Understanding the value of a social approach to user support depends on having a framework for understanding the co-creation of value by the user support service. In this posting, I will propose a framework for understanding how both the service provider and the service consumer contribute to creating value during the support service and the types of respective value created by that service. In a future posting I will apply that framework to analyze social support as opposed to traditional in-house support.
Fitness for Purpose and Fitness for Use
Let us assume that the value of a service depends on both its fitness for its purpose and its fitness for use. This is what others have called the service’s utility and its warranty. It is not possible to treat these two factors independently. If you are a service desk agent and a user asks you for support, it might very well be the case that the value of your support could increase if you had more time to investigate and prepare a response. So, you need to find the right balance between helping your user when your user needs help (fitness for use or warranty) and providing to your the help that is really needed (fitness for purpose or utility).
Furthermore, the value provided via that support is not the result of a one-sided activity. It is the result of what service scientists call a “co-creation.” In other words, the input to the service is coming from both provider and consumer and the outcome of the service is of value to both the provider and the consumer. A few examples illustrate some modes of co-creation.
Input and Process as Co-creation
Service Agent as Midwife
A user calls the service desk for support and presents the issue. The agent asks some pertinent questions that trigger a certain number of realizations on the part of the user. Spurred by those questions, the user figures out how to resolve the issue, without receiving an explicit solution from the service desk agent.
Frequently, the support required by a user is not to identify a solution, but rather to identify the problem. The user is not asking the right questions and is not seeing the issue for what it really is, due to limited experience or preconceptions. The dialectic between user and agent helps to clarify the issue. Once clarified, the solution itself is self-evident.
It happens that some users are, well, lazy. Rather than completing their assigned tasks, they ask for help and get a service desk agent to do some of the work for them.
Often, the purpose of a support request is to acquire some data or information to which the agent has access and which the user needs, but cannot reasonably be expected to have. Or, information transfer leverages the skills of the agent as a knowledge worker, who has the meta-information and experience to find the right information more quickly than the user might have done alone. The responsibility for using that information lies entirely with the user.
Resolving a support issue is not always a question of identifying the right answer, as if that answer exists in some Platonic reality. Sometimes, an issue is resolved by innovating a solution based on the mutual input coming from the user and the agent. The agent could not innovate the solution without the knowledge of the user’s issue and the user benefited from the agent’s cognitive skills, communication skills, experience, tools access and knowledge.
Co-creation of Outcomes
The outcome of the support service is not restricted to the user and the user’s organization. In all cases, there is an outcome of value for the service desk agent and the support organization.
Outcomes for the User
The types of outcomes that are of value to the user are:
- Getting a solution of higher utility, one that is more fit for the purpose at hand. In short, it helps make the user’s work more effective
- Getting a solution of a given utility more quickly, enabling higher productivity by the user
- Getting the knowledge and experience that enables the user to independently solve similar issues in the future
- Helping to make the user a more valuable and immediate resource for other users in the same organization
- Helping the user’s work to comply better with regulations and policies.
Outcomes for the Support Function
The types of outcomes that are of value to the service desk agent are:
- Discovery of new solutions and methods that may be reused in the future
- Enforcement in the mind of the agent of current issues, making them easier to diagnose in the short term
- Improved knowledge of the user, helping to facilitate future interactions with that same user
- Improved knowledge of the user’s work and organization, enabling the agent and the service desk to provide higher utility support in the future
- To the extent that the user is satisfied with the support, the user (and his or her colleagues) will be encouraged to increase their use of the support service, thereby creating a spiraling cycle of co-creation of value.
Assessing Social Service Support
Now that we have a framework for describing the types of value created during the support service, by both the service provider and the service consumer, we are in a position to assess the value provided by social support as opposed to the traditional support provided by a dedicated, in-house support function. This analysis will be made in a future posting.