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After each of our Technology Services World Conferences, I like to look back over all the 1:1 meetings, breakout session questions, and hallway conversations, and come up with some of the top trends and issues I heard. Last Tuesday, I had 1:1 meetings scheduled from 8 AM to 5:30 PM, which was a great opportunity to hear what members are working on, where they are seeing success, and where they are struggling. 

Walking through the EXPO, it was interesting to see how many providers of professional services automation (PSA) were exhibiting, considering this industry segment barely existed a decade ago. It is not a surprise then that PSA was on my most discussed list. And, with my keynote and power hour sessions both relating to knowledge management, I knew that would be a hot topic, but as you will see, the 3 knowledge-related subjects I heard about the most weren't the focus areas I expected.

Professional Services Automation 2.0

When I first started writing about Professional Services Automation (PSA) around 2007-2008, there weren't a lot of providers, the products were nascent, and the focus was primarily how to move off Excel onto a PSA platform, which meant standardizing processes and reports. Today, the majority of Professional Services organizations have a PSA tool. Many companies have outgrown their “starter system," and are looking for more robust capabilities. As such, my conversations with these companies centered on how to move beyond standardizing processes and realize some tangible business benefits. Companies are particularly interested in mobility and collaboration as productivity drivers, as well as needing more sophisticated resource management as projects begin shifting away from “pay as you go" to more predefined, repeatable offerings common in the cloud world.

Online Communities

My inquiry volume on social media and online communities has slowed dramatically over the last year, as adoption of these tools has become more common, and B2B use cases and best practices are fairly well established. I was a bit surprised, then, by how many questions and conversations I experienced about communities, with companies saying their community had stalled and that they were looking for new approaches (and sometimes new technology) to help them attract new members, increase the number of customer moderators, and in general, move more support traffic to the forum. With my data showing that younger customers prefer the community and its unique peer-to-peer support over traditional self-service, (Tweet this!) I think we will see much more emphasis on building and growing communities in the next two to three years.

Intelligent Agents

One of our first time exhibiting partners, Inbenta, generated a lot of buzz about intelligent agents (or chatbots). Not only does Inbenta leverage natural language processing to better comprehend customer questions regardless of how they are phrased or spelled, but they can do it in 20 languages. I've talked to multiple companies evaluating this approach as a means of engaging more customers (especially novice customers) and boost self-service success and deflection, and I think it is now safe to say: intelligent agents have proven success in the B2B world, and can deliver an exceptional customer experience. I'll also note that the friendly chatbot avatar is not a requirement. While these are common in the consumer world, for enterprise support you are more likely to find a search box, not an avatar.

Embedded Product Support

The final topic, about which I had several questions and two in-depth conversations, was the future of self-service support and how we need to move toward more support embedded within applications. With this approach, customers struggling to fill out a form, build a report, or complete a process can click a button to receive a tutorial or search the knowledgebase without having to leave the application. This fits in with the Education Services trend of creating more “just in time" learning in bite-size chunks, and delivering it within the application will boost adoption and keep customers productive, instead of forcing them to navigate to your self-service site for help. But, in order for this to happen, we are going to have to see much more collaboration and consolidation between education, support, and product management, which unfortunately will require a shift in culture for many organizations.

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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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