Technical support has been a beleaguered business function over the past few decades because a conflict exists between the needs of the organization — to operate efficiently — and the needs of the users — to get real help from a trusted human.
Here at Adobe, our IT tech support was subject to the same negative perceptions as other service desks.
We tried to improve efficiency by offshoring, but that caused a segment of the user population to stop calling the service desk. This was especially true for our non-native English speakers, who didn’t want to deal with the phone system, and some said their issues took too long to resolve.
We responded by introducing chat, which was received well, but user feedback made it clear we still had room to improve.
The UX of Support
As a company, Adobe focuses intensely on the user experience. So it didn’t make sense for us to run a department that users perceived as slow or hard to use.
Could the same principles we’d used to develop user-centric software be applied to the service desk? We worked with various groups in the company to reimagine desktop support.
We also looked at retail businesses known for good customer service to see if we could port their practices to our internal service desk.
We selected the model that changed people’s expectations of support fifteen years ago — Apple’s Genius Bar. It worked for consumers so why couldn’t it work for us? After all, even a captive user base wants to be delighted.
In the past, people called desktop support and waited for someone to come by their desk to fix their problem. That caused some departments to rationalize the need for a dedicated IT person, which led in turn to a bloated staff and an erosion of efficiency.
Drop-in users who hadn’t gone through proper channels further eroded efficiency.
They were discouraged because their visits hurt service performance metrics, but that was to the detriment of both the community and the company. When an individual’s productivity is slowed, the whole company is affected. So the problem wasn’t the drop-ins. It was the metrics.
To turn things around, we needed to shift our focus from closing tickets to making people happy. Instead of sending technicians to a person’s desk, we would let users come to us whenever they needed help.
We set up service counters in 18 of our largest offices and called them Tech Cafés, and also created a Traveling Tech Café to offer the corporate experience to our remote offices.
People are encouraged to stop by a Tech Café to get immediate help from a friendly expert, grab a piece of replacement hardware, or experiment with all sorts of devices that are kept on hand.
The Tech Café model has reduced the need for teams to grow their own IT support. It has also improved operational efficiency and raised customer satisfaction.
From the users’ point of view, three features are receiving the most feedback: the ability to try new hardware, the convenience of loaner laptops and power cords when traveling, and the option to deal with support staff face-to-face.
A New Type of Techie
Adobe is not alone in our effort to provide better support services. Lots of companies are overhauling their service desks to provide a better experience for both consumers and internal users. The success of these efforts depends largely on a single factor — the people delivering the support.
Users like walking up to a counter and having a friendly interaction. That means technicians who used to need only technical skills now need people skills too — and at a pretty high level. Certifications will always be necessary, but they’re just part of the equation.
Finding people with that combination of skills will be a challenge for recruiters, but the bigger challenge will be for people who want to enter or grow a career in tech support.
Things are still changing and will continue changing for some time, so these people will have to adjust their skills over and over.
What a technician did three years ago isn’t going to help three years from now. Reinvention is a constant theme in IT. But a customer service-oriented thought process will be even more important in the future.
Branding From the Inside Out
By creating the Tech Café model, we've pulled IT out of the back office and turned it into a brand function. That may seem odd in relation to IT, but we feel that a strong brand should rise from roots planted deep in a company’s culture.
When our brand is infused throughout everything we do, from making sure an employee can replace a lost dongle on demand to making sure an employee can bring a creative vision to fruition, we’re showing that our entire organization is focused on what’s important.