ASP’s conference March 27-28, hosted by ServiceNow in San Diego, is all about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in support. This, plus many conversations that I have had in the last year with support leaders has got me thinking about where support is going. This is, of course, the kind of thing that ASP cares about and should be frequently thinking about. There are many trends that are making a difference worth noticing, but three really stand out as far as making a significant difference. They are:

The subscription economy
Customer experience/success
The new generation of AI
The subscription economy is significant in that it has changed the way that technology companies generate revenue in a very significant way. Instead of receiving revenue credit when a product ships (and the customer is invoiced for the whole price of the product), companies now get much smaller revenue every month or quarter as customers pay for their subscription. It typically tales 2-3 years to make any money on subscriptions. Customers can change products much more easily. This means that keeping customers happy is much more important as it basically equates with actually keeping your customers. Support is not all of the customer experience or customer success, but it is a very significant part of it. We have always felt that support was an important part of keeping customers, but subscriptions have put a fine point on this.

Subscriptions have really driven home the importance of the customer experience/success. Many companies have a Chief Customer Officer. To be sure, this is sometimes just lip service, but there is a real significance to the attention now paid to customer experiences and customer success. I believe that this is a long-term change. Certainly not all support leaders are taking advantage of this change, but some are. I encourage all of our leaders to rise to the challenge of this. Yes, the politics are scary, but it is better to try to take the strategic high ground than to be following the lead of someone who does not understand support or the effect we have on customers.

Finally, A I has achieved a new generation of maturity and is generating revolutionary changes in support, as well as many other areas. I really believe that bots will provide much of the level one support in the near future. They are already there in some companies. If you want to know more, come to our conference. All of these three trends cause me to think that the landscape is fundamentally changing. In the future, support may morph into more than it is today. I know that tech support people don’t like to hear this, but we have more in common with call centers that take orders than we want to acknowledge. They have the advantage that they generate lots or maybe all of a company’s revenue and they are taking advantage of that. I was made aware of a recent conference that was held for these folks and I was impressed with several things. First, it was big, very big. Attendance was in the thousands. Second, it was tiered. They had tracks for individual contributors through lower level managers, tracks for mid to upper level managers, and tracks for executives. They were providing educational experiences for all levels. Lastly, I noticed that they were using technology to a great extent. In fact, they were ahead of most support organizations in their use of technology. This is part of the difference between a revenue producing organization and a cost center. Having a P&L (profit and loss) center allows an organization to get more budget and make strategic investments that are much more difficult for cost centers. This is why we are a bit stuck on cost avoidance or call diversion in trying to justify budget requests. I think we should consider taking down the walls between support and “customer service” and merge these organizations as the fundamental aspects of keeping customers.

I realize that many people will not agree with me. I am not averse to being challenged or questioned, so bring it on! I will be delighted if many respond to this article. I can be reached at ahahn@asponline.com.