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CASE STUDY #1
(Consultancy Assignment) - PRODUCT SUPPORT REVIEW
(Client Business Sector) - COMPUTER SOFTWARE PROVIDER TO THE QUICK-FIT TIRE/MUFFLER TRADE
CLIENT BUSINESS PROFILE
The Client was a software company who's "product" was a computer database application that contained details of parts and accessories for vehicle mufflers/exhaust systems and tires for every conceivable brand of automobile. The database was constantly updated to include new automobile models as they came to market and these database updates were distributed to customers via CD Rom. The application enabled muffler/exhaust/tire fitters at the point of sale to look up the part numbers, check their in-stock availability, undertake the work on the vehicle, process the customer order, invoicing, payment and receipts. The Client had several thousand retail customers, including two "chains" of outlets. In recent times the company was sliding down the leader board because of an inability to keep the product current and reliable. There was a high level of disatisfaction with both product performance and service support within the customer base. In addition to providing the software application, the Client also sold and supported the computer hardware needed to run the software. Computer hardware prices were falling rapidly at this time and customers were reluctant to pay the premium price of the Clients chosen hardware. Further, the Client had no hardware field service support staff of THEIR own and outsourced hardware support to a third party.

The Client business had existed for some 20 years and they were the market leader for most of that time.The founders of the company were 1) The Sales Director, 2) The Operations Director, 3) The Lead/Development Computer Pogrammer. A new owner (family member of one of the founders) had recently purchased the business and was determined to make the necessary changes to restore the business to its previous standing and profitability and commissioned Tillotson Services to undertake a review of the Help Desk and customer support operations. Following our initial report findings the Client expanded the assignment and it became a full operational and business review.

CLIENT PROBLEM SUMMARY
The Client stated that their Help Desk was overwhelmed with requests for service support and that the Help Desk was unable to cope and/or provide a timely response to customer service requests. As a result of poor customer support Client was losing customers who decided to switch to competitor systems and Client was losing market share and faiing to maintain profitability. Client stated that his belief was that the main problem was the poor performance of the Help Desk. The database application was written in a legacy (obsolete) non-graphical-user-interface (non GUI) programming language which inhibited rapid and more functional product development. The choice of programming language was made by the Founder(3)/Lead Programer/Developer and he was unable/unwilling to update his programing skills and move forward with a more modern and appropriate programing environment.

IINITIAL CLIENT BRIEF
Client's initial briefing to the Consultant involved the following:
  • Nothing was off-limits (Consultant would be allowed to delve into any areas of the business operations in pursuit of his research)
  • Initial focus would be the performance of the Help Desk including analysis of help desk calls, staff skills-analysis, analysis of Help Desk tools and procedures, analysis of customer service levels, review the effectiveness of internal/external communications
  • Upon completion of the first phase, the Consultant would provide an "Initial Findings' report and document a proposal for phase two.
It soon became apparent that the Help Desk was not the only problem area. The Consultant drafted an "Initial Findings' report that summarized the situation with the Help Desk and detailed several other areas of the operation that contributed to a wider and more serious problem than the Client was aware of. The Clients brief to the Consultant was expanded to provision for the wider scope of the assignment, as illustrated by the list of problem areas shown below -
  • No "Computerized Help Desk System" existed. Calls were logged on a paper log and crossed off when considered closed by the Technician
  • No analysis of Help Desk calls had ever been undertaken (Client had no understanding of the nature/scope/priority/duration or number of support requests)
  • No management of Help Desk staff (they were left to 'pick and choose" open calls as they wished, no system of call priorities)
  • No quality control of Help Desk (No measurement/reporting of Help Desk customer service performance)
  • No Help Desk support structure (calls were processed in no particular order, no escalation procedures)
  • Lack of product knowledge, lack of product training at the Help Desk
  • Lack of a 'customer service culture" (company wide).
  • Poor product reliability
  • Poor product development cycle - (No meaningful testing, No change-control standards, Failure to achieve development timescales)
  • Inconsistent Programmer support
  • Outdated technology (Lead programmer/Business Co-Owner limited to obsolete programming language)
  • Undocumented Ad-Hoc "fixes" to software implemented and distributed outside of any change control process
  • A "quick-fix" mentality by programming (and non-programming) staff, rather than a studied/thoughtful approach. Each "quick-fix" invaribly created a new problem.
  • Slow and troublesome performance from third party "Hardware Support" company
  • Lack of Customer Training in use of product
  • Sales-Team "underselling" need for product training and/or sales-team providing "free" informal/inadequate training
  • Sales-Team knowingly having hardware shipped to customers and supported by Help Desk when not paid for (free everything, zero profit)
  • Poor internal business-process/communication (Product shipped to customers, Help Desk not even aware of new customer existance or their configuration)
EXPANDED CLIENT BRIEF
Following a presentation to the Client on the "Initial Findings", the Client authorized a more extensive consultancy assignment. Upon completion of the expanded briefing, all of the above issues (and more) were fully researched and documented in a second report which also outlined solution options, cost/benefit analysis, and a Business Improvement Plan (BIP). The BIP was BUSINESS DRIVEN with quantifiable BUSINESS GOALS and BUSINESS BENEFITS and the TIMESCALES within which the plan elements could realistically be put in place. Furthermore, The consultant worked with the Client and drafted "SUCCESS CRITERIA" against which success, of the Business Improvement Plan would be measured. The key outputs of this assignment were -
  • Removal of the Founder/Sales Director (who ultimately retired from the business and his Sales Director position).
  • Re-assignment of the Founder/Operations Director to focus on Business Development and to cease his ad-hoc programming/operational activities
  • Implementation of a New Computerized Help Desk system
  • Recruitment of a Help Desk Manager to implement and manage the new Computerized Help Desk system
  • Establishment and implementation of Help Desk procedures such as call priortization, escalation procedures, service monitoring, service goals etc
  • Establishment of procedures and responsibilities to ensure integrity of the Sales/Billing/Customer Payment process
  • Establishment of product development change control/testing procedures to ensure quality of new product/development
  • Establishmenf of internal training schedule whereby the Lead Programmer trains Help Desk technicians and trains the travelling Customer Site Trainer
  • Re-direction of Founder/Lead Programmer to ensure improvement in his work ethic, productivity, availability etc
  • Review Customer Training needs, consider factoring in as a "package" price to ensure all Customers receive expert training
  • Recruitment of a second (professional) programmer to back-up the Founder/Lead Programmer and strengthen product development and support
  • Review current progamming language appropiateness with a view to moving to a more modern GUI programing language
  • Hardware - Cesation of Client to be a provider of computer hardware to customers. Client will define "minimum requirements" to potential customers who will purchase their own computer hardware and arrange their own hardware support
  • Withdrawal from computer hardware sales removes problem of Customers not paying for hardware. Client returns to being a "software supplier"
IMPLEMENTATION PLANNING AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT
The above list of outputs involves a significant degree of change and a significant degree of investment. It is not practicable or affordable for the Client to implement all of the above all at once. The Client would need to review his business goals, prioritize the list to match these goals, develop an implementation plan and assign somebody to Project Manage that plan.

It is beyond the scope of this summary case study to delve deeper into the detail. It is plainly obvious that the Client's business operations and business process were seriously flawed (or non existent), to the extent that some of these elements were out of control. There was a clear lack of management and accountability from top to bottom in the company.

TREAT THE CAUSE NOT THE SYMPTON

This was a slightly unusual assignment, insofar as the Client perception of a problem at his Help Desk Operations triggered a much wider consultancy assignment which then revealed very serious problems in both the business process' and the service/support operations When all these problems combined with the lack of effective internal communications, the result was poor product, poor customer service and a subsequnt poor business performance. Contact Tillotson Services