Technology Support: The Moment of Truth that Drives Customer Experience


Technology Support: The Moment of Truth that Drives Customer Experience

By TMCnet Special Guest
James Morehead
  |  November 12, 2013

It’s remarkable how technology has evolved over the last five to 10 years and how our homes and businesses have become completely dependent on technology.

Take a quick peek inside today’s homes and you’ll likely see a web of gadgets – from medical monitoring devices to security systems, home automation systems to entertainment consoles, and computers to mobile devices – all reliant on connections to the Internet and each other.

Step into a small business and you’re likely to see multiple tablets, smartphones, computers, laptops, wireless printers, VoIP handsets, plus myriad cloud services for business applications and collaboration, all dependent on the Internet.

In many ways, being connected to the Internet has become more critical than electricity, heating, or air conditioning (in fact I’d wager a lot of people today would say they’d rather forego air conditioning on a hot day than lose access to the Internet).

As consumers and small business employees become more dependent on connected technology, they’ve also been hit with increased complexity. Getting everything set up and working, despite the effort of a lot of companies to make things easier, has arguably become more complicated. As a result, the need for helping consumers and employees get technology up and running is more important than ever.

On top of that, more products and services rely on technology – and therefore technology support – to function and deliver value. For example, consider a home improvement retailer that sells a home automation solution that relies on a connection to a home network being operational to function properly. Does that home improvement retailer support the home network or just hope it works? Does it hang up when the issue lies outside its product or take the extra step of troubleshooting the home network? 

Take the case of a video streaming company that streams content for entertainment or for education. The video content it provides is only valuable when the streaming is uninterrupted and the video quality is high. If a customer calls to complain and the issue is with the device, or the home network conflicts with other services using the same home network, who is to blame? Who takes the call and solves the problem? Is a premium charged for technology support that goes beyond the scope of free support?

When we think of technology support 15 to 20 years ago, it was viewed as a necessary evil, with the focus primarily on deflecting calls, minimizing the time spent on the phone with customers, and reducing costs. Customer experience and the impact of technology support on the customer journey wasn’t top of mind.

The importance of technology and reliance on Internet connectivity is driving a shift in that thinking. Today, technology support is increasingly being recognized as a critical moment of truth along the customer journey, one that can have a huge (if not disproportionate) impact on the customer experience.

Indeed, according to Parks Associates (News - Alert), network complexity, growth of cloud services, and BYOD will help drive the U.S. market for tech support to a 14.4 percent compound annual growth rate between 2012 and 2016, reaching nearly $25 billion by 2016, while 68 percent of broadband households are interested in technical support services that cater to their devices, including a substantial number also interested in support for the home network router, flat-panel TVs, external hard drives, and game consoles.

Looking more closely at the customer journey, there are two key points in the journey where technology support is a moment of truth. First is the buying experience, covering the first 30 days starting when the customer has walked out of the store, or checked out of an online buy flow. This is most likely where the product will be returned or the service canceled. Today almost every device requires or benefits from a connection to the Internet. The out-of-the-box experience is more complex, and the role of technology support during the buying experience more critical than in the past.

What can companies do to minimize the risk of losing a new customer, or having a product returned? And, equally important, what can companies do to delight their customers during their initial experience with a new product or service?

Second is during the life of the product or service – the ownership experience. The longer a customer uses a product or service the more likely he or she is to have questions, issues or problems. The questions and problems may not be limited to a company’s product or service because of the dependence on connections to the Internet and other devices. According to the TSIA’s annual Benchmark survey, products are more complex to support than ever (65 percent of those surveyed in 2013 responded that products are “highly complex” to support vs. only 42 percent in 2003).

Those moments of truth are opportunities to enhance, or potentially end, the customer relationship. Adding to the challenges is the ever present and unpredictable impact of social media (the social amplifier), which can quickly cause good and bad tech support experiences to go viral.

So when companies are thinking about technology support, they should think well beyond one-to-one customer interactions, and more about providing a spectrum of support that addresses how their company deals with the many different ways customers can interact with them.

The most intimate (and expensive) form of interaction continues to be interactive live support, primarily over the phone or in person (with chat also increasing in popularity). And while phone-based support still dominates, the full spectrum of support includes do-it-yourself web searches, crowd-sourced social media, and company-managed online forums. The channel people use depends on many factors, but all channels play a role if your company serves a diverse population of consumers. The question isn’t which channel to use with your customers, but how to create a seamless experience transitioning from one channel to another.

Companies also need to determine whether they will offer free tech support, premium support (with a broader scope) or both. The demarcation line between free and premium (paid) tech support is a challenging and critical question. For many products and services it isn’t economic to provide unlimited tech support (both in number of interactions, and scope of interaction), which has enabled a multi-billion dollar paid tech support market to emerge.

Many companies, particularly in broadband and retail, have launched a combination of free and premium tech support with clearly defined de-marc points between the two models. This allows these companies to take on calls/chat/support requests, deal with the whole problem and not just a subset that they directly control, and do so in a way that is financially viable.

For example, a national retailer that we work with wanted to enhance the buying experience for a new tablet and did so by combining tablet apps for system optimization and security with 30 days of tech support targeted at initial setup of email, Wi-Fi and app purchasing. The new offer was an optional up-sell attached to a tablet purchase that enhanced the customer experience while driving new revenue.

In another example, a national broadband service provider wanted a better way to deal with out-of-scope/long tail calls coming into its contact center, versus turning those customers away or addressing the problems in an inconsistent, ad hoc way. To solve this dilemma it created a premium tech support service to handle those calls, which also allowed it to define a de-marc and clear separation between free and premium (paid) calls, increase customer satisfaction, and deliver a new revenue stream.

As customer experience and call center executives look at the customer journey from the perspective of technology support it is important to consider both the buying and ownership experiences, and the delicate balance between free and premium tech support.

The challenge for companies today is to be realistic about the breadth of support necessary with so many devices, equipment and services dependent on connections to the Internet and each other. If you ignore today’s reality of interconnected devices, products and services you do so at your own peril, and risk getting blamed for problems you cannot control. If you turn customers away because their issue is outside your current scope of support, you run the risk of a product being returned or a subscriber being lost.

James Morehead is vice president of product management and corporate marketing for

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. [Free eNews Subscription]
blog comments powered by Disqus