Welcome to the November 2011 edition of the FT Word. Feel free to forward it to your colleagues. (They can get their own subscription.)
Topics for this month:
- The FT Works indicator – 2/3
- Account management vs. technical account management – what’s the difference?
- Rewards and recognition for support staff
- Lots of news and invitations in the FT Works in the News section.
The FT Works Indicator: 2/3
In a recent survey, Consumer Reports found that 67% of consumers have hung up during service calls before their issues could be addressed. So sad! To be sure, your customers are probably so much better off, but still: what are you doing to identify and turn around frustrated customers? (More on this topic in the FT Works in the News section).
Account Management vs. Technical Account Management
Many thanks to Ravi Desai for suggesting this topic
In the past year I’ve worked with several clients who wanted to add an account management component to their high-end support offerings and were finding it difficult to differentiate it from other, apparently similar offerings from Professional Services and the Sales team. So what is technical account management and how can it be positioned to customers?
1. Sales-based account management programs typically focus on generating additional income from existing customers. They can work very well with highly complex sales when customers need copious amounts of pre-sales technical assistance – and especially when most sales are with existing customers. Still, customers understand that the account management they receive under this scenario is really a sales function – and that it can be removed at any time.
2. Consulting-based programs are usually in place for the duration of an implementation, with the focus being to get the customer to use the product fully through a combination of services and perhaps additional product sales. Consulting-based programs are typically not a long-term commitment but are limited to the implementation period – which, granted, can be quite long.
3. Support-based programs focus more on customer satisfaction, although of course appropriate sales opportunities can be uncovered (and shared with the sales team when they are). Technical account management can be delivered through an individual that provides both technical support and the account management piece, but more often the technical work flows through a different person and the account manager, although somewhat knowledgeable technically, is focused more on maintaining a harmonious relationship.
4. There is no set terminology. An “account manager” can belong to sales, professional services, or support”, and even a “technical account manager” can belong to Professional Services or Support.
5. Customers appreciate the concept of a single point of contact. Regardless of how the service is provided it’s considered valuable by customers, all the more if the vendor is large (hence more challenging to navigate) and the customer is large (hence has more complex needs and may suffer from internal coordination challenges).
6. It takes a special individual to be a TAM and to be a trusted, unbiased advisor to the customer while still liaising effectively with the sales team, typically an individual who is well versed in the vertical(s) you are serving as well as the technical side of things.
7. Technical account management can be packaged in multiple ways. Most commonly, it is embedded in a higher-level tier of a support portfolio or can be purchased as an option. I personally like the idea of embedding it within a premium support offering because it gives you more pricing flexibility (as an option, there is an understandable tendency for customers to equate contact hours with the TAM with dollars). Some vendors choose to assign TAMs “for free” to customers that contribute more than a set amount in support fees. This can work well if you have very large customers who would benefit from the program from your perspective.
8. Structure technical account management. For instance you can commit to a weekly phone review of support issue, a monthly discussion of best practices, a quarterly metrics review, a yearly account review onsite. The more structured the easier it will be to convince customers of the value of the package.
9. Customers with a TAM are more satisfied. While fee-based TAM programs pay for themselves, it’s my experience that customers who have a TAM also tend be more loyal customers, from renewing support contracts to purchasing additional products.
10. There is a place for technical account managers (the support kind) alongside other account management functions. If you find that there are other, similar functions, take great care to use different terminology and to carefully differentiate what the (support) technical account manager will do that’s different from what other functions may provide.
Rewards and Recognition for Support Staff
Many thanks to Debbie Riegel for suggesting this topic.
Take an honest look at the rewards you handed out last quarter:
- None? That’s not good…
- A day off? Totally appropriate for someone who spent a weekend day resolving a hot issue, but otherwise what kind of message are you sending?
- A trinket? Is that trinket now safely tucked into a desk drawer, never to be seen again?
- A gift certificate? Spent and forgotten? Humiliatingly small? For a store the rep would never patronize?
- A bonus? Sadly buried on a pay stub that nobody can read, and, in any case, diminished by taxes and other automatic withdrawals?
And the reasons why you gave the rewards:
- Heroic work above and beyond the call of duty? Are you creating a culture where firefighting is rewarded to the point that setting fires might be encouraged?
- Lots and lots of activities? And not so much the right kinds of activities…
- Approved by three levels of management? So that no first-line manager in their right mind will bother asking for one.
- Same old criteria each and every quarter? Ad nauseam.
With that, here are some ideas for managing rewards:
1. Know what your staff values. For most support teams with decent compensation schemes, it’s more about job growth and a sane work environment than pure monetary gain.
2. A good manager is worth 1000 rewards. OK, I just made this up but being able to have a clear direction and adequate feedback, positive and negative, is much more important than a cute little award. Don’t expect that a rewards program will ever compensate for managers that are not doing the basics properly: setting expectations, recognizing a job well done, and, very important, weeding out problem employees.
3. Institute regular awards and “just because” rewards. While it’s useful to have predictable, institutional rewards, it’s also helpful to allow managers to reward individuals on the spur of the moment.
4. Reward the behaviors you want repeated. The regular, public rewards must match your support philosophy. If you say you are all about customer satisfaction but you always reward the person who closed the most cases, you have a conflict – and the rewards will win!
5. Encourage team input. Teamwork is an excellent characteristic in a support organization – why not reward people who are nominated by their peers (perhaps with a right of veto by the management team).
6. Remove all bureaucracy for immediate rewards. If someone just wrote the best knowledge base article ever or averted a customer meltdown at great personal cost, any manager should be able to immediately give an award without approvals. Trust and verify.
7. Talk to HR. Every company has rules about awards and you don’t want to violate them, for your sake and the employees’. But do insist on the right to make those immediate awards. Savvy HR reps know how to make them happen.
8. You can go cheap but not lame. A $50 visa gift card is not that much money, but it’s useful, immediately useful, and useful for anyone. A large “decorative” object not so much.
9. A little adoration goes a long way. By all means recognize the awardees formally during an All-Hands meeting. It’s so much easier to do that if you have reasonable criteria for the awards, criteria that match your general support philosophy (see #4). And why not integrate the awards into the online identity of the winners, for as long as they work for the company?
10. Think global. Remote staff, especially home-based staff, needs recognition too. Make sure that the program is inclusive and will work in all locations.
Still unsure of what to do? Talk to your “stars”, the ones that are likely to get the awards you are designing. What do they want? What would be meaningful to them? And you can start with a handful of awards: a customer satisfaction award based on customer satisfaction ratings (plus some minimum productivity, if needed), a knowledge award based on authoring highly used articles (so not lots of articles, rather lots of links on articles written), and a teamwork award based on nominations. Those three would be your official, regular awards and can be supplemented by ad-hoc awards. Now all you need to do is think of a cool name for them.
FT Works in the News
Offshoring Best Practices Webinar – November 3rd
M. M. “Sath” Sathyanarayan of Offshoring Success and I are co-sponsoring a complimentary webinar this Thursday, November 3rd, at 11am PT/2pm ET on the topic of support offshoring. Click here to register and for more information. It should be a great conversation for all of you who are either struggling with your offshoring efforts or thinking of offshoring and want to do it right.
New Article – Premium Support
TSIA published an article I wrote entitled Special Support for Special Customers: A Premium Support Primer in their November 2011 issue. You can read it at http://www.tsia.com/emails/Inside_Technology_Services/2011-10-20-insdide_tech_services/2011-10-20-tourniaire.html?mtcCampaign=-1&mtcEmail=23852530
Real-time Escalation Detection Help?
I spoke to the executives at Linguix Labs recently and they are finding that most executives believe it’s very difficult to identify the support cases that are going poorly before it’s too late – too late to prevent an escalation, too late to impact customer satisfaction, and too late to prevent customer attrition. Linguix Labs offers a text analytics engine that analyzes all text based support communication (email, chat, and support portal), and in real-time, provides an early warning that a case is beginning to go poorly so that action can be taken. Sounds intriguing to me. If you want to know more, go to www.linguixlabs.com/info.
Third Tuesday Forum Breakfast – November 15th
The next Third Tuesday Forum breakfast is on November 15th and will feature Keith Redfield of Juniper Networks. Keith will be speaking about Solving Problems Before Customers Know They Have Them: Service Automation in Complex Environments. Service Automation optimizes the support process by letting your product do as much discovery, diagnostics, and even problem avoidance as possible. Keith will discuss how to make automation work in the real world of complex support
Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.
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