• There’s a new kid in town – Customer Onboarding. It sometimes goes by different names and there are rumors that it used to be something else that has now come back with a new look. The fuzzy definition of it is that it’s about how a company welcomes, or brings on board, a new customer. Of course, there’s nothing new about companies getting customers, so what’s the buzz about? The Association of Support Professionals (ASP) decided to find out via in-depth research, telephone interviews with consultants, and anonymous interviews with members of ASP and the Linked-In ASP Interest Group (references are listed at the end of the report).
  • “I think we’re further ahead than we sometimes think! I look forward to a time when I can actually PROVE that social media is providing a scalable and cost effective option and that, over time, we will realize reductions in interactive support and cost.” “If you try to boil the ocean, you will fail.”  “Executive buy in is still a challenge in getting a line item on the budget for our social efforts.” “If you don’t use it (social media for tech support), you’ll fall behind. It’s that simple.”  These respondent comments summarize both what we see in this survey and in the technology sector at large. Many companies with whom we’ve engaged -- in this survey, our consulting engagements, and our seminars –- are further ahead than they think.
  • 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.
  • At ASP we often hear the term “disruptive technologies” when talking with our members. But what does that really mean? (The PC “disrupted” the typewriter industry and yet I’m using a clicking QWERTY keyboard to type this report.) We submit –- whatever your definition -- that disruption has become the norm. As ASP founder Jeffrey Tarter noted in the first Maintenance and Services Rations report in 2004, “Technology pundits are always on the lookout for ‘disruptive’ changes in the software world, but they’ve mostly missed one of the biggest transformations of the last few years—the greatly expanded role of services.” A decade later, that role has continued to expand and change, until now we have products that are called (and delivered as) services and yet still tracked as product sales.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A Simplified Look at Support and Services Revenue and Margin Contributions ASP published a financial ratios report from 2004 through 2014. We have not published this report since then. It simply got too complex to research and write in a way that would be useful for our members.
  • This conference was held in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA at Red Hat Headquarters. 53 people attended, including a high percentage of Directors and Vice Presidents of Support and Customer Success/Experience organizations. Many of these presenters came from ASP’s Member’s Advisory Board. Sponsors included Coveo, Salesforce, and Service Strategies. The theme for this conference was Transforming Support and the topics were largely taken from ASP’s 2017 report on The Changing Expectations of Support. This report concluded that support organizations were undergoing rapid and significant changes in expectations from users.
  • In the Association of Support Professionals 2017 report on the changing expectations of support, Al Hahn highlighted how Millennial behavior was changing the way we must think about delivering service and support. Millennials, born in the connected world, viewed our messy and siloed offerings – our disconnectedness – as barriers to trade to be avoided. The idea of having to call someone to resolve a problem or answer a question, once considered the gold standard of support for which many of us still charge, clashes with their idea of suitable support. Having to identify themselves, explain their issue multiple times, or interact with multiple departments is intolerable to Millennials.
  • When we held our conference at Red Hat in Raleigh this March, the buzz in the room was around a new generation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). So much so that we felt compelled to research and write this report. We will be the first to admit that it is not as definitive as we would like. That’s because the new generation of AI tools are still evolving very rapidly and any attempt to report definitively at this point would be doomed before it started. We still believe that this report will be helpful, but our own standards won’t allow us to say that it is anything more than an interim report of a fast-moving target.
  • This is the twentieth year for ASP’s Top Ten Best Support Websites competition. We are privileged to say that many of the world’s best-known companies still compete regularly. These include such brands as Cisco, Dell, Intel, IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, and Microsoft. While not all of these competed this year, they all have competed many times during the past twenty years. However, not all of our competitors are well-known. There are many mid-size and small companies as well. We have always maintained that those who benefit the most are not the ten winners, but those who entered without much chance of winning and gained valuable insights into how to improve their sites.