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This is the very first Technology & Services World conference I’ve had the opportunity to attend as part of the research team, and I have to say it was quite an experience. It never ceases to amaze me how much value attendees receive from attending TSW.
This year, I have the chance to write a blog about “what I heard”, a series previously written by John Ragsdale, Distinguished Vice President of Technology Research. Whether it’s sitting amongst the audience during keynotes, attending John Ragsdale’s 1:1 session with members and partners, or speaking directly with Partners during EXPO hours, there were a few recurring themes I felt were most popular. These themes include the following:
One topic that I’ve increasingly heard within the past year but was surprised to hear so much about at the conference was challenges and opportunities for future service leaders and employee engagement programs. This was the topic discussed during a breakfast tabletop discussion hosted by Judi Platz and John Ragsdale, which focused on how to better accommodate younger workers (i.e., millennials and Gen X). The engagement during this discussion was amazing, and it seems that with younger generations starting to make up a larger proportion of the workforce and leadership, companies are finally implementing programs designed to better attract and retain these future service leaders.
Interestingly, I think most of the people who came were senior leaders looking for guidance on effectively managing and collaborating with millennials and Gen X. I thought the conversations around changing hiring and retention programs, career pathing, new approaches to training, etc., were all good. The millennials at my table had just been made directors, so they are definitely aging into the senior leadership and bringing their expectations for an increasingly digital workplace with them.
One of many best practices for younger workforce employee engagement is to regularly collect honest, anonymous feedback. This was a point brought up by Dustin Shulkin, prior TSIA Senior Customer Success Manager, in his report, “10 Elements of a Successful Employee Engagement Program,” but that’s easier said than done, as companies often hastily adopt best practices without properly staffing or managing them. An example of this is when knowledge management programs fail.
A successful example, however, and one that I can recall from experience, is how a previous employer of mine implemented a “talk to the top” program. This is an anonymous intranet site wherein employees can publicly post questions and concerns directed to the CEO or leadership team. I have to say, some of the questions posted were quite humorous, such as, “Why do we get less vacation days compared to most companies?” and, “Why does the cafeteria line take to so long.” The intention wasn’t to create a forum for complaints, but instead to create a platform where the workforce feels they are being listened to.
After an employee posted a question, the CEO or senior leadership would then reply to these questions publicly, further fostering an inclusive and transparent workplace. The point is that even though companies aren’t going to make every single change requested from its workforce, the least it can do is listen and have an answer. If companies can do this in an anonymous public format, even better.
Another topic gaining traction is that of professional service automation (PSA) tools pushing the boundaries of what they can offer. This topic somewhat related to a topic TSIA has covered in the past, that of services convergence, introduced by Thomas Lah, TSIA’s Executive Director. TSIA defines services convergence as, “The merging of previously independent service capabilities into organizational structures that improve the customer experience and reduce the cost to deliver.”
Basically, whereas different service organizations used to operate in a siloed segmented fashion, companies nowadays are merging these organizations into one solid service delivery group. Ideally, this would reduce the cost to service customers as well as improve the customer experience.
We are hearing of more departments selling services, including Education Services (training), Customer Success (custom onboarding), Managed Services (configurations), Field Services (on-site equipment setup and repair), and each of these groups is looking for technology like PSA to help them manage the revenue pipeline, coordinate resources and scheduling, and oversee project delivery.
Similar to how organizations are unifying their different service offerings, companies are also widening their product market to target customers that were never before considered. In this case, PSA vendors are emphasizing product capabilities beyond the traditional resource management and project management, in particular the ability to forecast revenues and profitability, giving these tools a bit of sales appeal. This means sales executives or any quota-carrying service leaders are now likely candidates to adopt PSA tools, especially if they’re seeking visibility into alternative revenue sources.
My prediction for next year is that a multitude of solution providers will find ways to rebrand themselves, as they target buyers interested in project quoting, resource management, and project management outside of professional services. Sales and project management will merge, and this new capability will bring additional scalable revenue to service organizations. Doing so will not only help ensure companies can breakeven on their project costs, but may also turn project management organizations into profit centers.
The last topic I heard a lot about at TSW, and the one I personally find the most interesting is new use cases for self-service portals. We often hear the word “portal” and quickly associate it with self-service, or customers troubleshooting a product on their own without the assistance of a support rep, and that is because companies have increasingly invested large amounts of capital into adopting self-service capabilities in the hopes that customers can more effectively and happily resolve basic issues on their own. But like the PSA solutions mentioned above, portals are also pushing the boundaries on self-service.
While self-service for technical support is well understood, I’m hearing that there is a growing interest in creating new self-service capabilities with revenue implications. Imagine being a customer and having the ability to log into your account and renew your contract for an additional year without the assistance of a customer success rep. Better yet, in addition to renewing your contract, imagine if you can also select additional services, modules, and even upgrade your existing account. We’re already seeing this in B2C industries but we’re barely scratching the surface for B2B.
That’s not to say that customer success managers can’t do their jobs, but the revenue implications for organizations are tremendous. If properly implemented, enabling customers to automatically renew their service contracts as well as browse a catalog of services to purchase and complete the purchase online can reduce the manual involvement of sales and renewal teams, streamlining the purchase of additional products and services.
Customer success staffing expenses would therefore decrease, retention rates would rise, and customer expansion costs would be minimized; all of which could greatly benefit a company’s bottom line and productivity. While there seems to be enormous opportunities, early adopting companies are finding the infrastructure required crosses the gamut of CRM, eCommerce, service catalogs, CPQ, and PSA.
My guess would be that we’re going to hear much more about different use cases for self-service portals in the next coming Technology & Services World San Diego 2020. We may even get a glimpse into how organizations are finding neat ways to enable their customers to serve themselves in ways never seen in the industry. We’ll hear about the risks service leaders took, the top mistakes companies can make, and how these next gen self-service portals contribute to the overall customer experience.
This remains the largest and most comprehensive conference dedicated to technology service leaders worldwide, and for much reason. Attendees had the opportunity to attend a wide variety of speaking sessions, some lecture-based and others more workshop oriented where they brainstormed with other service leaders to resolve a given challenge. In addition, TSW hosted a series of impactful keynote speaking sessions and an expansive expo floor full of the latest technology solutions, not to mention delicious cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
I want to thank everyone who attended the Las Vegas TSW and especially all of those who helped organize it. I hope to see you at our upcoming Technology & Services World conference taking place next May in San Diego. Remember to register early so you can receive a discount on your pass. And thank you for reading my very first “What I Heard” blog post!
Post Date: November 12, 2019
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Omar Fdawi is a former senior research associate for TSIA, focusing primarily on enterprise technology. Although having spent over half his career in sales and sales operations, he also has background in data analysis, process improvement, and financial reporting. His previous experience includes working in software, banking, mass media, and food manufacturing industries. He has a passion for automating business processes and helping companies become more profitable.
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