End-user Support for Growing Proprietary Application Providers

One of the first major challenges that arises as burgeoning proprietary application solution providers begin adding to their client roster is how to scale up support to meet the increased demand. Understandably, during the initial growth cycle, they focus on developing the product and building a marketing and sales team to attract and win new clients. Though this is historically the first order of any business, flawless execution of this strategy eventually means the organization will become a victim of its own success.

Unless proprietary application providers take on the risky investment of a fully staffed service desk solution early in the product release phase, they tend to redirect programmers, IT managers, and even administrative staff to deliver end-user support. It’s a short-term solution that works as their product is gradually rolled out, but as the new business gains momentum the model becomes unsustainable over the long term. Proprietary application providers who leverage internal software developers for technical support issues find that, although they are extremely knowledgeable and can quickly resolve the issue, they are in the interim pulled off of more valuable product enhancement projects. Compounding the dilemma, they often find themselves addressing functionality issues that would otherwise have been remedied by the project’s completion. So, in effect, development staff end up performing incident management rather than resolving the root cause of the problem. Diverting these Subject Matter Experts for minor issues can easily become a vicious cycle though necessary to retain happy clients…at least until relief is on the way.

It’s at this point that such organizations generally begin researching options and consider outsourcing support to service desk vendors. Whether they issue a formal RFP or collect various proposals on the fly, proprietary application providers will need to evaluate staffing and pricing models, period of coverage, ITSM platforms, etc. Given the fact that internal staff must be at the breaking point if not shorthanded, an urgent priority for the solution is establishing Service Level Agreements with the emphasis on live agent availability metrics such as Average Speed to Answer and low abandon rates. Combining those target metrics with high incident resolution rates should result in high end-user satisfaction scores.

Assuming all vendor selection criteria have been met and everything looks good on paper, the focus for successful ongoing support will be agent training and documentation specific to the application provider’s proprietary platform. Whether it’s a telehealth, security monitoring, or e-commerce platform, the below knowledge management best practices that drive quality support will apply.

Step 1: Assess Current Documentation

In an informal solution delivered by dual-purpose technical staff, the tendency is to resolve the issue quickly in order to resume platform development tasks without documenting troubleshooting steps. So what might be a top of mind resolution procedure for the developer who designed and coded the platform may not be common knowledge for all service desk personnel. Before implementing a new service desk solution, the operations team performs a week-long discovery process, meeting with key client staff members on site to review what FAQs, knowledge articles they may have and which may need to be created, collaborating with the service desk Client Relationship Manager.

Step 2: Build/Augment Knowledge Base

Upon identifying gaps in the troubleshooting documentation, the service desk creates training manuals, knowledge articles (with relevant screen shots and hyperlinks), and SME led instructional videos that can be shared with the agents. The implementation team then uploads all documentation to the knowledgebase so resolution processes can be easily retrieved using html5 tags and replicated to resolve the relevant incident. Building a searchable knowledgebase that can be easily accessed by the entire service desk team enables a scalable solution as more agents are added to meet the increased demand for support.

Step 3: Training and Ongoing Knowledge Management

Once the CRM has compiled the training materials (manuals, articles, FAQ lists), it’s time to relay the information to the rest of the service desk team. Points to review can start with the installation process if it’s an on-premises solution. In case it’s not an intuitive series of next buttons, agents must be prepared to correctly select and explain the various configuration options. In addition to reviewing these points during live sessions, the CRM refers to related knowledgebase articles including screenshots and scripting agents must follow. In terms of “how to” support items, half of the battle is knowing how to navigate and locate the various functions and drop-down lists. Aside from scheduled training sessions and published documentation, a good practice is to encourage the agents “test drive” the software to become more familiar with the product and anticipate new issues or end-user questions that as yet don’t have documentation written.  What are the required and optional fields for form submissions? Are incomplete fields marked in red upon form rejection? To minimize client costs, what self-service tools can be shared with the end users for future reference?

Before the solution goes live, the service desk must work with the proprietary application provider to establish an ongoing knowledge management process. Who are the authorized contributors? What is the approval and publishing process in conjunction with escalated incidents that may have been resolved by the service desk with a little more procedural data?  As new support items arise, how do service desk personnel flag tickets as candidates for the knowledge base, capturing new resolution procedures so they can be shared going forward?

Lastly, before new versions of the proprietary software are released, a diligent service desk provider will recommend additional training via a recorded WebEx session to prepare the agents for new support items that will likely accompany the new product features.

The important message to deliver to proprietary application providers is that end-user support is available when the demand reaches a critical mass for internal staff. A service desk that has a full team of agents, bandwidth and infrastructure, tools, and the knowledge management practices in place can assume their support burden and scale up to the growth as new clients are added. Once developers and other SMEs are able to resume upgrades and showcase other product enhancements to potential clients, that growth is bound to follow.

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