We all want and need similar things – well documented processes, qualified people, rapid responsiveness, fast resolution times, and detailed metrics to identify root causes of process and product failures. But in today’s marketplace – even all of this is not enough! Truth is, support management can achieve all of the above and still fail if corporate commitment to the support organization is not present.
Though traditional mindsets have slowly been changing, all too often support is still seen as “a necessary evil” rather than a strategic part of the business and a critical element to the success of a corporation. And often, when business takes a downturn, support is the first place to feel it, through reduced headcount or slashed budgets. So, what are the keys that show a company is committed to their support organization?
Some important indicators:
- Support is included in strategic planning and goal setting sessions
- Strategic direction statements include support
- Effort is put into analyzing the needs of the support organization
- Support headcount and technology funding
- Support management participates in quarterly reviews
- The company culture is such that all departments focus on what is best for the customer
As a support manager, you can play an active role and make a considerable impact on how your company views support. For starters, you must think of yourself as a businessperson and salesperson, not a firefighter.
As example, if your company has been in business for a number of years, the maintenance revenue can be a significant part of total company revenues. Though only a portion of that maintenance revenue may be allocated back to support (remember that R & D must also be funded), take a moment and compare the cost of running support to those maintenance revenues and you’ll quickly get an idea of support profitability and how your group fits into the overall financial picture of your company.
Every business has a profit and loss (P/L) statement and executives spend a substantial amount of time on how to raise revenues and lower costs to make the company more profitable. P/L entries are the key metrics that corporate executives use to measure the progress of their business. Even though you may not be responsible for your support organization’s P/L, you should be measuring your support group business through analysis of support center metrics, your processes, and costs.
Do some research and find the root causes of undesirable results that affect your support operations. Examine such things as excessive resolution time and poor response time on a product-by-product basis. Develop a metric for cost per call and cost per headcount to better understand your support costs. Look for ways to reduce your costs by analyzing why the costs vary between products and teams and then implement corrective actions.
OK, so now you are a businessperson as well as a firefighter – tackling those day-to-day emergencies. You’ve taken a magnifying glass to your operations. You’ve studied the results and are actively searching for ways to reduce costs and improve customer service. Now it’s time to put on your salesperson hat and promote your support organization’s contributions companywide.
First, you’ll need to identify “sales” opportunities, then leverage those opportunities throughout the company. Identifying opportunities simply involves changing your mindset of the role your support team plays in the company. You must listen very carefully to what the end-user is saying and ask open-ended questions to get the big picture of what the user is trying to achieve with the application or project they are working on. Gaining an understanding of what they are trying to achieve leads to opportunities.
Your support analysts and you probably spend more time talking to clients than anyone else in the corporation. You have the advantage of knowing first hand the problems your customers are experiencing. Subsequently, you can identify consulting and sales opportunities long before others. As you unearth those opportunities, notify your sales and consulting organizations. They will greatly appreciate the leads and begin to tell others about the great job you are doing. But don’t let it stop there.
The second part of wearing the sales hat is “selling” the accomplishments of your support group. Internally, set support center performance goals for improving key metrics and then present your metrics over a period of time as you continue to improve your “business” performance. In addition, you must “wave the flag ” and let people know about the day-to-day achievements of your group. This can be difficult for support mangers, as we deal with problems all day and don’t take time to reflect on our accomplishments. One way is to look for something “good” in what your team does every day. Use this information as input for a recognition program for your team. Document the accomplishments and copy managers of other departments within your company. Present awards for outstanding performance at companywide meeting whenever possible so all employees see the contribution your group has made to the company’s success.
By wearing multiple hats -support manager, businessperson, and salesperson – you will become recognized throughout the company as a mission-critical part of the business. You will also begin to develop an industry reputation as a “Top Quality” service provider.
As the performance of your support center gains attention, you will get the corporate commitment you need for funding and support of your customers. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you can make progress every day. And all the while, you’ll be expanding your knowledge and making yourself more valuable within your company and in the marketplace. Remember – it’s your business!