SSPA Celebrates 20th Anniversary: Twenty ways the SSPA has changed our industry

January 2009 represents the twentieth anniversary for the Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA). Wow, what a “long strange trip it’s been!” In fact, when I think back at some of the major ways that the SSPA has changed our industry there were twenty areas that jumped out as critical to the development of the service & support industry. Over the years the SSPA played a vital role in guiding our members through the transitions of service delivery and helping to improve the overall level of service around the globe. Here is the SSPA story.

In the late 1980’s there was a real need for consolidated support operations that included establishing centralized support centers to deliver software support. With technical people spread out at customer locations we needed to pull them all together in one “support center” where they could share customer information and work together. The problem was that our customers didn’t want “their” techs to leave. At this time the best call and problem tracking tools (there was no CRM) were paper based tracking systems where large tables were used to display the “pink message slips” that contained customer service request information. This system worked but needed to be automated and spawned the use of mainframe based tracking systems. Yes, you heard that right, mainframe computers were used to track customer requests and add some order to the incoming call activity. At one point, the advent of the fax back system was a real time saver for tech support because our reps could fax customer information directly from their desktops. Wow!

In the early 1990’s we saw our first true software outsourcers emerge for onshore assistance in call handling. These third party organizations had a very difficult time establishing credibility and getting our members to “give up their customers” to another service provider. Also during this time, we realized that we had some major people management problems as turnover rates in tech support centers hit highs of 35-40% and created major difficulties for us to retain talent. With all of these internal issues facing us everyday, the industry decided it was time to embark on the fee-based services transition. Almost all services for “shrink wrapped” software were delivered free of charge via 800 number phone calls. The consumer side of our membership woke up one day and realized that they could no longer provide lifetime free service for their products. This transition from free to fee created waves of discontent throughout the user community and the press had a field day publishing articles about the wicked software developers and their immense greed.

The mid 1990’s brought us a different set of challenges as we started to expand our services to global support offerings. Porting what we did in North America around the globe was not an easy task and rocked the tech support boat for a solid five years. We needed to understand the differences in delivering services in various countries with drastically different customs and service expectations. This was a painful experience for some of our members. During this same time period, we started to identify multi-vendor support issues where one common customer had a problem but could not determine which vendor was responsible. Getting our members to work with each other and assist in resolving their customer’s issues was not an easy task. In fact, the battle of who actually owns the customer continues today but smart companies understand that owning the customer is everything. It was also time to look at consolidated support operations to better service a global customer set so we started seeing support mega-centers being developed and distributed at strategic locations to provide follow-the-sun services. Also, the Internet quickly became a target for development of support web sites as our members saw the advantages of delivering web-based services. A land grab of service sites popped up everywhere and cultivated the concept of customer service self-service delivery. The concept was simple, build a tech support site and our customers will come. But, they didn’t come!

Our focus shifted during this time to developing service as a business and included a focus on executive compensation that was tied tightly to customer satisfaction levels. We realized that service executives did not have enough impact in their company and needed to fully understand the business impact of services and start speaking the language of the executive team with financial discussions. With our focus squarely on the business side of the tech support operations it was logical that we would find inefficiencies such as methods to defend maintenance fee reduction pressures from our largest customers. The SSPA took a deep dive research effort to really understand this catastrophic issue that could cripple anyone who used maintenance contracts to generate service revenues…just about everyone! As we were fighting theses battles we discovered a true difference between our standard-talent tech support rep and the top talent employee that we needed to recruit and hire. This discovery came from another research effort where the attributes of top-talent were identified and used to hire additional best-of-the-best employees. What we did not see coming was the mad rush to offshore outsourcing that was going to consume our time and efforts and change the way we deliver services forever. We quickly caught up to the herd of offshore crazed members that shifted their support operations offshore as a cost containment advantage. The SSPA developed multiple certification programs to meet the needs of our members who were looking for more structure and consistency in their support operations. And, the SSPA benchmark became the definitive source of current peer-to-peer benchmarking data. In addition, the value-added-service model was developed to help guide our members into the future of support services. The SSPA STAR Awards provided the recognition of our members to the industry and their customers as we identified those members that “figured it out” and delivered award-winning services. Today, hundreds of companies have been recognized for their service delivery methods that others need to use as best practice models for the future.

In each of the areas above, the SSPA was instrumental in identifying the problem, providing the solution, or developing the platform for continued discussion. Today, your industry association is stronger than ever, tackling the new issues of the day, and well positioned for the future. Thanks for your support over the past twenty years and Happy Anniversary SSPA!

So what have I missed? How has the SSPA added value to the service & support industry and for you personally?

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3 Responses to “SSPA Celebrates 20th Anniversary: Twenty ways the SSPA has changed our industry”

  1. Dr B Says:

    Bill,
    Congratulations on 20 years of success!

  2. Rich Gallagher Says:

    Hi Bill – great to see a blog with your unique (and spot-on) take on the support industry, from your perch as SSPA founder. Great post!

    Rich Gallagher

  3. Poojan Says:

    Rightly said, SSPA has contributed to lot of services professional worldwide. With all the research SSPA has done in all areas of service ecosystem from customer sale to customer satisfaction is commendable.
    Now with one consolidated bigger research organization (TSPA, AFSMI, SSPA) Services companies and industry professionals can gain a lot with research and expertise of these groups together.

    12 years in this industry, first SSPA and now a consolidated group has provided means to excel and spread the skills and expertise across my teams and myself personally.

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