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How does a company set appropriate salaries for the jobs it has to fill? The conventional answer is that HR managers are supposed to offer “market-based” pay—that is, high enough to attract (or retain) talented people, but not more generous than is necessary to fill those jobs. But that answer doesn’t tell us where “market-based” benchmarks come from. In actual practice, companies typically look at salaries at peer-level companies, to get apples-to-apples alignment with the pay levels that their most direct counterparts are currently offering.
As many companies are discovering, the growing popularity of software-as-a-service (SaaS) dramatically transforms the role of software support. With a SaaS business model, customers can pull the plug on their subscriptions with almost no notice if they’re dissatisfied or unsuccessful. Revenue streams, renewal rates, subscriber growth, add-on services—they all go poof! if support fails. Often, the natural response to the SaaS support challenge is simply to throw more bodies into the equation. More bodies presumably equal faster response times, more cases closed, more time on individual calls. What more could a customer want? Well, apparently customers do want much more. There’s no single demand that support managers always hear, but many of the new expectations address aspects of the customer experience. SaaS implementations typically move the actual software away from the customer’s computers, which eliminates many hard-to-solve technical issues. But that still leaves—and in fact expands—the potential for a wide range of support-related usability problems, how-to questions, and general hand-holding.
We’re constantly hearing about all the big, new changes in technology and the support of that technology. And, yes, some things have changed rather dramatically. “Tweeting” for customer technical support? Who’d have thought of that even five years ago? However, some things really haven’t changed; we at ASP have long noted that service is often the forgotten element in a company’s profitability. Way back in the “good old days” when technical support still largely meant on-site “break/fix” of hardware and even software, the actual service (properly negotiated and priced) was (and continues to be) often the more profitable component of the business mix, shoring up the rapidly disappearing margins of product sales. These days, while service still often doesn’t seem get the respect it deserves from CEOs, CFOs and marketers, an increasing number of companies recognize that service can be a key competitive differentiator, with smaller companies able to move more quickly and effectively to respond to and even anticipate service opportunities. This is why the “conventional wisdom” that larger companies should have an inherent advantage to marketing services isn’t always so wise.