by Bill Steenburgh
Date Published - Last Updated February 26, 2016

In today’s increasingly competitive world, customers are always looking for more from their service providers: better response times, improved uptime, lower costs, personal service, a better overall experience, etc. Your company’s leaders and its shareholders have their own needs: lower costs, greater revenue, increasing productivity, and, ultimately, a better return on their investments. What if you could satisfy all of these needs, but do so in a way that improved employee productivity and overall job satisfaction? Sounds too good to be true...but it’s not. Shift-left strategies are the answer.

What Is Shift-Left?

Shift-left strategies entail moving high-cost services to low-cost delivery channels. To appropriately shift services from on-site (higher cost) to on-call and online (lower cost), support organizations must adopt and implement innovative strategic frameworks and transformational models, as well as—and most importantly—remote solutions.

Remote solutions give support organizations the ability to leverage technology, people, and process in the pursuit of flexible, optimized service delivery. When this shift is made effectively, organizations gain the ability to deliver step-function improvements in operating efficiencies and effectiveness (cost and bottom-line results) while simultaneously providing an improved, personalized customer experience.

Remote solutions are a key enabler of channel optimization, which is where you determine the appropriate channel for delivering specific solutions. Effective channel optimization can do much more than just lower costs; it can significantly improve access to your customers, and it can allow your customers to consume your services in the manner they most prefer. It’s the key to personalizing your customer engagements and proactively meeting your customers’ needs. (This is also why it’s critical that you understand how your customers’ value your various delivery channels. Pushing too far to the left can compromise that value proposition, and that can have negative consequences for your business.)

Almost all support organizations provide some kind of multichannel support. If providing competitive differentiation through multichannel support is part of your organization’s mission, then remote solutions need to be part of your shift-left strategy. According to Worldwide Business Research, 36 percent of organizations are already solving over 20 percent of their service requests remotely. Is your organization effectively executing a remote solutions/channel optimization strategy? If not, why not?

No Such Thing as Common Sense: The Challenge of Remote Solutions and Channel Optimization

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as common sense, only good sense. Remote solutions and channel optimization require copious quantities of the latter.

Remote solutions and channel optimization can be incredibly challenging tasks. They require effective cross-functional integration and alignment of people, process, and technology, and they need to be part of a company-sponsored strategic initiative with systematic and effective cross-functional support from research and development, product design and manufacturing, supply chain management, IT, sales and marketing, services engineering and support, learning and development, and the entire support organization, as well as from your customers. Without this systematic, cross-functional approach, companies tend to revert to siloed behaviors that might optimize individual departments and teams, but usually suboptimizes the company as a whole, and always suboptimizes effective channel optimization.

It never ceases to amaze me how “smart” leaders treat remote solutions as if they’re a support-only initiative and then wonder why their initiatives never achieve the desired results. Some organizations implement point solutions, like knowledge management, and think that’s all they need to enable remote solutions. Others implement great technologies but are ineffective at the people and process sides. Remote solutions and channel optimization require people, process, and technology, working together, and not just from the support side.

Implementing effective remote solutions may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. What you need is a comprehensive vision and strategies, goals, initiatives, and measures you can actually execute. Companies that have effectively executed shift-left strategies have followed a remote solutions strategic framework that can be broken down into four key areas: 

  1. Strategy and management: As in all good initiatives, you need to have the right strategy, talent, business model, and governance. Remember, this is a company initiative, not a stand-alone support initiative! 
  2. Operations infrastructure: An effective infrastructure is necessary for developing, managing, delivering, and supporting efficient and effective remote solutions. At a basic level, it should include a good knowledge management (KM) solution, an effective commercialization process, strong core technologies, and an effective customer loyalty process. However, bear in mind that, again, investing in a point solution, like KM, won’t enable you to effectively execute a channel optimization strategy. While an effective KM solution is absolutely necessary for the success of your strategy, it’s insufficient, in and of itself, for delivering the targeted results.
  3. Functional and cross-functional processes: Effective functional and cross-functional processes and methodologies are critical. Some of the core cross-functional processes include strategic planning, business planning, sales management, commercialization, innovation management, and performance management.
  4. Go-to-market: This is where the remote support strategy is actually executed. At a basic level, it requires on-site, on-call, and online channel enablement. It also requires that you understand your customers’ needs and requirements so you can develop a strategy that balances value, cost, and efficiency. Your marketing and sales teams will play an active role in positioning your remote solutions and communicating with your customer base. Once you’ve delivered the solution, continuous improvement processes will enable you to continue meeting your customers’, company’s, and stakeholders’ needs effectively. (Geoffrey Moore’s “Cycle of Innovation,” outlined in Dealing with Darwin, is a great tool for effectively managing innovation and inertia.)

A remote solutions strategic framework is essential for ensuring the alignment, support, and, ultimately, effective execution of a shift-left strategy. Additionally, I strongly advocate following a structured transformation process that will enable you to optimize your remote solutions.

The Transformation Process

Most companies have commercialization or product development processes in place, and it’s imperative that companies take a similarly rigorous approach to their remote solutions/channel optimization strategy. Using a phase-gate process, the transformation process includes the following steps:

  1. Strategize: In this phase, remote solutions are proposed. A cross-functional team is assembled and chartered to define the vision, strategies, goals, initiatives, and measures. There is an initial assessment of technology, people, processes, and requirements. Additionally, the initial value proposition for all channels and an initial business plan is developed (the latter should be included in the company’s strategic and annual business plans).
  2. Define: In this phase, you put meat on the bones. The full project plan is drafted (incorporating results from the technology, people, and process needs assessment completed in the first phase). Infrastructure requirements are designed or procured, and targets/business plans are refined. By this phase, you should have a cross-functional customer loyalty process in place that enables you to hear the Voice of the Customer (VOC).
  3. Build: In this phase, the solution is built out. It’s important that you take the time in this phase to identify any gaps in the plan. You must also validate the VOC, develop functional processes, vet implementation and engagement plans for the pilot, and draft communications plans. Finally, you need to ensure overall value chain readiness.
  4. Adopt: Now is the time to pilot the full remote services/channel optimization solution. Processes should be validated, and any gaps that have been identified should be addressed. Marketing, sales, and delivery should be executing to plan, and the solution should be on track for meeting agreed-upon targets. Once customer acceptance has been verified, the transition to steady-state delivery can begin.
  5. Execute: It’s now time to deploy the solution and implement a continuous improvement process (Moore’s “Cycle of Innovation”). In this phase, scorecards are finalized and monitored, lessons learned are captured, and the core team is disbanded. Time to enjoy the fruits of your labor and recognize your team’s efforts!

Remember, each phase should be gated, meaning that there should be a go/no-go decision point that involves the core team and the initiative’s executive sponsors, to ensure the initiative remains on track and aligned with agreed-upon targets.

Now, the Fun Part: Dramatic Results Are Yours for the Taking

Certainly, the return trip is part of the overall journey. Shift-left is a multiyear journey that requires great cross-functional investments in technology, people, and process. But the opportunities are tremendous!

Consider, for example, a simple shift from an on-site solve rate of 64 percent to 50 percent—it yields cost savings of 30 percent! Even greater benefits can be realized if your cross-functional team can attack other variables, like efficiency, cost per solve per channel, first call fix rates, etc. As you can see, even the simplest shifts can create dramatic results. Effectively implementing remote solutions can increase uptime, improve response time, and improve retention by improving the customer experience.

Lessons from the Trenches

With results this compelling, why aren’t all companies and support organizations reaping the maximum benefit from remote solutions and channel optimization strategies? The simplest answer is the implementing this type of shift-left strategy can be hard, but there are some key lessons that can make your journey much easier and much more rewarding. 

  • You need a solid long-term strategy supported by solid short-term tactical initiatives to get closer to you vision. 
  • You need to balance financial, customer, and employee actions and targets. 
  • While core technologies are critical, technology-centric solutions alone are insufficient, due to frequently ineffective or nonexistent processes. 
  • No silos allowed. This is a team sport, and all departments have to play together to execute the strategy, deliver the solution, and achieve the desired results. 
  • Good sense and experience are often the missing ingredients. Make sure your team has plenty of both.

Shift-left strategies can not only result in step-function improvements to your cost structure, they can also enable you to provide a differentiated, end-to-end experience for your customers by delivering service and support via whichever channels they most desire. Good luck on your journey!


Bill Steenburgh leads RTM Consulting’s Field and Support Service practices. He has extensive executive experience leading global service operations and supporting enterprise and consumer customers across all industry segments. Before joining RTM Consulting, Bill held senior and executive positions at Xerox, Xelus, Danka Corporation, and Eastman Kodak. He is a founding executive board member of TSIA, president of AFSMI, a member of SSPA, and a frequent speaker at service industry events. His lifelong commitment to services work has also earned him numerous industry awards.

Tag(s): support models, supportworld


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