Remote Implementation Services Hurting Customer Satisfaction
The drive is on to virtualize everything, but implementation services need to be delivered with a more personal touch to achieve quality results.
There have been a few often quoted surveys lately about the low satisfaction with UC implementations, including one by Nemertes showing only 43%. Although there are several potential contributing factors, one of the most common has its roots in the emphasis on providing implementation services remotely.
Many implementation tasks that required on-site technical resources in the old days are appropriately handled from a centralized location today. For years now, vendors have remotely keyed in system programming and database input, and it is more efficient to handle it that way. But in an effort to gain efficiencies (read: profitability), vendors are now attempting to provide almost any and all implementation services in a remote fashion. In many cases, this includes remote system engineering, training, testing, post-cut help desk, and project management. Unless specifically negotiated otherwise, clients are often expected to rack & stack servers and gateways, fill out requirements worksheets for the system and user database, place desktop instruments, install patch cords in closets, send users through on-line computer based training, and join a conference call for all meetings.
During recent negotiations for a large contract, the vendor's statement of work had several clauses reiterating this theme: "Unless otherwise stated, Services will be delivered remotely" and "Services will be provided remotely unless otherwise noted." And, of course, the response to requests for on-site services included a substantial increase in the contract price. This is the new normal. In fact, many of the smaller cloud-based vendors don't offer any on-site services as part of their implementation process.
From a vendor's internally-focused perspective, the benefits are clear. Remote staff can work on multiple projects simultaneously, workloads can be shared more easily, there is reduced downtime due to travel, and in some cases, remote staff may be in different time zones to increase coverage hours. In theory, this can translate into lower costs for the client, although in some cases it is just cost shifting tasks to the client's staff.
There are significant negative effects from this drive to lower project costs:
- The social impact cannot be underestimated. It is difficult to establish an equal sense of connection and great team relationships. On-site presence helps a person read body language, detect personality nuances, explore informal elements, and build trust.
- An on-site team is better able to deal with problems and will have first-hand knowledge of issues. This also typically leads to faster response times and better answers.
- In a similar vein, it is easier to develop creative and responsive system designs by getting to know the end-user environment. Users are not typically adept at self-defining how their needs translate into new system configurations. A parallel result of the remote team is the tendency to drive all customers into pre-defined configurations and proven templates rather than to customize the solution.
- It is more difficult for a remote team to provide the client with knowledge transfer, which can be crucial to the understanding and satisfaction with the systems and services.
- Live on-site training and post-cut support are critical to both user adoption and user satisfaction.
This is not to say 100% of the work effort needs to be at the client premises. The middle ground is not the same for every client or every project, but a unified communications system should not be treated as a commodity purchase with minimal interactions in an effort to maintain maximum margins.
There was a United Airlines commercial in 1990 that highlighted the impact of serving clients remotely back when a fax was the height of our remote technology. Emails and desktop sharing apps have not improved the resulting disconnect with the customer. Video may help a little, but video conferencing is still not widely embraced, and it is not the same as being there. Before you dismiss the United ad as strictly old-school and self-serving, check out this 2009 Forbes whitepaper titled "Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face."
There is a very good regional VAR several of my clients have used over the years with generally high-quality results. However, several times when projects have not gone well, the first thing noted in every case was the negative impact of remote project management. Regardless of the actual problems, the clients felt that a more involved PM would have resolved issues sooner and more effectively -- instead, there was a sense of disengagement.
An on-site engineer will help design better systems that will provide the client with more knowledge transfer. On-site technical resources can ensure the systems are installed correctly. On-site training will foster better user acceptance. On-site project management will create better relationships and will be viewed as more empathetic. Ultimately, the investment in on-site services will be well worth the improved results for both the client and the vendor.
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.