The end of service with a smile?

No matter how good your IT systems, the professionalism and knowledge of your customer-facing staffers have a major impact on the reputation of IT. Surly and unhelpful support staff have given many a company a black eye.

A recent study by the Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA) looks at how companies can attract and keep “top talent” support staff, defined as the top 10 percent of customer-facing employees at technology companies. The study’s lessons apply not only to tech support staffers dealing with mass-market consumers but also extend to IT staff supporting internal users.

It turns out that money is not the reason the top talent joins or stays committed to an employer. They tend to be attracted to jobs by challenging work rather than pay levels, and they tend to be motivated by recognition rather than money, according to the study of 500 top employees at 300 SSPA member companies. To attract and retain top talent, the SSPA recommends two strategies: extensive training opportunities and formal development programs that offer new challenges and a path up the ladder.

These strategies seem likely to become less prevalent, however, as outsourcing and offshoring of support jobs accelerates. CIOs these days seek to lower their support costs rather than spend money on training and development. Indeed, in a recent study by SSPA and Tech Strategy Partners that queried 200-plus IT executives in enterprises of various sizes, 58 percent were willing to send tech support offshore.

But these CIOs are at odds with end consumers. The same SSPA study asked consumers for their views on tech support. Nearly half said that they had experienced poor customer service skills from offshore representatives, compared with only 12 percent from onshore tech support employees.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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