anybody can manage during good times. It’s during tough times when the great stand out from the merely competent. Here are a few non-traditional ways you can stand out.

Read the full article here.

June 2008: Six Sigma for Services

Major philosophical differences exist between managers who run large-scale operations – ones with a massive number of incoming calls – and operations with a lower volume of quite complex calls.

One big disparity revolves around metrics. High volume support centers generally concentrate on metrics that show how smoothly their operations are running. These managers know that slight changes in efficiency make a significant difference in a unit’s profitability. The folks running complex support centers, on the other hand, tend to dismiss Six Sigma and focus on things like customer satisfaction or loyalty.

Is there a happy middle ground?

Read the full article here.

April 2008: No more (support) tiers: the Savvy Support model

Ah, is there any part of the service experience that is more reviled by savvy customers* or by upwardly mobile support staff than the dreaded ‘tiered’ model of support? It made sense back when our customers didn’t know much about technology, and we knew best. When we first built these models, we put friendly but clueless support people on the front line to protect expensive resources (who often were the reason the problems existed in the first place) from ’simple’ questions.

Read the full article here.

Mar 2008: Perception is Reality, but what about….

While researching a new talk, I came across a study on the role the brain plays in adjusting reality to better fit our perceptions. Think about that for a second. In support we have long believed that perceptions become a customer’s reality. But this research shows that even realities like touch and taste can be altered by our perceptions.

Read the full article here.

Feb 2008: Financial Uncertainty — Time to Strike?

With the current uncertainties in the global financial markets, a common response among managers is to hunker down and weather the storm. Of all the career-limiting moves to make, asking for significant investments and resources for support during lean times has to rank as one of the worst, right?

On the contrary, this may be a perfect time for the well-prepared to ask for — and get — your important investments funded. You see, while most companies retrench during tight times, the smart ones invest. You can lead the way out of tough times with better service, not cuts.

The rest of your colleagues may be quivering, hoping the budget cut gods and goddesses don’t look their way. But if you are well prepared, you can propose a plan that shows why smart investments now will help you stand out from your competition by the time the economy does turn around.

Read the full article here.

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