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I'm now fully recovered from the recent Technology Services World, my 23rd TSIA conference over the last 11 years. It was a very busy 3 days for me, with a keynote, 6 presentations, 15 1:1 meetings, and countless conversations in hallways and in the TSW | EXPO. Now that I've had some time to process all that I heard, I wanted to write up some of the principle themes and/or trends that popped up again and again.

The CRM of Tomorrow is a Data Model, Plus Plug-and-Play Apps

After my panel discussion on services convergence following Thomas Lah's keynote, in which I said that CRM seems to be diverging more than consolidating, I heard from multiple companies frustrated with their CRM experience. The challenge seems to be that while an enterprise implementation of customer relationship management across Marketing, Sales, and Service on a single platform is the vision for CIOs, the data model, screens, and account/contact records become highly customized. This means that for Service, doing basic processes like creating a case becomes a long, painful process, impacting productivity and the customer experience.

Many service organizations are abandoning their CRM platform for a lighter weight service-specific platform, such as Zendesk, Freshdesk, and ServiceNow, which can integrate to their corporate CRM system to keep account records updated, while offering the ease of use service needs. There is also more focus on ITIL-compliant service desk tools, since B2B customers are typically IT administrators who appreciate the processes and vocabulary ITIL offers. In fact, service desk is the #2 top spending area for 2017-2018, second only to customer self-service portals.


Longer term, based on conversations with multiple very large enterprises, the way forward seems to be having a single “master” data model used by the enterprise, with each department using lightweight plug-and-play apps to get the functionality and user interface required. The ecosystem of the future will be closer to the Google Play app store than today's enterprise application exchanges, with smaller, succinct apps available that instantly plug in with little or no configuration, and no heavy lifting integration required.

For companies who are opting to bring in a service desk or other service-specific applications, just be sure to prioritize integration to the master data model so you aren't creating a silo of critical customer data that is invisible to customer success and renewal specialists. In theory, integrating cloud applications should be easier than when everything was on premise, but that doesn't mean it is simple or inexpensive, so plan accordingly.

Self-Service Applies to More than Support, Including Professional Services Microtransactions

In my opening keynote, I talked about creating a converged customer portal, incorporating every customer touchpoint including dashboards for customer success, professional services, field services, and more. Though I thought this message may be a bit ahead of the curve, I heard from several people that customers are beginning to request professional services dashboards, and there are several drivers for this:

#1. Fixed Price, Repeatable Projects Are on the Rise

Not only are these repeatable projects now more common than the traditional “pay-as-you-go” customer projects, but more professional services (PS) work is being delivered remotely in bite-size chunks. One company said they are doing a good business offering professional services to basically do remote admin work, like adding a custom field or building a report. These small engagements are referred to as “microtransactions,” and are emerging as a great source of additional revenue, and also a good way to boost utilization rates for consultants with bench time.


#2. Driving Cost out of Projects Becomes Paramount

When projects are delivered for a fixed price, there is even more emphasis on streamlining the projects to drive out as much cost as possible to improve margins. This is especially important for microtransactions, since the cost of manually creating a proposal may be more than the project revenue.

#3. Self-Service Is a Key for Cost Reduction

Allowing customers to go to the customer portal and use a self-service tool to get a quote for a project can have a huge impact on project cost, eliminating the manual creation of a project proposal. I should also note that a new TSIA partner, Doculus, offers automated PS proposal generation, which can streamline the process for complex projects, and allow self-service for predefined projects. 

Machine Learning for Customer Success Is Cool, but We Need Some Basic Blocking and Tackling

While it was great to receive feedback that areas I was discussing that I thought might be too far ahead of the curve were definitely on point, I also heard that when it comes to customer success technology, I might want to pull it back a little. After my Power Hour, in which I discussed machine learning and both augmented and artificial intelligence, a few members offered feedback that while advanced analytics is an interesting topic, they are still trying to figure out the basics of customer success. What is the customer success (CS) charter? What are the key processes? What should be included in onboarding, and who should be onboarded?

I heard loud and clear that many Customer Success teams are looking for technology to operationalize the basic “blocking and tackling” for success, including the ability to model processes, build success plans, and have an easy way to clearly identify which accounts are green/yellow/red. In other words, less machine learning, and more work management, with an emphasis on “best in class” processes out of box instead of custom development.

Luckily we had a partner in the TSW | EXPO focused on agile customer success process modeling, Bolstra, who I was referring members to that were looking for the work management side of success. Since most Customer Success teams are still establishing and defining roles, this is a good place to start.

Plan Ahead for Our Next TSW Conference and Save 30%

Thanks to everyone who took the time to attend my sessions, book 1:1 meetings, or pause for a chat between breakouts. The TSIA Events and Partner teams produced another hugely successful event, but we can't do it without our attending members and partners. If you're a conference attendee or a current TSIA member, be sure to click here to log in and download the conference presentations. I am looking forward to seeing you all at our next TSW in Las Vegas this October! If you register before May 31st you can get a 30% discount on admission, so don't miss out.

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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