By Bill Pollock, President and Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies for Growth
Technology isn’t new – it’s what makes things new. It’s like that old BASF television commercial – “we don’t make the products you buy; we make the products you buy, better.” Well, for customer support in general, and the services industry in particular, technology is the primary thing that makes the services you sell better – and more profitable, too. But, there’s more to customer support than merely applying the right technology!
One of the greatest opportunities we have in the services sector is the ability to use technology as an enabler to make our offerings better. However, one of the greatest fallacies in the services business is that if you simply embed technology, you’ll be in a better position just for the sake of having done so – that you’ll automatically be able to make your customers happier, and you’ll make more money. But that isn’t always true. If all you’ve got is an old, out-dated services delivery model, and you apply the newest technology to it, you’ll just end up with a quicker, more automated, out-dated system – but not necessarily a better one.
There have been some stunning examples of the misapplication of technology over the years involving businesses that have implemented “brand name” technology just for the sake of implementing technology. They have built some enormous infrastructures – state-of-the-art – but as impressive as they may have initially appeared on paper, they generally end up being only anecdotal to what the real mission of the business is in the marketplace. Even with all the technology they have implemented, they’re still “managing” without a strategy in place. They didn’t “get it” before they implemented the new technology, and they still don’t “get it” – they’re just more automated than they were before.
But technology is not the only thing that a services organization needs in order for its customer support program to succeed – and thrive. There are many other things that are also needed to make it strong – and successful – in the marketplace. It certainly needs people, because without people, it has no “face” to show its customers. However, in recent years, an organization’s “face” may no longer be merely visual. In fact, what has historically been the service provider’s “face” is increasingly being transformed into a “voice” – and that voice doesn’t even have to be a human voice anymore as a result of the forthcoming proliferation of AI-powered chatbots. People will always be important to services organizations; but their future roles within the organization are likely to be quite different tomorrow than they are today.
Service organizations also need customers. It’s a fact of life – without customers, they’ve got no one to sell their products and services to – no one to complete the transaction. However, the days are long since gone for when manufacturers would only support those customers that had purchased their products. Today, not only do most services providers support multi-vendor products, but they also find themselves selling services to completely different types of customers, oftentimes outside of their traditional B2B comfort zone.
Service organizations also need infrastructure – both in terms of organization and operations – in order to ensure that the relationships – and transactions – between their people and their customers are executed and managed effectively. To run their operations efficiently, services organizations must also have the right mix of business processes, policies, and procedures to provide the levels of support that are required – and expected – by customers.
Each and every one of these needs – at first blush – may look to be standalone, independent elements that all organizations face; but, there is a common thread that runs between and among all of them – and that is technology. Technology is the great facilitator – the great expediter that ties everything together: the people, the customers, the infrastructure, and the processes – and it is the one element that most directly impacts all of the others.
Technology also enables us to do things we never dreamed we could do. Services providers can now resolve equipment problems either remotely, on-site, by phone, over the Web, or through any combination thereof. They can wait to hear from the customer before initiating the “fix”, or they can fix the problem before the customer even knows there is a problem. They can fix the problem themselves, or they can partner with others to get the job done. Services providers have many alternatives to accommodate their customers’ needs, and the only questions that typically remain are “how quickly do we need to fix it?” and “how much is it going to cost – both for us, and for them?”
Technology, as it existed 25 years ago, was just that: technology – plain and simple. But even last year’s technology may just not cut it anymore in today’s business environment – certainly not in a segment that is as demanding as the service industry. The technology that abounds today runs circles around yesterday’s technology – and it is almost frightening to think about what tomorrow’s technology will bring to the table. But what’s even more frightening is where your organization will be if it doesn’t also evolve along with the times – and the demands – of the marketplace.