I work with a lot of companies to assess their current contact center operations and offer guidance on improving service through technology and process adoption. My methodology centers on the premise of reducing customer effort. One of the most overlooked areas with deployed technology solutions is the support services provided by either the reseller or manufacturer. The gaps in post-production support contributes to projects not achieving the stated objectives and do not create an environment that makes it effortless to service your customers. What can we do different?
Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
When I review the RFI/RFP/buying process for a client, frequently the only support item listed for review is the SLA resolution. Most customers focus on the resolution time targets, and some ask for a financial penalty for downtime. While the SLA resolution and uptime are critical, it is only one piece of an effective ongoing relationship with the reseller or manufacturer supporting your customer service operations. To make sure that a solution delivers the intended ROI, consider the addition of the following elements to a support contract:
1: New Product Versions
Whether you have a premise or cloud solution, you want to make sure that your support, or hosting, contract provides access to new product versions at no additional cost. From a business perspective, nothing is more frustrating than learning that a deployed solution is “end of life” and you must pay for a latest version upgrade that potentially adds no new functionality or value to your customers. While it is standard that all defects and minor releases are included, negotiate to cover all new releases.
Cloud providers continually add new features, make sure they are included at your current price structure you want to avoid the infamous “add-on” charges over time. This is the cloud equivalent of infamous out of scope project change requests that frequently turn $1M projects into $2M projects. If you elected to use vendor X in the cloud for $75 per agent, per month – we see add-ons drive that cost up to $150. Purchasing a solution a la carte is fine, if you have protections in your contract.
2: Defined Support Process
I recommend that you peel back the onion on the support process and determine the roles of your organization versus your vendor. When a problem arises, do you own responsibility to collect logs or recreate the problem with trace level activated? Or, do you provide access to your environment and have the vendor perform the tasks?
When you partner with an outside vendor for their expertise, they need to accept responsibility for all the initial triage steps. Nothing is more annoying than hearing the infamous phrase, “please recreate the problem, turn up the logging level, and following these 10 steps to upload the information to our support portal.” That is not creating an effortless experience for your organization – who needs to focus on customers and not mastering technology debugging.
When working in the cloud, we want to avoid the “not covered by support, this is professional services” when you have production issues. Frequently, I see cloud providers removing support altogether. While it creates an attractive price against their market peers, the practice creates a scenario that puts your IT or care operations behind the eight ball when something goes wrong. When an issue arises (and it will), you are then presented with a standard support agreement or a costlier managed services option – driving up the real cost of your cloud solution.
3: Technical escalation contact
Another key item is the escalation path if a support site is not responsive or an open ticket does not get resolved to your expectations. Your contract should have an escalation section, with named contacts that your team can call in the event the support is not meeting your expectations. The contact needs to be technical and not the same resource performing account management. Using your account manager invites the dreaded “telephone game” in which person A talks to person B, who then contacts person C for an answer injects time delays and you have no guarantee that someone in the chain will not modify the original issue.
4: All monitoring is not equal
Another key element is the monitoring of the solution components. Some providers will support standards and other methods to use a corporate monitoring solution. Other providers will have their own built-in monitoring and alerts. I see too much time focused on point solution monitoring versus enterprise – and not enough time spent on what monitoring actually covers or guarantees.
The goal with monitoring needs evolved to “working as expected” and not just monitoring that all systems are operational. Too often, we see green lights indicating all systems are a go but components are not performing as expected. Modern monitoring needs to simulate production transactions and provide alerts when thresholds are exceeded on key metrics like timing. You cannot support your customers if a webpage takes 15 seconds to load – but your monitoring shows all systems at green!
5: Whose staff is it?
A final item to investigate is staffing. You need to ask questions and weigh the risk factors on less than optimal answers. I like to use the following questions as a base when reviewing the vendor support and product teams:
- Does the Tier 1 support team work for the company or do they use a provider for Tier 1 processing?
- What is the release schedule for bug fix and minor enhancements from the product team? (i.e. bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly)
- Does the R&D team work for the product company or is it sourced to a 3rd party? (If sourced, you need to understand the terms of the contract to know if active R&D exists on the product)
Production Support Services
If you have solutions in which the product manufacturer or reseller might not deliver on the marketing hype or promised ROI, look at the support contract and make sure that you are receiving value beyond the SLA resolution targets. Starting with the items listed above, you can evolve the contract into a value added part of the service provided to customers.