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This past TSW was my 27th TSIA conference, and I can honestly say it was my favorite conference experience so far. I received great feedback on my content, the attendees were incredibly engaged, and there was tremendous buzz throughout the hallways and EXPO, and even the hotel elevators. Going non-stop from 7 AM to 10 PM every day was exhausting, but I had countless conversations across scheduled one-on-ones, questions in breakouts, hallway conversations, etc., and I always learn as much as the attendees from these exchanges.

I captured a lot of thoughts in a notebook, on my laptop, scribbled on business cards, and even voice notes on my Pixel XL 2 (sorry, can’t justify the 3 just yet), and looking back over all of those conversations, a series of themes emerged. I think this represents some interesting trends, or at least what was top of mind with the folks I spoke with. Good things to consider as we head into planning for 2019.

Employee Engagement Isn’t Just About Millennials

My keynote, Power Hour, and breakout sessions were focused on creating effective employee engagement programs. Of all the keynotes I’ve done over the years across an extremely wide array of topics, nothing has ever hit a nerve (in a good way) with the audience like this subject. We really started a revolution on this topic, and I suspect the majority of attendees who didn’t have an employee engagement program in place are now starting one.

There was one point in particular that I heard over and over: Millennials may be the impetus driving employee engagement, but everyone benefits. It was very rewarding to have so many young attendees say this theme really resonated with them, but just as common were older attendees saying, “These programs are extremely welcome, and we should have pushed for this sooner.” Everyone needs feedback. Everyone benefits from positive reinforcement. Everyone thrives with engaged leadership. And everyone, at every level, needs a career path. Maybe meeting the needs of younger workers is forcing companies to examine processes and create formal employee engagement programs, but every employee, of every age, and at every level, benefits.

Planning for Extreme Digital Channels

A few years ago, the big buzz on customer channels was all about social. While I still don’t see Twitter support catching on with B2B companies, one thing everyone asked me about last week was how soon do they need to adopt digital channels, in particular, SMS text and messaging apps. Whether it is WhatsApp in Brazil, WeChat in China, Nimbuzz in India, or LINE in Japan, these apps are becoming the default communication mechanism. I heard from several conference attendees who are investing in the infrastructure to support customers via these apps, using a standard agent chat interface that works with any app on any device. If you ask me where to place your bets for the future, this is it. (And sorry Mark Zuckerberg, but no one mentioned Facebook Messenger all week.)

Everyone Is Responsible for Customer Success

I had conversations about customer success processes and tools with sales reps, support execs, sales renewal specialists, education services leaders, and field service managers. While absolutely some companies have a specific Customer Success organization and dedicated customer success managers (including TSIA), I heard from attendees, TSIA members, and partners that everyone has a role in customer success, and customer success movements are thriving, even within companies without a defined CS role or department. I’ve been hearing since CRM began in the 90s that companies are “organizing around the customer,” and frankly that’s been more lip service than reality. But with the understanding of how critical customer experience and customer success are, particularly in a subscription world, I’m finally believing it is happening. And the movement (and responsibility) is definitely bigger than a single department.

Redefining High Touch/Low Touch

In the support world, there’s always been a distinction between high and low touch interactions with customers, i.e., “high touch” being a phone conversation with an experienced support technician or technical account manager, and “low touch” being self-service or some automated support option that didn’t involve a live employee. High touch was good, low touch was considered a poorer customer experience. Some companies are re-thinking what high touch means due to the shift in customer channel preferences and investments in innovative self-service.

One conversation was about moving customers on retired products to “low touch” channels, but with a “high touch” experience, leveraging artificial intelligence to create a highly personalized and effort-free interaction. Another company shared how their customer experience/satisfaction surveys consistently show higher ratings for self-service than assisted service after a major self-service overhaul. For companies who are investing heavily in AI and machine learning for self-service, we need to redefine what high vs. low touch means, and remember that today’s customers do not require a live agent to receive an exceptional service interaction. My final though: let’s stop saying high touch or low touch, and focus instead on “right touch.”

Self-Service for Professional Services.

In May 2017, I gave a TSW keynote, “Creating A Converged Online Customer Engagement Strategy,” that recommended including professional services in customer portal creation, to give customers a dashboard to check the status of any open projects. Then in May of this year, my TSW keynote was “Navigating The Brave New World of Microtransactions,” which called for the creation of online service catalogs for PS offerings, and the ability for customers to book mini-engagements, such as creating a custom report online. Last week, I heard from TSIA members and partners that PS is definitely embracing self-service. Members are investigating how to enable customers to book PS projects online, even more complex engagements, and are asking their PSA vendors to offer more functionality to enable this, such as automated proposal generation, streamlined resource assignments, and integration to e-commerce engines to allow online payments. This is partly due to the huge overhead of manually generating proposals, but also increased demand from customers for faster turnaround time on quoting and scheduling, and requests for more self-service options.

To cap off this theme, Cisco was named the STAR Award Enterprise Winner for Best Practices in Leveraging PSA for Service Excellence, with an amazing application about how they used sophisticated artificial intelligence to engineer a “One Click Proposal and Quote” generator that dropped the time to generate PS quotes by an incredible 93%. With this level of automation now being achieved, self-service is clearly on the horizon.

Join the Conversation at TSW San Diego 2019

I hope this view into the conversations I had last week was as interesting to read as it was to write! Thanks to everyone who stepped away from keynotes and breakouts to meet with me, and a special thanks to all the members and partners for your participation, questions, and dialogue. That’s one more successful TSW completed, and planning is already underway for spring!

Everyone who attended TSW Las Vegas 2018 and TSIA members have access to the reports I’ve linked in this post, but if you don’t want to be left out of the conversations, I highly encourage you to come to our spring conference TSW San Diego 2019, May 6-8. You can save 30% by registering before the end of the year. I hope to see you there, and as always, thanks for reading!

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John Ragsdale

About Author John Ragsdale

John Ragsdale is a distinguished researcher and the vice president of technology ecosystems for TSIA. His area of expertise is in creating strategies for improving the service operations and overall customer experience by leveraging innovative technology. John works closely with TSIA’s partner ecosystem, identifying leading and emerging technology vendors whose products help solve the key business challenges faced by TSIA members. He is also author of the book, Lessons Unlearned, which chronicles his 25-year career inside the customer service industry.

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