All posts by darius

Support and Customer Development

I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs recently regarding the connection between Support and Customer Development. This has been a favorite subject of mine for some time, but this was the first time I tried to do a comprehensive presentation on the topic. As I put together the presentation, I realized that there was really so much more I could say. Nevertheless, I’m happy with the result, and I’ve uploaded the presentation to SlideShare.

Support as Customer Development
View more presentations from Darius Dunlap

I’d love to hear any thoughts or questions. I think there is much more I could say, so maybe I’ll make this a series.

A platform powerhouse at Salesforce.com?

Dreamforce 2010, the Salesforce.com annual show, has already been interesting after just the first day. There have been interesting product introductions, and lots of announcements from partners and developers that continue to build on the Force.com platform ecosystem.

Because of my interest in startups and small, fast growing companies, the new integration announced by Zendesk is particularly interesting. I’m looking forward to playing with that and understanding it in detail.

Also important is the continuing development of the capabilities of Chatter, the internal communications platform. Today Salesforce announced that Chatter will be free to everyone in a client company, instead of that being an extra option. ReadWriteWeb did a great job covering this on their Cloud coverage section a couple weeks ago:

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff reportedly told analysts today that the company will announce a free version of its enterprise activity stream product Chatter at the annual Dreamforce event in San Francisco next month. The revelation came in a conference call with financial analysts to discuss the company’s third quarter financial results, according to CRN. Benioff confirmed the story via Twitter this evening. Salesforce.com currently offers Chatter for free to Salesforce.com users or for $15 a month per user for non-Salesforce.com users. Benioff described the free, stripped down version of Chatter as a “virally based product.”

Excerpt from: Salesforce.com’s Chatter to Go Freemium (Updated) – ReadWriteCloud

But most interesting in my mind is the holistic direction of all of this. Salesforce.com continues to develop a strong platform that extends beyond the salesforce automation market. Even where people can point out deficiencies in the current offering, talking to the Salesforce people you see good thought going into the ongoing development, and overall strategy.

I’ll be watching closely. Even if you’re not a Salesforce.com customer, so should you.

Why do customers call you?

Call deflection has been a big thing in support for years. Get the customers to look it up themselves; give them some stuff from the knowledge-base before letting them submit a case – heck, some companies even leave customers on hold just so that some of them will go away.

But why are these customers calling you in the first place?

Do you really understand, deeply, the questions they are asking about your company and your service?

Silos and Collaboration

Michael Fauscette has excellent advice on fixing the silo problem and implementing collaborative workflows:

Organizational fixes

* Change incentive compensation plans to encourage and reward working across departments

* Reward and recognize cross group collaboration efforts (and do it in big, visible ways)

* Build cross functional teams to attack problems and issues. Reward their successes publicly.

* Change leadership models (since I already posted on this topic, you can see that here.)

System fixes

* Consider deploying a people-centric activity stream product to tie people, content, data and applications (particularly for exception processing) together in a more collaborative way. The activity stream is becoming the new user interface for the social enterprise and is very effective in managing ad hoc projects, teams and ad hoc information as well as exception processing.

* You must implement a single 360 degree view of the customer that is available across the business.

* View systems as a continuous workflow, not as silo’ed modules and design data flow to support that approach. Integration is the key, there can be no manual workarounds or hand offs that break the information flow.

* Use the cloud as a way to facilitate the integrated enterprise when it fits your business needs and restrictions.

* Approach the business as a flexible, organic business network and implement tools to facilitate cross fire-wall collaboration and ad hoc work management.

Excerpt from “Barriers to Change: Silos

Better, Faster… More Friendly?

The most productive and high-performing teams I’ve seen have had a high degree of camaraderie and fun in the regular workday. Stowe writes about a recent cognition study, with implications for social tools.

This suggests that work places where friendly interaction is the norm should have more focused and production workers, while settings where friendly interaction is less prevalent should lead to the opposite, negative effects on cognition.

For developers of social tools designed for the workplace, there should be a great deal of attention spent trying to make friendly interactions low cost. For example, including a wide variety of ways to allow users to interact, and to support haptic gestures: pats on the back, digital ‘waves’, shout outs.

Excerpt from: Stowe Boyd

I’d extend this beyond social tools. Almost any enterprise software system involves moving information between people and creating information for others. What if those systems made it easy to say “Thank you, nicely done”, made it easier for people to connect as people?

 

Discipline and Improvement

A great support organization is disciplined. it makes commitments and delivers. But it also understands that it not only needs to handle whatever problems come, but also that it needs to understand those problems deeply and ensure that they are fixed. In the context of the product, the support organization brings a back to the rest of the team a clear picture of what’s happening  with the product in the hands of real customers, and together they make it better.

Apple is great at this. As I’ve said before, it’s part of the genius of the Apple Store strategy. Duncan Davidson puts it beautifully:

Remember when Apple introduced the Intel-based MacBook Pros and they changed the power connector from a plug to the new MagSafe adapter? I’m pretty sure I recall Steve saying on stage they made the change in response to seeing lots of broken laptops caused by people tripping over the cord. Sure, tripping over power cords was a well known problem, but I’d imagine that data collected at the Genius Bars helped underline the magnitude of the problem with solid data. Data that would have been less apparent and recognizable if it had filtered through from third party service centers.

Imagine, for a moment, you’re in charge of the development of a product. What’s more compelling? A) Somebody on your staff telling you that third party services centers seem to be buying lots of widgets and that might indicate that there could be a problem. Or, B) The head of your service organization coming over with graphs and charts about exactly which parts break, why customers say they break, and that the cost for fixing the damage caused by a simple bumbling accident averages $593.

Excerpt from: A Hidden Genius at the Apple Store / Duncan Davidson

Understanding what can be improved in the product, or sometimes what’s just plain wrong about it, is not about assigning blame. it’s about making a better product.

Does your support team have this kind of discipline in their role as the voice of the customer?

Some rules to live by…

Joseph Jaffe wrote a fun piece over at DestinationCRM on the 10 New Rules of Customer Service.

I especially like #10:

10. Customer service is alive — Mistakes will always happen, but as long as they only happen once, they’ll most likely become learning opportunities. There’s no playbook or script when it comes to working with a customer as a life partner. Empowering employees to be independent thinkers and proactive problem solvers shouldn’t seem like scaling Mount Everest; nor should it be thought of as only a high-end or premium-priced option or alternative. A simple way to get smarter over time is by closing the loop, acting on suggestions/recommendations and most importantly, communicating this to the entire organization.

excerpt from “The 10 New Rules of Customer Service”
http://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=69388

 

Follow the link and check out the whole list. It’s both fun and thought provoking.

ATT’s contract stickiness

TechCrunch reports that there are some disparities between the estimates of ATT subscriber loss expected if they lose their exclusivity on the iPhone and how ATT CEO Randall Stephenson is portraying the situation.

Earlier today, a study by Credit Suisse was released stating that 23 percent of iPhone users currently on AT&T would switch to Verizon if that carrier offered the phone. That number is slightly off from the 34 percent that was previously reported, but is still pretty massive. In total, that represents about 1.4 million customers that would jump ship from AT&T to Verizon without hesitation. But speaking today at the Goldman Sachs media and technology conference, Communacopia (yes, awful name), AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had something interesting to say about possible defections.

Stephenson noted that 80 percent of AT&T’s iPhone base is either in family plans or business relationships with the carrier and that these type of customers tend to be “very sticky.” So essentially what he’s saying is that those 80 percent of iPhone users probably won’t leave even if they want to. Wow, that’s a fresh approach.

Excerpt from TechCrunch: http://techcrunch.com/2010/09/22/att-iphone-verizon/

Sure, the ATT CEO is predictably putting emphasis on the side of the equation that makes them look best to their investors. The study cited even admits that only 3% of customers would break their contract to switch. More troubling for ATT should be the other report that says 34% of customers waiting for a new carrier before they upgrade their iPhone.

It may be that the past stickiness of family plans and business relationships may not be such a reliable predictor of the future.

 

What good are data, anyway?

Every customer care team I see is buried in data: call durations, inbound call rates, case deflection rates, survey results, case closure time, and all sliced and diced by category, time of day, and product line. It can be overwhelming and confusing. Most of the data monitored is useful only as indicators of the health of the whole system. Most of it is like oil pressure in your engine – if some level is approached, you want to know, because something has gone wrong.

We all know this, but a good customer care team still watches their dashboard very closely. Like a race driver, finely attuned to the sound of the engine and feel of the brakes and steering, they can recognize trouble early and respond.

That data is your feeling, hearing, smell and taste – it’s your sensory system. Even as you focus on the daily job of working with customers and solving problems, you watch, and question. You see patterns. Make that data accessible, easy to explore, and rich with links to real customers and real issues and your whole team can better respond to problems, and even anticipate them.

So is your data in focus? Is its meaning clear? Can you hear every note, every rhythm of the system? Can you easily remix it to focus on one element? Can you hear trouble coming? Can you hear power engaging?