As always, our recent Technology Services World conference in San Diego was a very busy three days. On Monday, I had six presentations, including my keynote, Power Hour, and presenting the 2018 TechBEST Awards. Tuesday and Wednesday, I spent most of the time in my 1:1 room with a full schedule of member and partner meetings from 8 AM to 5 PM.

As I look over the notes I took in those meetings, a couple of themes emerged that I wanted to share those with you, as they reflect what is top of mind with our attendees and are also frequent inquiry topics with TSIA members.

Microservices

My keynote topic was microtransactions, i.e., leveraging existing staff to do small projects for customers—often work considered IT administrator tasks such as building a report or adding a custom field—generating additional revenue while boosting customer consumption. Though the main focus of my presentation was Professional Services, I heard from attendees that they wanted to take the idea back to their own departments, including Education Services (coaching, custom mini-training classes), Managed Services (optimize a system, add an integration or customization), Field Service (install device or connect device to a network), or Customer Success (additional onboarding, training, coaching, etc.).

I walked among the tables at lunch and heard some buzz about microservices and revenue potential, and it was fantastic to know the concept was well received. I hope to hear some success stories over the coming year.

One pushback I heard from several companies is that they were apprehensive about how employees would react to being assigned these small, bite-sized chunks of work to perform for customers, especially Professional Services consultants that are used to big, multi-week implementation projects. One attendee told me, “They love their ‘bench’ time, and this would cut into that.” Certainly, if employees are asked to do additional work which generates revenue, there should be some incentives to participate, perhaps a percentage of the project revenue. This is definitely something to think about when planning a new microservices program.

CPQ for Services

Configure/Price/Quote (CPQ) tools were a topic in both my keynote and Power Hour panel discussion, and several attendees had questions or wanted to commiserate on this topic. In my keynote I shared some data on average time to generate proposals for PS projects:

cpq for services  

(Click image to enlarge).

Boy, did I hit a nerve with that topic. Many described their current processes for creating and getting approvals for PS proposals as “exhausting” and “torturous,” and the tools they are forced to use, which were designed to configure/price/quote products, are not faring well for services. One attendee said they would need to reimplement their existing CPQ platform to make it work for services—which wasn’t going to happen. The good news is there is now a new breed of CPQ being built just for services, which include the ability to assign resources and attach project schedules, so you don’t need to retrofit your old product-centric CPQ platform.

TSIA recently published a great blog post on this topic, “CPQ for Services: The Spreadsheet Killer,” which I would recommend you read if you are considering microtransactions or are just struggling to get a PS quote generated in less than the industry average of 38 business days. This would also be a good blog post to have your IT department read when they say, “But we already have a CPQ tool! Why do you want another one?”

Chat Bots

While there are a lot of hot trends in the support services world (swarming, AI, emerging channels), the topic I was asked about at TSW far more than any other was chat bots. Chat bots were even at the top of the list of topics our Support Services Advisory Board wanted to discuss, and I was able to do a short presentation for them on the subject on Monday.

Chat bots have become a common self-service option in the consumer world, and we have a lot of TSIA members investing in chat bots this year in hopes of taking an already great self-service website and boosting self-service success and deflection even higher. But, there is a great deal of angst on this topic because many of us remember the first generation of chat bots which came about in the late 90s and early 2000s. These early chat bots were less than successful, because they relied on “answer pairs” where you pre-programmed the system with questions that you anticipated customers would ask. The problem was if they asked the question even slightly differently, or spelled a word wrong, the answer pairs logic wouldn’t find a match, and the chat bot would respond, “I don’t understand your question. Please try again.” Now, if you had enough resources, you could scan the list of questions customers were asking and update the answer pairs with all the nuances of the questions, and ultimately improve your match rate. But, my experience as an analyst was that no one was doing that, and in my early analyst days, I took great glee in demoing some consumer chat bots during live presentations to show how inept they were.

While there are still some chat bots out there relying on answer pairs, the best of breed tools today incorporate natural language processing (NLP), which uses linguistic science to understand the intent of a question, regardless of how it is phrased or spelled. And, they also incorporate artificial intelligence, which allows them to interact in a conversational style, asking additional questions to hone in on the right answer or desired information, and then remember that interaction so the next time the same question is asked, the bot can go straight to the answer.

The two most frequently asked questions I received at TSW on chat bots were:

  1.  Do they work for complex B2B technology?
  2.  Which TSIA member companies can they talk to with a live chat bot today?

To answer those FAQs briefly here, TSIA member Avaya has successfully used a chat bot, Ava, in the past, with such great success it contributed to a STAR Award win a few years back. But unfortunately, we currently have no Support Services members with a live chat bot I am aware of, though we have several members doing pilots. As soon as I find a live B2B example, I will definitely bring it to your attention!

Employee Engagement

Another topic I discussed with multiple attendees at TSW was employee engagement, as many companies are finding the training and management techniques they have used for decades are not proving effective with millennials, and members are trying to figure out how to better attract and retain top talent, particularly in Support. This is a big enough issue that we are planning to devote multiple sessions at our Las Vegas TSW in October to this topic, including my keynote, Power Hour, and a breakout session I will be co-presenting with a brilliant member of TSIA’s Member Success organization, Dustin Shulkin. If you have any great examples of employee engagement programs in your organization, shoot me an email, I would love to hear more.

Get Insights Like This and More at the Next TSW Conference

Thanks to everyone who took the time to schedule a 1:1 meeting with me in San Diego, and I appreciate you stepping away from the busy conference to discuss your issues. Hopefully I added a little value along the way! If you are planning on attending our next TSW conference in Las Vegas, my 1:1 slots fill up fast, so check with your member success manager a couple of weeks prior to the conference to schedule a time.

I hope this recap of “what I heard” at TSW was useful, and I also hope that you can push the ideas of microservices, CPQ for services, and chat bots within your organization. See you in Las Vegas this October 15-17, and as always, thanks for reading!

 
 
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John Ragsdale

About Author John Ragsdale

John Ragsdale is the distinguished vice president of technology research, for TSIA. His area of expertise is in creating strategies for improving the service operations and overall customer experience by leveraging innovative technology. Ragsdale drives TSIA's highly regarded technology research agenda, delivering insightful, thought-leadership research and analysis on the most pressing business issues facing services leaders to enable them to better plan and execute their service strategies. He is also author of the book, Lessons Unlearned, which chronicles his 25-year career inside the customer service industry.

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