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In 1996, Francoise Tourniaire published the first edition of The Art of Support. Boy, the world has changed a lot since 1996, and the world of support has radically changed in the last 20 years. I’m happy to report that Francoise is back with a brand new edition of the book, The Art of Support: A Blueprint for Customer Success and Support Organizations, rewritten to reflect the realities of supporting customers today, including impacts such as social, mobile, customer success, new quality measures such as Customer Effort Scores, and a whole lot more. The book is available on Amazon in Kindle format, and available in hard copy from the FTWorks.com website. It will be available in hard copy from additional booksellers soon!

Francoise agreed to have a chat with me about the new book, and I wanted to share our conversation with readers of the TSIA blog. Here’s what we discussed. 

John Ragsdale: Francoise, it is always a pleasure to speak with you. I’m so impressed with the new book! It looks like a complete rewrite from the 1996 edition. When did you realize it was time for an update?

Francoise Tourniaire: In the support world, things change fast. While I often talk with managers and executives who say they keep the first edition on their desks and use it regularly, it was time for a complete rewrite. SaaS, robust self-service support, customer success, none of that existed in 1996. Assisted support mostly happens online today, not by phone. And tools are also quite different from the Vantive/Clarify/Scopus triumvirate from back in the day. So, a new edition has been needed for quite a while. It kept getting delayed as I worked on other books (Collective Wisdom, co-written with David Kay, and Selling Value).

The second edition of The Art of Support is a complete rewrite, with a new architecture, new topics, and fresh insights throughout. For the fans of the first edition, try finding remnants of the 1996 edition in this one. They are hard to find!

I work with SaaS vendors who seem to take it for granted that they need a customer success program, but don’t necessarily know how to structure it so it scales and yields results.

JR: One of the greatest changes since you published the first edition of this book in 1996 has been the complete shift of support from cost center to profit center. Could you talk about how this change is reflected in your chapter, “Defining Support Portfolios”?

FT: In the first edition, support marketing was addressed in the appendix (and indirectly, at that)! The first chapter in the new book is about support portfolios, highlighting the need for making clear commitments to customers. This is true for all vendors, but particularly for SaaS vendors, where support is an integral part of the purchase decision. By now, we have best practices for creating support portfolios so there is no reason to shy away from that activity, or leave it in the hands of the marketing team.

There is also a new chapter, chapter 5, dedicated to managing the business of support. It covers capacity models for customer success managers (CSMs), support engineers, and managers, budgeting (with many examples and templates), as well as the always popular topic of ROI analyses. Support is a (big) business, and the second edition is built around running that business.

JR: I love the chapter on customer success, especially the information on segmenting and onboarding customers, and retention strategies. What do you see as the biggest challenges companies are facing as they begin creating customer success practices? It seems a major philosophical and culture shift for a lot of companies.

FT: I am very happy with the customer success chapter as well! When I started working on the book, I was surprised to find that there was no structured, formal books about customer success in existence so this is a first.

You ask about challenges and I can see two main ones. I work with SaaS vendors who seem to take it for granted that they need a customer success program, but don’t necessarily know how to structure it so it scales and yields results. I also work with many on-premise vendors who are moving to SaaS and have trouble creating a program that is not a traditional technical account management program and that is not funded directly by customers. So the book provides answers to both camps: to the pure SaaS vendors and to the newly-SaaS vendors.

JR: I particularly like your customer scorecard idea. Why do you think it is important to create a success scorecard for customers, and what are some elements you recommend companies include?

FT: Customer scorecards are to me the best contribution of big data to the world of support. (The second best being product scorecards.) Customers love scorecards, because they give them an idea of how they stand compared to other customers. And, from an internal perspective, customer scorecards highlight both at-risk customers and process issues, so they are well worth the effort of creating them.

Vendors often hesitate to create scorecards because they don’t capture all the data they would like to include in the scorecards, or they cannot easily bring all the data together. Have no fear! Start with what you have and improve over time. At a minimum, capture some measure of customer satisfaction or loyalty along with a benchmark for product usage (which is easy for SaaS). It’s also useful to capture the training and support experience of the customer, particularly if you can contrast it with a “healthy” standard.

JR: Another favorite chapter of mine is self-service support, which is where I seem to spend the majority of my time. You touch on many of the compelling forces driving change, such as mobility, localization, gated or open communities, etc. I know you talk to a lot of companies about improving self-service adoption and success. For companies who aren’t getting the results they expect, where should they focus to improve self-service capabilities? Any common problems you see?

FT: Self-service has such potential and yet that potential is often unrealized, usually for two reasons: the website, and the state of knowledge management.

The first issue is a non-friendly, complicated, hard to use website. It should be easy and obvious to get access to the website (I would even suggest that there should be no barrier at all to access self-service). Searching should be a one-step operation, freeing customers from information silos. And customers should be able to quickly narrow down their experience to the particular products they are using. Using the case-tracking vendor’s free portal is rarely enough if you want a really good support website.

The other issue is the dearth of good knowledge management. While support managers readily agree that knowledge management is the main job of support, that’s not the way things work inside support organizations. Sure, there are a few, short-lived initiatives to write more content — but they soon end, everyone returns to case management, and whatever documents were created are left to age ungracefully. Knowledge management is (and should be!) forever.

JR: A final chapter I wanted to mention is “Managing Support People.” I had a VP tell me this week that they are finding it harder for managers to effectively manage what they called “an age-diverse culture,” meaning a mix of baby boomers, gen Xers, and millennials. What has changed the most about managing support people since the 1996 edition of the book? We’ve certainly complicated things with all the new channels, and heaven knows the patience level of customers seems to dwindle every year.

FT: I am old enough to remember that managers used to complain about us being the unmanageable youg’uns. I find that age-diverse groups are wonderful because diverse groups create better solutions. Customers are changing along with support staff so the challenge for support organizations is to accommodate diverse customers, from the millennials who will do anything to avoid a phone call (but expect a first-rate online experience), to the boomers who want to talk to a real person, now (but will do without a chat function). So we need to take our age-diverse teams and use them to solve problems for our age-diverse customers. Lesson #1 will be on building rapport with all kinds of customers, and that lesson, by the way, will apply to global support, which is another diversity challenge.

With that, managers need to also be able to build rapport with all kinds of team members. And we are also seeing more diversity in the ranks of support managers, which is an excellent development.

JR: Francoise, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me, and I wish you much success on your new book!

FT: John, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you. I will be at the TSW Conference in San Diego in May and I encourage all readers to come by the FT Works booth to continue the conversation.

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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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