Why your tech support services need to ‘Shift Left’

Profile picture for user Phelan and Wells By Pat Phelan and Renee Wells July 6, 2020
Developers know the power of 'Shift Left' - moving resources closer to users. Pat Phelan and Renee Wells of Rimini Street explain how to apply it in tech support

Yellow traffic sign "Turn left" on the sky background © bobographicto - Shutterstock
(© bobographicto - Shutterstock)

Modern technology support services have to grapple with the paradox of digital transformation. On the one hand, automated response systems and chatbots do the work of help desks and call centers, while software analyzes the data to evaluate how the business is performing. Yet at the same time as digitization dilutes the human touch, personalization is becoming a differentiator, as customers demand excellence in the services they receive. For many, this includes a higher degree of human service, coupled with technology that empowers them to self-help when desired. 

With the proliferation of technology increasing the need for support, this demands a new approach. The current barriers between traditional tiers of support make it challenging to provide a seamless experience. When issues are escalated between tiers, it can take too long to solve a customer's problem, and the quality of service generally decreases. From a service provider's point of view, service costs are increasing while the ability to deliver knowledge and assistance to customers in an innovative way is becoming more challenging.

Shift Left provides an answer. This is a practice that originated in software delivery. In traditional software development, requirements live on the left side of the plan and delivery/testing requirements live on the right side. To Shift Left is to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of the development process by moving critical activities such as testing as early as possible in the development lifecycle of a product or process.

What Shift Left means for tech support

For technology support services, the Shift Left approach is built on the same concept of moving resources closer to the customer, in this case typically resulting in a faster, more efficient, and more effective resolution. More than just self-service or automated web submission, it makes experts and knowledge more readily available to customers. 

In this context, the practice of Shift Left seeks to optimize the customer experience by combining the efficiency and speed of technology with the intelligence of human expertise and the warmth and personalization of exceptional customer service. The aim is to resolve issues or accomplish tasks with the highest possible customer satisfaction.

This transformational approach positions technology support providers to better meet the new customer demands for services. A key goal when you Shift Left is to break down organizational silos to allow providers and customers to co-create value. 

Shift Left requires a tech support organization to reset its approach to case handling and customer engagement. A traditional technology support service model often sees experts applying trial and error - or at least some analysis - to identify and fix the root cause of a problem. This is typically done ‘behind the scenes' before presenting an answer or delivering a service. To Shift Left brings down the barriers between the service expert and the customer, making the issue-resolution or problem-solving activity far more transparent.

In a Shift Left approach, the experts are not focused on just closing cases - they are solving problems. Ideally, case count goes down when the root cause of the problem is identified and addressed. End users also need to embrace this change to problem solving - the addressing of root causes for long-term solutions. Education and reinforcement may be required to ensure that providers and customers adapt to the new model.

Making the move to Shift Left

Some organizations see a Shift Left strategy as mainly enabled through automation. Others focus on redeploying human resources. In our view IT service providers are best served by a combination of the two, walking the fine line between leveraging digital investments - such as AI-powered self-service - that put information right at the customer's fingertips on the one hand, and delivering personalized assistance from enabled and empowered experts on the other. 

Considering a provider's goal for delivering technology support services, and a customer's goal for receiving them, adopting a Shift Left strategy provides mutual benefits:

  • Knowledge and expertise are moved closer to customers — When issues and their resolutions are generally clear-cut and occur frequently across a large base of customers, an automated Shift Left via self-service excels when customers simply require access to information to consume on their own. This approach helps deliver faster access to answers, reduced time and effort, less downtime, and frees man-hours to address other issues or initiatives.
  • Improved customer experience/better customer service — With a technology-enabled Shift Left, the easy access can lead to happier customers. With a human-powered or combined Shift Left, experts on the front line provide the personalization and extra care that digital-savvy customers demand.
  • Lower service costs through automation — Strategic uses of technology - such as AI-powered self-service or AI as a tool helping engineers perform with higher quality, greater efficiency, and better scalability - can reduce service costs for providers, translating to lower support costs for customers. Note: beware of over-reliance on technology to reduce costs at the expense of the customer service experience.
  • Customer service as a differentiator — Even though a service can be provided via technology, customer expectations of service are sufficient to drive a human-powered Shift Left. Sometimes, technology isn't enough to meet the need. When more human involvement is demanded, or human experience is critical, Shift Left personalization can provide competitive advantage.

Through a new combination of technology and human skills that moves services closer to the customer, a Shift Left strategy aims to provide access to better people, deliver a better service model, and create better outcomes. Isn't it time for your tech support organization to Shift Left?