Support Star Interview: Kimthu Doan of OSIsoft

For this month’s interview, I welcome Kimthu Doan of OSIsoft. Kimthu has worked in Support for 20 years including Technical Support operations, delivery and customer success. She started as a software developer and support engineer for a telecom company (PacTel) supporting a cellular coverage prediction software. Having lived through three acquisitions, she gained the experience of adapting into larger and larger companies (PeopleSoft and Oracle) and later used those change-management skills to help other companies that were acquired by the companies she worked for.

She joined OSIsoft two years ago. OSIsoft is a 37-year old family-owned company in the Bay Area that provides an enterprise infrastructure for managing time-series data in manufacturing environments. Their products help customers manage their assets, mitigate risks, comply with regulations, and drive innovation.

She started as the Director of Global Technical Support, managing Technical Support and Managed Services. She now also manages the Customer Success Managers and Global Customer Care, which handles business requests and sales orders. The group is 300 professionals altogether.

Kimthu says that her progression illustrates the upward mobility that employees can achieve at OSIsoft and how they can contribute their skills and experience to serve our customers and the business. And in an engineering company, she has a special interest in encouraging women to pursue a career in engineering.  (“We are hiring!”, she says.)

FT: One thing that’s interesting about your organization is that you hire a lot of engineers right out of school and you train them to be excellent support engineers. What made you embrace this decision and how do you make sure that you hire the right people?

Kimthu Doan: I am supportive of this hiring strategy, which was in place before I started at OSIsoft to execute our founder’s philosophy, because new graduates are eager to learn and innovate, and they have a natural interest in technology. About 5% of our new hires have prior experience in industrial engineering, process engineering, and support, and they also are very successful.

For new graduates, we recruit from top universities and we require a minimum GPA. We use a structured recruiting process that starts with a phone screen by our Recruiting team, then a phone interview prior to in-person interviews.  We hire into TS with a long-term plan for the individual’s career within OSIsoft so we look for competencies needed in every role, specifically:

  • Taking ownership and accountability
  • Self-motivation and initiative
  • Collaboration
  • Growth mindset
  • Integrity, trustworthy, and sincerity

All new hires attend a week of orientation where they learn about the company’s history, tenets and culture, our customers, product strategy, and departmental overviews – and they get to meet our founder and the executive team.

After that, Support offers a comprehensive boot camp to prepare new hires to deliver support remotely and onsite. It contains in-depth training about products, troubleshooting, and tools and processes. You [Francoise] have been a great trainer of the Customer Service skills workshop that is a part of the new-hire training. Finally, we provide weeks of shadowing with more experienced engineers.

With that, we develop engineers who have empathy for customers, who are product experts, and who facilitate collaboration internally to help customers.

FT: Apart from hiring engineers, what other innovative decision would you like to share with us? How is it working out for you?

KT:  As we transition from a small to a medium-size company, we need to transform without losing our tenets and values, and to organize without bureaucracy.  As an example, this is what we have done to streamline staff rotations last year.

In North America where we have large team and specialized roles, we used to rotate support engineers and field engineers several weeks at a time to cross-train them and add flexibility to accommodate customer requests. This required a lot of coordination between the two teams. We switched to an on-demand model so that the support engineers rotate whenever a service request is confirmed. This has increased employee satisfaction, removed downtime, and dramatically reduced coordination demands.

FT: How do you measure success for support organizations?

KT: Customer satisfaction is a given to understand how customers perceive our services.  That said, there are many underlying components that drive it, notably time to resolution and engineers’ expertise.  Similarly to other companies, we want to maintain if not increase high customer satisfaction while improving internal efficiencies, utilizations and innovations.  Our support satisfaction rating has been at 4.7/5.0 for the past couple of years.

FT: Without stressing you out, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?

KT:  Two things have always been on my mind.

  • Managing change through a consensus environment. I often ask myself how I can manage change at speed while allowing everyone to feel part of the decision. I play a role of coach, guide, or mentor as much as I can to facilitate change and decision-making.
  • I am working on motivating and retaining my young workforce, based on our hiring philosophy and our goal to hire for the company,

FT: Is there something you learned or saw done earlier in your career that you now completely reject? What was it and what made you change your mind?

KT:  Not so much of rejecting but changing my approach to acknowledge and compliment team members more frequently, not just for big accomplishments.

FT: When you look at the support field today, what do you wish more organizations would do or try?

KT:  Find ways to relate and include the contributions of support team members into the big picture. Show how support impacts our customers’ business outcomes and the company’s bottom line one issue, one installation, or one training class as a time.

FT: Thank you very much, Kimthu!


Join me at the Transforming Support conference in March

I will be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming Transforming Support conference organized by the Association for Support Professionals (ASP) on March 27-28 in Raleigh, NC. I will be speaking about personalizing service and support (and likely participating in other panels).

Hope to see you there. You can register here.

Support Star Interview: Ansa Sekharan of Informatica

This  month, I welcome Ansa Sekharan of Informatica to the Support Star series (you can find other interviews here,  here, here, and here).

Ansa has worked at Informatica for years, enough to have been promoted more times than I can recall. He started his career as a support engineer at Sybase and he now serves as the Chief Customer Officer. His organization includes Support, Customer Success, Renewals, and Education, over 500 people in all. I noted with interest that he has held an organization-wide offsite kickoff for his team every year for the past 10 years. Unusual, right?

Informatica has been going through an interesting pivot, from traditional on-premise enterprise software to a subscription business. It’s gone private during the transition, and instead of pushing budget cuts, the sponsors decided to grow the company — while still keeping the high profit margins that Informatica has enjoyed historically. It makes for a challenging pivot, especially as the growth target is high.

FT: What changes did you make/are you making to accommodate the transition from on-premise to subscriptions?

Ansa Sekharan: We had to completely rethink the traditional model of having separate functions do their own things in silos. We had to redesign our pricing and packaging so customers can move freely from on premise to subscription, and we had to form new teams to ensure customer adoption. Now, in sales, we have a concept of a selling unit, which brings together the sales rep, the presales specialist, and consulting. We mimicked the same model in customer success and support, and put in place an adoption success unit, comprised of

  • the Customer Success Manager
  • a Customer Support Engineer
  • an Adoption Services Specialist (consulting)
  • and Advanced customer engineering (R&D)

The CSM owns the customer communication and is the conductor of the other functions. All teams are responsible for successful adoption by the customer. The goal is to realize value for the customer within the first year and our first discussion with the customer is to understand their use cases.

We assign CSMs to the top 40% of our customers (representing 80% of our revenue). But CSMs can only orchestrate: they conduct, but we still need people to play the instruments for harmony. With this in mind, we also formed an Adoption Control Center that focuses on the top (larger) 20-30 accounts each quarter, with the goal of doing whatever it takes to make them successful.

FT: Apart from the pivot to the subscription business, what other innovative practices would you like to share with us?

AS: We pride ourselves in the use of technology and innovation to scale our operations. We have a growing team that is responsible for support automation & data science initiatives. One such initiative we are very proud of is that we are can proactively escalate cases on behalf of customers with a high degree of accuracy, based on how many iterations there were on a case, the language used by the customer, the number of cases open at once, etc. This alerts us of any potential issue that could impact business and has been a great value add for our customers and internal stakeholders. We intend to expand the program to predict potential customer churn.

FT: Is there something you learned or saw done earlier in your career that you now completely reject? What was it and what made you change your mind?

AS: I used to have a very transaction-based view of support, with the goal being to close more cases, faster. But now I see adoption as the main goal.

FT: Without stressing you out, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?

AS: For me personally, the opportunity to lead a team like ours is invigorating and a learning experience every single day. This excitement and opportunity to be the pacesetter for support and success keeps me going. I don’t have time to worry!

FT: When you look at the support field today, what do you wish more organizations would do or try?

AS: Too many vendors think that there is a silver bullet. There is not. Support is all about execution discipline more than strategy. And it takes time to execute a strategy, maybe two or three years. Good ideas are not enough. They need to be adapted to the unique requirements of customers and products.

FT: Thank you very much, Ansa!

6 Wishes for 2018

Last week I had the chance to do something I love to do as a consultant: go visit a client onsite and spend time with the support team (Thanks, Cathy!). And I was reminded of three enduring characteristics of support folks:

  1. We care passionately about their customers’ success with the products they support.
  2. We love to collaborate to resolve customer issues.
  3. We are very intolerant of other teams within the organization that do not care as much we do about customers, or do not collaborate with us as well as we would like.

These three points are the inspiration for my wishes for 2018, each triggering a point and a counter-point.

We care passionately about customers

Do. Measure the right outcome! It’s definitely not time to response or other tactical aspects of our work — measure customer satisfaction or net promoter score.

Beware.  Customer love can impair strategic progress. Sometimes, serving customers best means spending less time on delivery, and more time improving the product or the support process. Make time for strategic changes.

We love to collaborate

Do. Make it easy and rewarding to collaborate. Provide clear opportunities to reach out for help, and a good tool to track the collaboration. Reward collaborators.

Beware: Collaboration is fun but 1:1 interactions are not always required. Beef up the knowledge base and other repositories so you can leverage knowledge across the organization.

We are intolerant of teams with different values 

Do. Spend time understanding other teams and craft solid cross-organization processes and SLAs. Some team-building time won’t hurt, either.

Beware. Support teams can go “native” and forget the needs of the larger organization. Sure, we could fix every bug — but that would mean no new features, and massive losses to the competition. We need the business to keep thriving so we can serve customers in the long run.

There we are: six goals for 12 months. Should be doable, right? (And if not, FT Works can help; drop me a note and we can chat).

What are your goals for 2018?