Category Archives: Management

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.

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?


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?

Promises and Expectations

Our local Apple store is the Palo Alto store on University Avenue, known by some as “Steve’s Store”. My wife’s iPhone has lost its backlight, so I stopped in today to get it replaced or repaired. The store is packed, of course. I realize I should have made an appointment.

Ah, but it’s till worth checking. I step up to a computer and try to schedule an appointment – nothing available untii tomorrow. *sigh*

One of the Apple team is a few feet away, so I pull the phone out. “I think I need to get this phone fixed. The backlight doesn’t come on.” She takes it and checks some settings. “Wow, it’s really dark. No backlight at all!” She has to hold it at just the right angle to see the screen. “You checked the brightness control?” “Yeah, and I powered it down and back up a couple times. Everything seems to work except the backlight.”

She pulls out her iPod Touch. “Let’s see if I can get you on the schedule.” I’m about to tell her about checking the appointment schedule already, when she says “Can you come back in an hour?”

A few minutes later I walk out, and head across the street for a gelato and some wifi to get a little work done while I wait.

The User Experience

Apple has thought through how to make this work. Yeah, sure, they have an appointment system – that’s not such a big deal. But they don’t overbook these appointments, like so many would. They always have some ability to “Squeeze you in” if you just show up.

You can bet this is instrumented closely to ensure the right customer experience, as well as to make good use of available staff. Any good support manager would do that. But what sets this apart is the care that goes into ensuring that the whole experience works right for me, the customer.

FInishing the Story

Back in the store, I stopped the first apple person I saw, and she checked me in. I was a few minutes early for my 3:40pm appointment. At 3:43pm, a young guy found me. After a quick look at the iPhone, he said, “Let me take this in the back, where I can check inside. Sometimes it’s just a loose or broken cable.” 6 minutes later he returns with a working phone. “Ah, it was just the cable, eh?” I said. “Nope. had to replace the screen. I do need to do a little paperwork before we’re done, sorry.”

At 3:56pm I walked out of the Apple store.

Steve’s HR Technology – Journal – The Conference Room Paradox

Steve Boese considers the conference room…

You know you have all been there before. The big conference room paradox. Organizations drag everyone into a central location called ‘the office’, but then parcel out space in small increments of cubes and private offices, and there is hardly any space to actually interact and communicate and collaborate. The ‘big’ conference room becomes highly prized as a gathering place, and slots are tightly distributed by the hour, and snatched up without much thought to importance or value to the enterprise.

Excerpt from: Steve’s HR Technology – Journal – The Conference Room Paradox

The best companies put at least some attention to this issue. The main Google campus, for example, was built by SGI back when it was the hottest thing in Silicon Valley. Group spaces were built in, including many casual areas for gathering and sharing ideas.

One of my tricks for meeting management is to book meetings differently depending on what we’re doing. A deep problem solving session might be booked for 90 minutes or 2.5 hours, whereas a standing status meeting might be booked only for 40 minutes. (and then managed aggressively to that schedule.

Deciding what you are meeting for is crucial. Updating and sharing is different from problem solving or idea creation. And honestly, most teams can do with more of the latter.