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After every Technology & Services World conference, I write a recap of the top trends and issues I heard from my dozens of formal one-on-one meetings, questions asked during and after conference sessions, and more casual conversations in hallways and in the TSW | EXPO. As I am finalizing my content for the conference next week, there are some topics I am expecting to be asked about based on the large volume of inquiries I have received from members over the last few months.

In this blog post, I will highlight those for you, along with some recommendations for TSW sessions to attend for each topic.

Employee Engagement/Experience

At our TSW conference in Las Vegas last fall, TSIA’s vice president of support services research, Judi Platz, and I did a big push around employee engagement. I like to think we started a revolution, as I received the most positive feedback and heard more buzz throughout the conference on this topic than any I had done previously. Since October, many members have reached out to us to ask questions and share their progress, in particular on successfully recruiting and retaining millennials. This is a big challenge for companies with the often-quoted stat that 91% of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, and will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives.

In response to this interest, we have a lot of sessions about hiring and retaining millennial workers in our newly-formed Future Support Service Leaders track, which was created to help identify and nurture up-and-coming talent in any age group, as well as those new to technology services and doing career planning. So far, over 400 attendees who registered indicated they were a future service leader, and we have lots of content for them, including my pre-conference keynote panel, "Millennials on Millennials", with four very talented folks who will share their experiences and provide insight into hiring, motivating, and retaining workers. Judi and I will be hosting a session, "Meet the Researchers", on Tuesday at 5 PM to meet Future Service Leader attendees and answer questions about our research agendas for the year.

Though most interest in employee engagement comes from our support services attendees, there is growing interest in other areas as well. In fact, I recently did a webinar with FinancialForce on the topic of employee engagement in professional services called “The Key to Employee Retention in the Age of Services”, and FinancialForce is sponsoring my keynote panel. To view all of the sessions targeting Future Support Service Leaders, use the “Filter by Track” pull down on the TSW Conference Schedule. Here are examples of a few sessions:

In addition, Judi and I will be hosting a networking breakfast for future service leader attendees from 7:30-8:15 AM on Tuesday morning in the TSW | EXPO, Grand Hall, Level 1. Please join us!

Digital Channels

We are gearing up to do our annual customer channel preference survey this summer, which will collect data on which channels customer prefer for support interactions. This year the survey will include questions about digital channels, which means interacting with customers via SMS text, as well as mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, and LINE. In fact, we are already talking to members who are using WeChat in China and WhatsApp in Brazil to support customers, and Judi and I are both receiving questions about this.

In my Support Services Tech Stack survey (open now!), I am tracking adoption and planned spending of tools to enable this. So far 20% of TSIA members say they have a digital messaging tool in place, and 30% have budget for this in the next 1-2 years. I’ve added this topic to the call for speakers for our fall Las Vegas conference, and I’m hoping to have some early adopters present case studies there. If you're interested in becoming a speaker, please contact TSIA's Christi Holzer at

While I don’t have any sessions on this topic in San Diego, we do have a partner enabling digital chat via SMS text and messaging apps exhibiting in the TSW | EXPO, so check out LogMeIn’s Bold360 product for information on how this is being implemented, staffed and used by tech companies.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

One of my top inquiry questions at the moment is, “What are some member examples of success with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)?” I opened a recent webinar on this topic by updating an old quote attributed to Mark Twain, “Everybody’s talking about AI, but nobody’s doing anything about it,” though Twain said “weather,” not “AI” of course. I feel like many CIOs went to an AI conference and came back offering budget to departments to do something cool with it, but the truth is, we are mostly in investigative mode, without a lot of real examples. Yet.

One example is the machine learning embedded in intelligent search solutions, which identifies over time which content users click on after searching for a specific term and moves that content up in the search results. It “learns” this is what they are looking for, even if the content doesn’t include the words in the original search string. If you’d like to see a demo of AI and ML-powered search, we have three partners to check out in the TSW | EXPO: Attivio, Coveo, and Squelch.

The other AI topic we are seeing emerging examples of from pacesetters is intelligent chat bots, which provide a guided search experience for customer self-service. An advantage here is they can prompt the customer for additional information to better answer their question or point them to the correct answer. We do have a few members with live chat bots today, as well as a few who have had bad experiences rolling them out. At a high level, my advice here is “crawl, walk, run.” You need to have a lot of basics in place on your website, such as a strong knowledge structure, unified search, and high usability, to get the most benefits from a chat bot. For more details on this, check out a recent webinar, "Crawl, Walk, Run: The Stages of Your Support Transformation".

We do have a couple of partners in the TSW | EXPO offering chat bots, with strong AI/ML components, so if you’d like to learn more about what’s involved in implementing and maintaining, and hear some customer examples, check out Bold360 ai from LogMeIn, and Grazitti Interactive.

Here are a few sessions at TSW related to AI and ML you should check out:

Technology Adoption and Planned Spending

For the last 13 years I have released the findings of my annual Global Technology Survey at our spring event, reporting on technology adoption and spending trends. With the growing number of TSIA research practices and emerging technology categories, doing just one survey for everything had stopped being effective. So this year, with enormous help from Jeremy DalleTezze and Jeff Ward from TSIA’s top-notch analytics team, we are using a very different approach. We are launching individual surveys per research practice, one per month, which allows us to go deeper in each area, and promote each survey individually. And instead of publishing a data dump of the results, all respondents (both member and non-member) will receive a link to view the results online. By allowing TSIA members to self-service to access adoption and planned spending data, satisfaction scores, and top installed vendors for each technology category, you can go to the data as you need it, and not dig through 30+ page reports to find what you need.

More Opportunities to Learn from and Participate in TSIA Research

At TSW, I will be sharing some preliminary results for support services and professional services, including an overview of the support results during Judi Platz’s Support Services Power Hour on Monday, "2019: The Year of SMART Support," at 4:15 PM in Harbor BC, Level 2 (Harbor Tower). If you are interested in technology trends for support, please join us! I’ll be talking about digital technologies and will give you a peek at what is ahead for support automation.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you all at TSW!

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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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