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Over the three days of TSIA’s Technology & Services World conference in Las Vegas, I had about 20 formal 1:1 meetings with members, and many short conversations in hallways, after presentations, and in the EXPO. A couple of themes emerged, both a bit of a surprise, and I wanted to share what I heard at TSW in this blog post recapping some of the common themes.

Knowledge Management is About More Than Support

I’ve been deeply involved in knowledge management (KM) since the late 80s, when I first implemented a knowledgebase for the support operation I was managing. Since then, I’ve worked for KM vendors, and implemented knowledgebases for dozens of companies. As an analyst, I’ve also written hundreds of pages about KM best practices, conducted KM training classes, and assessed the effectiveness of company’s KM programs. But all this time, the focus has been 100% on knowledge management for support.

At TSW, I had 2 slides in my pre-conference keynote about knowledge management for professional services (PS). Having had little success making this topic stick previously, I was surprised by how many people stopped me afterwards to say their PS operation desperately needed better KM processes and technology, and quite a few attendees asked if I would speak to their VP of PS about the potential ROI for improving knowledge sharing.

51% of professional service projects are now fixed-priced, repeatable projects.

Why is the tide finally turning? Historically, the majority of PS projects have been “time and materials,” meaning the customer is billed for the cost of the project. If employees were doing a bad job of sharing lessons learned and best practices, the inefficiencies were passed along to the customer in higher project costs. Today, cloud technology is changing how PS projects are delivered, and according to the TSIA Professional Services Benchmark, 51% of PS projects are now fixed-priced, repeatable projects. With fixed-price projects, companies are laser-focused on driving as much cost as possible out of project delivery to boost margins, meaning that for the first time, knowledge management matters.

How Do You Capture Best Practices and Lessons Learned from Each Customer Project or Engagement?

In my 2017 Knowledge Management Survey, I asked, “How do you capture new ‘best practice’ content and ’lessons learned’ at the end of each customer project or engagement?” Here are the results:

knowledge capture  

(Click image to enlarge.)
Source: TSIA 2017 Knowledge Management Survey

Only 18% of technology firms have a formal project review meeting to capture lessons learned and best practices to help inform and streamline similar projects in the future. Improving knowledge capture and sharing can easily cut project delivery time and improve project results, and TSIA members are realizing this. One comment that perfectly represented the majority of my conversations on this topic was, “I’m sick of the attitude that only the weak collaborate, and the star consultants refuse to share what they know.”

Only 18% of technology firms have a formal project review meeting to capture lessons learned and best practices to help inform and streamline similar projects in the future.

The good news is: PS doesn’t have to figure this out from scratch. Many of the established best practices for knowledge management for support are perfectly applicable to professional services (and oh by the way, they also work for managed services, education services, customer success, etc.). I will be writing a research note later this quarter highlighting some of those support best practices that will work equally well for PS, including goals and incentives, training, and unified search technology. So stay tuned for more on this topic.

Embedded Self-Service Support From the Perspective of Support Services

Both my keynote and my Power Hour session focused on embedding self-service and assisted service into applications. While most enterprise software offers basic field-level help, or allow customers to search the user manual, I was advocating for more advanced self-service capabilities. This includes enabling customers with the ability to search the knowledgebase and online community, access learning modules, videos, and process walk-throughs, and even consider a chat control to provide direct access to a support agent for assistance (a la Amazon Mayday)—all without leaving the application.

There are definitely pacesetters doing this, and I highlighted some case studies as examples. But clearly with an eye toward reducing customer effort and boosting adoption/consumption rates, we need to do more. I expected this to be a well-received topic by Customer Success organizations, who are charged with boosting adoption, and by Education Services organizations, who are responsible for training content, but I was a bit surprised by the comments from Support Services attendees, who said they were tired of:

  • Carrying the burden of non-intuitive products, and no one seemed to care about their input
  • Hearing from the executive team that the company was “organized around customer success,” when the products hadn’t improved usability or embedded support in a decade or more
  • Pushing for usability changes and/or better built-in support and having development refuse, release after release after release

One of the strongest allies for embedding better support into applications is Product Management, but unfortunately, speaking as someone who served as director of product management for two software companies, they typically have even less clout than Support, with Marketing driving product vision and Development owning priorities. But Product Management can help in gathering customer requirements for usability, and customer feedback on how embedded support will accelerate adoption. Additionally, Support should be documenting exactly what it costs each year to answer user questions that would be resolved with better in-app help. The ROI model for investing in embedded support should be easy to construct.

In my Power Hour, I had a panel discussion with four TSIA partners whose technology enables embedded support (CoveoANCILEWalkMe, and LogMeIn Bold360), and one of the topics discussed was how to build the ROI model, and how to sell the idea to Development. One attendee stopped me afterwards and said that single session was worth the price of the conference pass, so hopefully other attendees were taking notes and will start pushing this initiative when they are back in their offices.

Thank You, and Don't Miss Our Next TSW Conference!

Thanks to everyone who attended my sessions, scheduled 1:1 meetings with me, and took the time to chat between sessions or in the EXPO. I always say I learn more from 1:1 meetings than the members do, and this year that was definitely the case.

If you missed out on this conference, don't worry! We hold Technology & Services World conferences twice a year: one in spring in San Diego, and one in fall in Las Vegas. Be sure to register to make sure you can join in on the conversation next time. 

And one final hint for TSIA members: if you want to schedule a 1:1 with me at TSW, ask your member success manager early. My calendar is usually booked solid 2-3 weeks before the event. As always, thanks for reading!

Editor's Note: Edits made 3/11/2019 to reflect updated conference information. 

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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.

John's favorite topics to discuss