Tech Support: How to Embrace Inbound Calls and Build Customer Loyalty


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When it comes to tech support, most organizations and their call centers fear inbound calls (service redemption) due to the expense. After all, when the business mantra is “increase profits,” with the call center right alongside shouting “reduce costs,” not many companies want to dig into tight budgets for the time and labor they think is requisite to address additional tech support redemption. And yet, there’s also energy being expended to achieve consistently high customer satisfaction scores or, in some organizations, low customer effort scores. This internal tug-of-war has given rise to two questions that I’ve heard consistently from executives in a variety of industries, including service provision, retail, CE manufacturing and software:

‘What are the costs of providing exceptional support services?’

‘What are the real benefits to customers?’

There’s a good and pragmatic answer: You CAN have redemption and service delivery models that create positive customer experiences, and you can do so without significant investment. In fact, you can go to market with a program that yields cost savings by reducing No Fault Found Returns (NFFR) and churn, or even creates new revenue opportunities.

In the past year, in light of our increasingly connected lives and the opportunities presented by the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT), I’ve seen many organizations, from large telco providers to retailers and consumer manufacturers, re-evaluate their tech support strategies and embrace specialized technical services initiatives. These organizations are recognizing that their existing support strategy no longer suits consumer needs and corporate objectives. While they continue down the standard call-deflection path with online content, communities and self-service, they are also redefining call center focus. What remains “in scope” for their existing call centers are the homogeneous, high-volume, frequent inquiries that are easy to routinize, automate and handle with relatively low-cost labor. Alongside that is a new path: handling the heterogeneous, low-volume, infrequent complex tech support needs with a purpose-built, specialized technical services organization that can change the dynamics of incubating and introducing new products to market, at any stage of the buyer and customer journey.

This new definition of technical support was put into action in 2014 by a global IoT software and services company. Recognizing that specialized technical services were the lynchpin to ensuring channel partners could profitably deploy managed services on the IoT company’s platform, they deployed specialized technical services to secure end-user adoption and integration of the software and systems purchased from the channel brands. By incorporating specialized technical services at the point-of-sale and at no cost to the customer, this IoT brand was able to simplify the complex issues of adoption and interconnectivity, increase customer satisfaction, and product adoption and usage, as well as create an ongoing value exchange that opens up opportunities for new revenue streams.

New approaches, similar to this example, provide technical assistance throughout the prospect and customer lifecycle … from pre-purchase guidance to installation and integration through ongoing usage and support. Organizations are asking game-changing questions about what products and services they should support, how they’re delivering that support, and who should foot the bill.

If your current products and services – or your roadmap – are part of the IoT, evaluating your existing support paradigm is a must. Consumers don’t use products in a vacuum – they expect their “things” to work together within their highly personalized and complex technology environments. If you don’t help your customer select, purchase, install, integrate, adopt, use, optimize and evolve their constellation of technologies that includes one or more “things” associated with your brand, who will? If it’s not you, how is that likely to affect your NFFR rate, churn, share of wallet, repeat purchase volume and market share? In the age of the IoT, brands not only have an opportunity – but an obligation – to support their customers’ technical needs, regardless of the diversity of customer environments. Here are key considerations that can help you determine what that means for your brand, and where to start.

What technologies (devices, software, etc.) do you support?

Organizations that effectively provide brand-agnostic, specialized technical services across the more mature aspects of the home “IT” environment (PCs, laptops, smart phones, routers, printers) and the newcomers to that increasingly complex environment (home security and lighting automation, smart thermostats, smart locks, connected crockpots) will have the best shot at delivering ongoing value, driving revenue, and becoming a trusted advisor over time.

What is the scope of your service?

Tech support is no longer about replacement plans and fixing problems. It’s about creating a continuous service experience that enables users to purchase, install, activate, configure, connect, interconnect, use, enhance, update and optimize their technology products and services in an evolving technology environment. Embracing a service paradigm that transforms from instance-based, device-centric events to an ongoing, customer-centric, service management relationship creates multiple opportunities for value exchange with your customers, expanding brand perception and driving repeat purchases and greater lifetime value.

Put yourself in the consumer’s position: a home security automation provider can assist me with that brand’s smartphone application, but can that very same provider help integrate that application into a broader solution that powers my garage door, lighting system and thermostat?

That’s just one of hundreds of examples in which a single product or system is part of a much broader technology ecosystem in the home. And it’s an ecosystem in which the consumer expects your product/s to work smoothly and conveniently.

How are you delivering technical support?

In-house agents are knowledgeable about your core products and trained to address the high-volume, homogeneous inquiries that are received day in and day out in a call center. Most often, however, these very same agents fall short when it comes to handling complex, low-volume, heterogeneous support inquiries, although these needs are just as important to your customer. While these agents often do what they can for the customer in terms of best efforts to handle the need at hand, the result often leaves both the customer and the company unfulfilled.

This challenge is common among CE manufacturers, service providers, software companies and retailers alike. The first inclination for many brands is simply to deflect these calls. Second in line is ramping up the call center to gain ground in the name of CSAT; but that is often a costly and time-consuming undertaking. For most, neither scenario appeals; call deflection drives customer defection while call center investment is simply not an option. What’s a brand to do? In many cases, brands turn to specialized, experienced, scalable resources purpose-built for effectively and efficiently addressing the less frequent, heterogeneous, complex technical needs of customers in a technology environment comprised of a broad set of devices, applications and services. Some brands also put support automation applications into play. These apps – employed by end users and/or specialized tech agents – provide automated diagnoses, basic remediation, and connectivity to a support expert to increase user control where desired, and increase workflow efficiency for tech agents.

Who’s paying for it?

In the past, many organizations successfully passed along the cost of specialized technical services in the form of premium tech support to end users. Customers were given the option of a one-time fee for a support “instance,” or a subscription that enables multiple sessions for a multitude of technical needs.

According to research from Parks Associates, more than 50 percent of smart home device owners are willing to pay for technical support for emerging connected technologies. However, when it comes to the early stages of the customer lifecycle, brands are smart to pay for support as it increases activation, initial usage and product adoption. As these brands bring new products and innovations to market, offering services that help end-users adopt them drives greater revenue and reduces the number of returns.

Once users have experienced initial value from your product/service, and fully adopted the product, they’re primed to pay for a broader scope of service and support. This presents additional opportunities for ongoing value exchange, inclusive of cross-selling relevant products and services while enhancing the overall customer experience.

In an increasingly technical, connected and complex world, customers appreciate brands that proactively help them purchase, install, use, integrate, enjoy and optimize their devices and services. Organizations that embrace this continuous technical services model, an “Internet of Services,” will differentiate themselves, mitigate returns and churn, and position themselves for additional revenue and market share through an ongoing value exchange with current, and future, customers.

Paul Weichselbaum
Paul Weichselbaum is the Executive Vice President of PlumChoice, the leading specialized technical services provider for the IoT that partners with Fortune 1000 manufacturers, retailers, telcos, cable providers, and software companies to deliver highly differentiated customer experiences to consumers and SMBs through white-labeled technical support solutions that span the entire technology lifecycle.


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