The problem with services is simple: you won’t use them until you’ve already bought the product. So the trick to evaluating them is to ask lots of questions in advance to understand whether they’ll meet your needs.
Of course, there are two parts to that mission: building a clear picture and knowing what you need. In terms of what you need, vendors offer three types of services:
- deployment: help with setting up your system
- support: help in operating your system after it’s deployed
- account service: help in growing your business.
Different companies have different needs in each area. Buyers must understand those needs to know what they want a vendor to provide. I've written extensively about needs analysis in other posts and workbooks, so I won’t repeat those discussions here.
Similarly, the new workbook assumes you know what you’re looking for. It focuses on how to get it by providing suggestions for who to talk to, what to ask them, and how to interpret their answers. Each service types involves talking to different people:
for deployment, talk to:
- deployment staff to understand their skill level, typical projects, and project management methods
- sales staff to understand deployment services and pricing
- references to understand the types of services provided and the quality of work
for support, talk to :
- head of support to understand services, staff qualifications, training, and reward systems
- front-line support staff to understand the kinds of problems they handle, internal systems that help manage their work, and how they’re motivated
- sales staff to understand support services and pricing
- references to understand service levels and satisfaction
- head of account services to understand staff qualifications, measurement methods, and whether they have “success managers” separate from “account managers”
- account manager to understand their skills, training, workload, and objectives
- head of training to understand the kinds of training available, who delivers it, and if they understand how customers use the system
- head of professional services to understand the quality and scope of services
- head of partner relations to understand the types of partners and the company's investment in building a partner ecosystem
- sales staff to understand the types of account services and pricing
- references to understand the scope and quality of account services
The workbook offers dozens specific questions in each of those areas. I suppose you could just send each company the list and get back written answers, but you’ll get much more value from telephone and personal interviews. These let you listen to the replies and ask follow-up questions to drill into topics of interest. You probably won't need to ask every question to every person; the first few answers will often be enough to give a good idea of how the company does things in each area.