The FT Word
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Welcome to the June 2006 issue of the FT Word. Thank you for sharing it with your colleagues to continue to spread best practices in support.
Topics for this month:
· Transitioning customers from the implementation team to the support team
· T people: why they are key to support success and how to develop more in your organization
· A new FT Works booklet: A Big, Happy, Multicultural Family? Managing the global operation. Your guide to successful worldwide support, whether you already have a worldwide operation or are considering one.
Transitioning Customers from the Implementation Team to the Support Team
Thanks to Sandi Brady for suggesting this topic.
If your customers typically spend some time implementing the products they bought with your organization’s consultants before they roll out, the transition from Professional Services to Support can be rough. But you can plan ahead to smooth the way: here’s how.
1. Brief the customer on what was done during the implementation
The customer will have to maintain the system going forward so the consultants must plan a knowledge transfer towards the end of the engagement. The knowledge transfer is often shrunk or lost in the madness of the rollout, when the customer has not hired the right people soon enough, when the schedule was poorly thought of in the first place, or when last-minute additions take priority. Work with the Professional Services team to preserve the integrity of the knowledge transfer. It is key to long-term customer satisfaction! A short knowledge transfer is better than none. Leaving behind materials, especially a complete documentation of the changes (yes, I’ve seen it happen once or twice!) is also effective, especially if the customer has been slow in hiring a permanent caretaker.
2. Formally introduce the Support team
During the implementation the customer typically works with the Professional Services consultants and the consultants, not the customer, interact with Support. It’s a nice touch for the consultants to facilitate a formal introduction to Support towards the tail-end of the engagement (and it’s also in their interest to wean the customer away from them!) The introduction does not need to be a formidable affair: a review of the support offerings focusing on the one the customer has purchased, a demo of the various online support options, the logging of a test case, and an overview of the case resolution process should do. For larger customers a conference call with a support manager is nice. An onsite visit by the support account manager is even better.
Any existing documentation about support such as a Support’s User Guide is perfect to guide the introduction. Make sure that all the support contacts are aware of the processes. They are not always the individuals who worked on the implementation itself.
3. Take care of the contacts logistics
Talking about support contacts, make sure that they are properly recorded in the database and have the login information necessary to use the online tools. There’s nothing more frustrating to a customer than not being able to place a support request, especially after a long and difficult implementation. This should be a very easy step as long as the implementation team thinks to signal the support team.
4. Plan for a transition period in case something goes wrong
Consultants typically disappear the minute the implementation project is completed. That’s understandable, but it’s a big problem if there is an issue with the code they wrote or the parameters they set. Work out a way to track down and contact consultants during the period immediately following the rollout, which is when most problems are likely to occur. Many Professional Services organizations give some kind of warranty on their work to handle such issues.
5. Flag new customers in the tracking system
Right after the rollout new customers typically open more cases and display less knowledge of the product. By flagging them you help the support staff recognize that issues may be both more urgent and more basic than normal and they can act accordingly. You may also want to prioritize the requests from new customers above others. Remove the flag after a few weeks or months.
6. Consider a formal account management function
It can be quite a step to move from an onsite presence to the cold world of remote support. At least for larger customers it may make sense to offer some level of account management for the first few weeks or months to make sure the transition is smooth. What this means is that someone reviews the customers’ cases daily to spot any large influx, or cases that are not progressing properly. The same individual should also check in with the customer on a regular basis, maybe weekly at first, to make sure everything is going well. Taper off the attention as the customer gets into the swing of things.
Naturally, you’ll want to tailor the level of your efforts to the size of the customers. A very large customer may get the royal treatment including a personal briefing and assigned account manager while a small customer may get a short initial web-based briefing and occasional checks from an on-duty manager. The good news is that treating new customers well is a good investment: customers who start on the right foot are more trusting, more forgiving, and easier to work with in the long run.
T people: why they are key to support success and how to develop them
Very simply, T people are generalists (that’s the horizontal bar of the T) who also have one or several deep specialties (the vertical bar.) Most support organizations would do very well to cultivate T people.
1. They can do everything!
If you’re looking for people to deal with incoming cases, T people are fantastic. As generalists, they can handle anything you throw their way so your scheduling woes are over. If you hire people who have only a few skills (that is, their horizontal bar is very small), work on widening their skills first.
Naturally, if you have a huge product line and a matching huge support team you don’t have to make everyone a generalist for all products. Define some reasonably large sub-areas and cultivate T people in each area.
2. They can handle gray cases
If you use specialists you will quickly find that customer problems occasionally fall between your carefully created lines. T people can figure out both sides of the issue and can often resolve gray-area problems single-handedly.
3. They are ideal for the Touch-and-Hold model
If you use a Touch-and-Hold case resolution model, in which the individual who grabs the case is expected to bring it to resolution, T people are very useful as they are used to troubleshooting and know how to make a well-formed request if they need assistance.
4. They give you flexibility when it comes time to specialize
Over time, you will want each individual to acquire one or more specialty areas. By starting with generalists you can more easily assign specialty areas that match your requirements. And if a specific product or platform is jettisoned you can easily retrain them in the new specialty. On the other hand, someone with a narrow specialty may find it very difficult to switch over.
5. They make better specialists
Having a general understanding of all the products helps T people recognize and resolve problems in gray areas. And they have more empathy with the requestors since they know how challenging it is to have to know a wide area of the product.
6. They can be developed
If you hire staffers with little knowledge of your products, you can train them as generalists from the start and then ask them to develop one or more specialties once they become proficient. But you can also develop T people from specialists – at least if you can get them to buy into the benefits. Specialists can be leery of working issues in areas they do not know well, but assuming they have good troubleshooting abilities (and they get opportunities to exercise their new horizontal bar) they should be able to function well as T people. So whether you are starting from scratch or starting over, consider the T people concept in planning your staffing requirements.
FT Works in the News
I just released a new booklet for the managers of global support operations, both those who already have a worldwide presence and those who are thinking about it. It’s called A Big, Happy, Multicultural Family? Managing the global operation.
Note that if your interest is strictly about offshore outsourcing the booklet to read is Successful Support outsourcing.
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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