Why Application Support is Broken and How to Fix It

Amar Tejaswi Customer Support
Application Support

Organizations around the world are expected to spend a massive $421bn in 2019 shopping for enterprise software applications. In the US alone, this spending is expected to total $389bn this year.  

But the question is not just how much money enterprise software vendors are going to make selling software. The real question is how much more money organizations are going to spend on ancillary ownership activities like training and application support.

End user training is expensive. We all know that. Enterprise application vendors like Salesforce sell, sort of, aftermarket end user training and adoption programs which are quite expensive. But that’s not everything.

One of the most expensive component of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of software applications is the application support.

Unbelievable? How do you think SAP made its money?      

Apparently, 63% of worldwide financial transactions are processed through SAP applications at any given point in time. It is also believed that nearly 80% of Fortune 500 companies use SAP ERP for their processes.

But SAP was annoying customers with its insanely high cost of application support that potentially even exceeded the software licensing fee over a period of time.

Of course, that’s a story from a decade ago when SaaS was still in its infancy and giants like SAP were rampaging on the software licensing model. And maintenance played a big role in driving up software spending.  

But even with SaaS products, these after purchase expenditures don’t reduce because for large organizations have to imperatively customize their software instances and support a large pool of end users.

The Real Cost of Software Ownership

A lot of companies mistakenly appropriate the total cost of software ownership to just a set of tangibles. Like the amount of monetary and human resources spent on setting the stack up.

But they ignore the intangibles which play a big role in driving up expenditures, maybe not directly, but definitely indirectly.

One of these is the cost of support that organizations provide their internal application end users. The money spent on providing application support is one part of the expenditure. The other part is the drastic loss in productivity and performance on part of employees due to a disjointed application support process and poor knowledge management discipline.    

Why the Fuss Over Application Support?

Let’s just do a recall of how application support works in organizations. 

So, any help or support provided to end users of an software application, within an organization, to resolve an obstacle that is, at that point in time, preventing them for performing their task is application support.

These are questions like “How do I create a lead in Salesforce?” or “How do I generate a report?” and on and on. Infinite number of questions that employees can ask application support? Of course, there will be technical queries which do take time to resolve but these are the majority.  

It can be easily inferred that this help or support should be provided to them at the time and point of their need without any time lag. You do understand that time lost in searching for answers equates to loss in productivity and performance.

And so the organization suffers. But nobody really talks about this hidden cost of software ownership.

At Whatfix, we asked a recently acquired customer of ours about the number of low value tickets that were being raised every month. The answer was close to 60%. That’s a pretty huge number.

So, why does this happen? One, because the general application support process adopted by companies is disjointed and broken. Two, poor knowledge management and organization means nobody can find answers to their questions very quickly.

Gartner suggests that organizing knowledge for easy access can reduce support emails by nearly 40%.

That’s almost half of all the support tickets that employees raise.  

And that’s not all. Gartner also points out the following potential realizations as well:

  • 25% headcount shift away from low-value calls due to self-service knowledge search
  • 40% reduction in talk time in a support center

Pretty big deal, huh?

What’s the Real Problem with Application Support?

Organizations need to realize that with inefficient application support afforded to employees, the whole exercise of adding a new software product to the company becomes counterproductive.

How does anyone expect employees to get absolutely productive when they are spending time figuring out how to get things done on their brand new application? Also, it would be wrong to assume that after a point in time, people will stop asking questions and get productive.

The real problem with application support is that its disjointed. Support is always provided outside of the application, maybe even orally, for a lot of low touch queries. Fragmented support practices mean that employees never get all the information from one source. It could offline user manuals, online product help portals, Google search, application support analysts, even customer success reps.

Knowledge is scattered across the organization and employees always have to put in effort to find the right knowledge. But that’s not all. They still have to transform this knowledge to practice by applying it, which is not always going to be easy.

Disjointed support paradigms lead to bad product experiences. And individual user productivity is now a function of product experience.

The days of the disjointed touchpoints are long behind us. You can’t have a different touchpoint for each individual function. Knowledge needs to be organized in such a way that it is easily accessible, it is easy to use and it clearly solves the end user’s problem.

So, How do you Better Application Support?

That’s the question we need to answer because that’s the problem we are solving for a lot of companies.

#1 Take Application Support Where Employees Need It

That’s the first thing organizations need to do. Take application support where employees and end users need it. And that’s right within the application.

Support is also a form of learning. If there’s anything that numerous surveys over the past several years have suggested is that employees want to be trained and supported at the point of their need. And that means support needs to be integrated and embedded within the application.

Consequently, application users will be able to access help without  leaving the application at all. That would speed up resolution of queries and also help them learn while taking support.

#2 Make Application Support Self-Service to Remove the Lag in Resolution

Dependencies cause delays. And delays are unproductive. Employees within an organization shouldn’t have to wait for another team to resolve their query, no matter how long it takes.

Whether its customers or employees or any other end user, they all want to help themselves rather to seek help external. So, what do you do?

Obvious. Negate the scope for external intervention automating application support and making it self-serving as much as possible empower employees to help themselves. This would also mean making help always available, like, we did for Cardinal Health. Not only does this drastically reduce the lag in query resolution but also reduces much of the time in administering support queries thereby reducing the costs of application support. Just like Gartner pointed out.    

#3 Make Application Support Contextual

Context is king. That’s the whole platform that personalization is built on, right? But then, why should it be restricted to just prospective customers. Why not employees as well?

Enterprises applications are highly complex and span multiple sophisticated workflows. Just to give you and idea, each of the release notes that Salesforce puts up every now and then stretches to more than 700 pages.

If each time, employees have to search through mammoth amounts of information and comprehend it, just to resolve one simple query, it just doesn’t make sense.

Application help has to be contextual to employees’ needs which means its dynamic and changes according to the state of the end user within the application. It’s like something like just the one page of the product documentation that the user needs to see while blacking out all the remaining pages.

As much as people and organizations don’t talk about application support, it is a critical part of any software product’s long term implementation success. There are a plenty of companies and products which are already doing this. But there are also an overwhelming majority who aren’t. Join the former.

Amar Tejaswi

Amar Tejaswi

Engineer by qualification and marketer by profession, Amar contributes to marketing efforts at Whatfix in ways he can.
Amar Tejaswi
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