On one side you've got cranky users and a difficult budget picture. And on the other side you've got complex technology from multiple vendors to select, implement and support.
In an increasingly commoditized world, I would argue that "service quality" from your vendors is an important differentiator -- important now, more important going forward.
If you've bought a new car recently, you'll notice just how much service -- before, during and after the sale -- is a key part of the dealer's pitch.
Like any competitive differentiator, the natural incentive exists for all players to invest in stepping up their game. What was once arguably unique quickly becomes table stakes. If you equate "service" to "product" for just a moment, it's fairly obvious that you wouldn't put a product out there without some mechanism to continually improve it.
The story here is simple -- it's about how EMC Global Services has invested in continual process improvement -- and how these investments are paying off in not only customer satisfaction, but industry recognition.
My devious motivation?
I'd like to encourage you to ask harder questions of your IT vendors, if you're not already :)
How Do You Look At IT Vendors -- Products ... or Services?
A significant number of EMC Executive Briefing Center visits tend to be product and technology specific. Lots of questions around how it works, how it compares to other alternatives, what's the roadmap look like, and so on. All reasonable, if you think about it.
I often wonder why the key question isn't "how do you plan to make me successful with this stuff?"
- How do you propose to understand my requirements -- even if I'm not quite sure what they might be?
- What process do you use to evaluate alternatives and propose a specific solution -- and how will success be measured?
- How will you implement this generic solution in my specific environment -- and train my people to be proficient at it?
- And how will you support me when I inevitably have one problem or another with it?
As enterprise technology inevitably becomes more powerful, complex, integrated, automated, etc. -- and IT resources are stretched ever-thinner -- these are the sorts of questions that I think every IT leader ought to be asking of prospective vendors.
So, what might the "engine" look like that continually comes up with good answers to those penetrating questions? Even though all the elements (customers, technologies, use cases, etc.) are continually changing?
I think at EMC we've started to crack that code ...
Yes, EMC Is Winning Awards For Technical Services
I mentioned before that EMC was starting to garner some serious recognition around its investments in this area. The industry is fortunate to have "gold standard" professional association in the form of TSIA -- the Technology Services Industry Association.
Their charter is simple: to foster best practices across the industry. If you're a vendor and care about technology services, you should be already familiar with them. If you're a customer and care greatly about service delivery from your vendors, you'll also find their content and programs extremely relevant.
Just a small moment of bragging, if I might?
At the recent TSIA awards ceremony, EMC picked up three important awards:
- The STAR Award for Overall Operational Excellence in Education Services.
“EMC was awarded the TSIA STAR award for Overall Operational Excellence in Education Services for its industry-leading IT education and professional and leadership development programs. By creating a world-class learning culture with demonstrated business impact, EMC drives increased loyalty by customers, partners and employees. TSIA recognized EMC for its leadership in developing education solutions that address the growing IT, professional and leadership skill gaps and for the company’s commitment to be at the forefront of sustainability and an "employer of choice.”
- The STAR Award for Overall Operational Excellence in Technology Professional Services.
“EMC was awarded the TSIA STAR Award for Overall Operational Excellence in Technology Professional Services for its ability to unlock the power of EMC’s portfolio of innovation for our customers, independent of size, industry, or level of sophistication. This award provides recognition that our 8000 dedicated professionals help make our customers more successful by leading innovation and transformation while making EMC’s portfolio of innovation easy for our customers to consume and deploy.
TSIA also recognized our Global Services Transformation (GST) initiative that ensures alignment to corporate goals and enables us to develop strategy, drive execution and monitor results. GST has fostered the development of EMC PS’s customer centric model, which employs our patented methodology for measuring customer loyalty and identifies the areas that are most impactful to our customers. Further recognition was given to our customer centric model that serves as our “business compass”, providing direction for how we achieve excellence in terms of our people and our Portfolio Management, Presales, and Delivery organizations."
- The STAR Award for Overall Excellence in Field Services Delivery.
“EMC was awarded the TSIA STAR Award for Overall Excellence in Field Services Delivery for its intense customer focus and industry-leading customer satisfaction. Setting the bar high in this brand new award category, EMC demonstrated its commitment to investing in the areas that matter most to its customers.
Between a strong portfolio of support services offerings, innovative use of service-enhancing technologies, and a relentless focus on communication and account management, EMC is successfully enabling customers as they transform their businesses through cloud computing. This focus led to improvements in overall time to restore and resulted in high customer satisfaction and NPS scores, in addition to cost efficiencies and productivity gains.
This award recognizes the division of EMC’s 6,000+ person Customer Support Services organization that specializes in field support, escalation management, logistics, and service account management. EMC’s priorities, initiatives, and benchmarking throughout the support organization are driven by customer feedback and an advanced data analytics approach to measuring the total customer experience.”
We also earned the highest level "Hall of Fame" distinction by receiving 15+ lifetime STAR awards: a level of achievement only yet reached by Cisco, Oracle and now EMC.
Yes, that's a pretty impressive set of technical service achievements, but the *real* story is in the sustained level of investment in process, education and overall commitment behind the awards.
It Starts With The Voice Of The Customer
I believe that any continual process improvement effort is only as good as the "front end" -- investing heavily in understanding what customers are doing, where their current pain points might be -- not only with EMC, but in general.
We are fortunate at EMC that we've made a sustained investment in "listening" -- gathering hundreds of millions of data points, and learning to use "big data" analytics to not only feed insights to various groups, but to measure the impact they're having with their current initiatives.
I did my best to tell this part of the story in the post "How TCE Changed EMC". Frankly speaking, I can't imagine any large business being successful without a similar well-resourced and independent listen-analyze-and-recommend function -- technology or otherwise.
What I've come to appreciate about EMC's approach is the clear separation of church and state. The TCE group supplies the data, contextual insights and suggested recommendations on what might be a good course of action. It's the responsibility of the business unit(s) to decide what they need to do about it. And it's all done in an open and transparent manner at a corporate level.
The TSIA Award Submissions
The process of submission for a STAR award is exceptionally rigorous. I was sent a copy of the complete EMC submission packages, and they're mostly way too rich and content-laden for even my blogging style :)
At a high level, all of EMC's services functions are part of Global Services (led by Howard Elias) and for the last few years they have been on a very comprehensive journey around GST -- global services transformation. The important part to note here is that we see all aspects of services (pre-sales, education, professional services, consulting, field support, etc.) as part of a single ecosystem that supports our customers and partners. Our customers and partner don't see these functions as silos; neither do we.
I thought it would be useful to pull out a few examples of behind-the-scenes work to give you a sense of what's going on here.
Let's start with the all-important Field Services -- the folks who keep our customers running smoothly day-in and day-out.
The core idea behind TCE is that you focus on things that “move the needle” from the customer perspective, and you can see the top three right here: time-to-restore if there’s been an issue, comprehensive communications, and having someone onsite when you need it.
Not exactly rocket science, but – given all the various opinions around “what matters” with regards to field services, it’s useful to have some clear data-driven targets to shoot for.
I’d draw your attention to the last bullet – a $12m incremental investment to “mobilize” our support professionals – tailoring the experience around them, vs. simply providing a mobile view into legacy systems.
$12m in a new application isn’t exactly chump change – even to EMC.
I’d also draw your attention to the training and education investment – something you’ll see in other areas. If you think about it, technical services people (regardless of discipline) are only as good as their skills. Paradoxically, business model realities creates a strong incentive to go cheap here – something that EMC has steadfastly resisted, I’m pleased to say.
Which brings us to our next interesting nugget of insight: buried somewhere on this slide is the observation that (a) the average tenure of a professional in our GCS support organization is nine years, and (b) turnover is an incredibly low 4.7%.
Keep in mind, providing technical customer support (especially in the uber-demanding enterprise market) is notorious for very high burn-out rates and a churn’em and burn’em mindset.
Not the case here. Good for our employees – and incredibly valuable for our customers who’ve grown to depend on these professionals.
Note the repeated emphasis in education, training, certifications, hours spent, etc. I put it this way: over the last several years, EMC has developed a “learning culture” – we believe it’s important to always be learning new things – sometimes in formal and structured ways, sometimes using more informal mechanisms.
We think this sustained focus on “lifetime learning” ultimately makes EMC a very attractive employer and a very successful company, even though the various popular employment surveys don’t seem to put much weight on this important aspect.
The case for using vendor-supplied professional services has been pretty clear: use the people who’ve done it before: less time, less risk, better results. And, over the last few years, EMC has built a considerable consulting capabilities around strategic options, transformational planning and other big, hairy IT-related topics.
The case for ongoing investments in education are even more compelling here: a consultant is only as good as their skills portfolio, and their ability to apply it in context.
Unfortunately, this value-generating activity conflicts with the more typical mandate to increase billable hours above all else. I think we’ve achieved the right balance here at EMC – we invest in skills development at a rate of 2x the industry norm. And, more importantly, about a third of the coursework is around the all-important “soft” skills: communication, engagement, conflict resolution, negotiations and similar.
On the process front, our EMC PS team is quite justifiably proud of the new EDGE process. In a nutshell, it’s a workflow application that is designed to align customer expectations with project deliverables.
That might sound a bit esoteric, but – once again – it’s precisely this important alignment the data tells us is the “big motivator” to improving the customer experience when conducting professional services engagements.
Not only that, thanks to TCE, the teams can see the needle move as the various investments are made and brought online. Once again, a lovely closed-loop process to behold.
Insight Into The Voice Of The Customer – And Educational Services
The more I dig into what EMC Education is doing, the more I’m impressed. If you remember, these are the same folks who are doing a good job trailblazing many of the newer “cloud certifications” that are quickly becoming so much in demand.
I saw this slide from the deck, and thought it work sharing – it attempts to answer the question: how do you rigorously measure the value of education – and educational services?
Here’s one view – multiple measurements, each from different perspectives around the education “value chain”.
If you’ll notice, the most valuable measurement appears on the far right: the ROI of the learning investment. Depressingly, industry pundits tell us that 73% of organizations investing in education don’t invest in what appears to me to be the all-important metric. Hopefully, the team at EMC Education can come up with some perspectives to help our customers get to this important measurement.
It’s a simple but powerful mission: to partner with academia around delivering the new skills and proficiencies that are so much in demand in the IT world.
After a modest start in 2006, I think this team can be proud of its achievements to date: partnerships with over 600 educational institutions, reaching over 50,000 students in over 40 countries around the globe.
And we’re just getting warmed up on some of the newer (and hotter) curriculum topics: cloud, big data, security and more.
The Bottom Line
I think the creation of the TCE function at EMC is one of those milestone moments in our corporate evolution. With insightful and actionable data (in customer voice!), all things are possible.
I thought you might enjoy this rather punchy slide our Education team uses to link customer education, Net Promoter Scores and bottom-line economic impacts to EMC.
It certainly makes the linkage clear: no matter what perspective you’re coming from.
I believe the recent recognition of the combined EMC’s Global Services team is simply one data point on a very long journey that’s nowhere near finished yet – to invest in new ways to better serve our customers: whether through better products, better services, better partnerships – whatever it takes.
I can make a strong case that EMC is taking a “no compromise” approach to continually improving our offering of world-class services to our world-class customers and partners.
Shouldn’t you be demanding that from your vendor as well?