Technical Support: Cost or Profit Center?

At Aberdeen Group’s 2012 Chief Service Officer Summit, 85% of attending business leaders stated that their organization is placing an increased importance on customer service. From the chart below, you can see that customer service equates to big business. The difference in retention, loyalty, revenue growth and service margins are remarkably better for companies able to maintain a greater than 90% level of customer satisfaction.

However, maintaining a high level of satisfaction is not easy given the growth in customer expectations. Aberdeen reported in late 2012 that only 39% of companies report increasing satisfaction and even fewer report that they’ve been able to increase either customer retention or loyalty. Obviously it’s time for companies to evolve their service delivery if they’d like to see the needle shift firmly toward growth in these areas. This is especially true for technical support as it’s integral to product and solution adoption and longevity of use.

For lines of business, satisfied customers are a driving force for revenue as 42% continue to spend money on products and services with 35% of them increasing their spend levels. Thirty-eight percent promote the brand and 37% of satisfied customers bring the company new customers.

Take a Hard Look at Technical Support Vendors

Changing customer expectations, competitive pressures and customers demanding more information are the top pressures on your service organization. Coupled with reduced customer spending and your technical support vendor must truly deliver exceptional experiences to provide a differentiator for your company that delivers to the bottom line.

Customer satisfaction is nice, but without customer commitment it won’t translate into the performance improvements you’re looking for. In order to ensure that your technical support vendor is an asset and not a liability in this quest, take a look at the following:

  • Agent engagement levels as they correlate to impact on top KPIs, such as first call resolution, average handle time and consistency of the experiences delivered.
  • The vendor’s ability to create structure and support for new service offerings. Without this capability new service innovation will continue to be obstructed—as well as associated revenues.
  • Assess the level of renewal of service contracts for technical support. Is it growing? At what rate? Additionally, ask your sales team whether service delivery is a bonus that helps produce revenue for solution and product sales. If it’s not seen as a selling point, you have a problem.
  • Voice of the Customer (VoC) feedback programs. Your technical support provider should be not only recording and using VoC programs to improve the services they provide, but sharing it across organizational business units to ensure that the customer experience is shaped from all touch points.
  • Service Level Agreement (SLA) compliance. If your technical support provider is missing SLAs or not delivering above and beyond them, your ability to negotiate higher-price contracts for higher levels of service will be diminished.
  • You should also consider the level of which your technical support vendor displays the command and control over the contact center as if it were an independent business unit. While this does include your services operational management, it also is indicative of the level of contribution your technical support vendor can provide toward the accomplishment of business objectives. Are they bringing new ideas to the table or are they functioning at a base level of competency with no innovation on the horizon? As a partner it’s imperative that they bring expertise to the table that aids in developing services that can sustain the competitive advantages needed in today’s competitive environment.

Choosing Change Is More Profitable Than a State of Indifference

When confronted with an unsatisfactory outcome from evaluating the above points, standing still is not an option. If current providers cannot adapt and improve to satisfy company and customer needs, then choosing the right vendor will move the needle toward growth, as well as to reduce transition risks as your business moves forward.

Aberdeen’s Trends in Customer Service report finds that “nearly 50% of organizations are looking to increase revenue with the aid of better service and support.” This focus is reducing the traditional view of customer service as a cost center and shifting it toward a source of revenue. Collaboration, performance visibility and agent empowerment are seen as three critical drivers for this shift.

Switching technical support vendors can lower the risk of missing this objective by selecting an experienced vendor that can provide a detailed template project plan for implementing and the ramp-up of a service plan in relation to company objectives. The vendor you select should be able to explain what the first couple of years of operations will look like and how they’ve successfully managed the five evaluation criteria above. They should be able to paint a picture for how operations will evolve from the stabilization of services at the beginning to processes and methodologies they’ll use to improve performance over time.

What you’ll get with the right technical support provider is a sense of ownership for service delivery that enables accountability for service performance, more proactive planning for future service needs and a willingness to facilitate collaboration with your service management team to ensure stability and provide valuable insights that can be used across the enterprise to improve customer relationships overall.

Nick Sellers

Author Nick Sellers

Nick Sellers is the Senior Director of Strategy & Marketing at SYKES. An outsourced contact center and customer experience veteran with almost 30 years of understanding and satisfying the needs of companies and their customers, Nick focuses on customer service through online channels (chat, social media, community forums, self-help) and support solutions for technology sector companies. Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or on my personal blog at www.journey2excellence.com.

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