KindleFireAdvisor.jpg, collaboration, customer support
In the past, the role of collaboration technologies was to help customer support reps work with each other on what I call “exception cases.” These are the 20% of cases that are not solved by the FAQ, or first line support. Often they are more complex, and there is no current solution in the customer support database. Creating a solution may often involve the support rep working with someone in engineering or product development. It is clear that collaboration has a critical role in this process and is not going away.

But the nature of customer support itself is changing, just like most of the ways we now work are changing rapidly due to the influx of new and often game-changing technologies. The other big challenge in support is people. Many support people are at retirement age, and the ability to capture their knowledge is critical to the organization.

In the past customers expected support technologies like TeamSupport.com and genesys labs, that supports better knowledge sharing between internal support team members and company experts. While telephone support is not going away any time soon (and it still supports a collaborative interaction) customers are looking for more new and social options: chat, social media, video, and self-service.

New wave Collaborative Support

A new wave of collaboration technologies and an offshoot of the mobile revolution (wearable devices) may provide some of the solution to this knowledge capture problem and appease the appetite of today’s customers for new and more collaborative solutions. There are many mobile applications that already support collaboration of many types: Collaborate.com for asynchronous mobile communications, and Fuze for real-time communications and videoconferencing.

Pebble, Samsung and many other vendors have announced watches that connect with mobile devices or directly to the cloud (if they have WiFi). In Samsung’s case their watches will pair with the Galaxy Smart phones, allowing mobile employees to record video and still have their hands free. This ability to record video or implement a video conference makes it easier to capture this elusive knowledge from the field.

No matter what the technology is and its ability to connect to a variety of people, people are still people and they talk with, interact or collaborate with those they trust or like. People often go to their personal networks for answers. If you don’t know someone personally, then you find the identified expert. Although the NSA may have a record of this conversation, the company that is providing the support often doesn’t, and so is not capturing valuable knowledge. Steve Rosati does a brilliant discussion of this in his article “The Future of Field Service: Wearable Tech and Social Collaboration Can Take us There.”

Because of the BYOD revolution (ongoing) there has recently been a lot of effort put into the area of wearable devices. Not only Google Glasses (which would be very expensive for most companies to provide) but General Dynamics has made wearable devices for the military for a long time. Even watching the America’s Cup races you notice that the helmsman has a wearable (and waterproof) computer on his forearm, and others have devices on their chests or belts (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Note the computer on the right forearm of this America’s Cup sailor

New types of context- aware software like Cisco, and Appear IQ will support the sharing of technical information with the video providing examples and details. This additional context information for field support employees will allow them to be more productive and also provide higher quality support. As you use devices like this, not only will field support managers be able to keep better track, but the ability to capture knowledge will also be enhanced.

Mayday, Mayday!

Recently Amazon announced the Kindle Fire HDX which offers a Mayday button with a video to show how it works. If you press the “Mayday button” in the “Quick Settings Menu” it instantly connects you with a live support person (on video) who can show you how the device works, or answer support questions. In this case the mobile device is now the support tool: “Our goal is to revolutionize tech support” noted Jeff Bezos. “It is a real “wow” feature and we expect new users will be showing it off to their friends and colleagues, so we have ramped up our support staff to deal with that eventuality.”

Mayday goes two steps beyond Siri by providing one-way video (you see the tech support person) and two-way audio so you can see the live support person when you are talking to them. They in turn, share the same context as your mobile device screen, so they can draw and annotate your screen, or in some cases just fix the problem (with your permission) so it takes less time to explain the problem, and hopefully less time to fix the problem.

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Although Kindle’s MayDay does not provide full two-way video for support, the fact that it is a one-button function, and does support a collaborative interaction can point to some of the ways we will see collaboration used in customer support in the future.

Video and Support

A 2011 Harris poll showed “that 89% would be willing to pay 25% more for excellent customer service, but if customer service is bad, 89% would move to a competitive brand.” These findings and more are discussed in much greater detail by Pat Patterson in his series of articles on “Bringing (Video) Context to Customer Support.” The use of video in support allows customers, suppliers, colleagues, partners, channels and others to provide support in a much more personalized way.

A good example of this is in personal banking (you know for those in the 1%), and wealth management.

Combining video with mobile devices enables banks to conduct high-value interactions with their customers on any device, anytime, anywhere. Video collaboration enables wealth management firms to do just that. By evolving their mobile banking experience from reading balances and bill pay to full-on advice with video conferencing, expertise access, and collaborative content sharing, firms can improve their competitiveness and differentiation by improving customer experience.”

Various McKinsey research and studies have shown that those who adopt more client-centric tools like video) and processes can increase revenues up to 20% and profitability up to 2.5 times. Cisco’s own research has shown that wealth management firms that adopt client-centric tools such as video can reduce client attrition, especially for the critical under-55 segment (who are more used to social and video tools).”

Collaboration and Future Support

Whatever technology is used, collaboration is changing the fundamental nature of support. From a one-size-fits-all, to a personalized experience; from only on a PC, to support being available to anyone, anytime and anywhere; from a complex series of phone calls to a one-button “Mayday” solution that takes less time than to look up the answer on Google. In-context support applications foster collaboration through the common context and also increase productivity.

But with all these new technologies available to enable more collaboration in support, when does it become too much? When does it turn into “big brother”, when does support begin to anticipate problems. The new iOS7 on my iPhone will now do app updates automatically (I did have to give permission for that), pretty soon my phone will start telling me not to eat that cookie, it’s bad for me… so I might have to leave my mobile device in another room, or take off my mobile device when I don’t need or want any more support!

Editor's Note: Want more from David? Check out his recent article Does Collaboration Bring Productivity?