How to Reduce Tech Effort in Support Centers

IBM's report,“The Customer-activated Enterprise,” surveyed more than 4,000 executives and came away with three common themes: companies want to be more open to customer influence, pioneer digital-physical innovation and craft engaging customer experiences. All three themes can be seen across the tech support industry. Customers want their tech issues resolved quickly, and in the communication style and channel they choose.

The research also found that 56 percent of CEOs expected to give employees more autonomy -- an increase of 27 percent over the prior year’s study -- and that 82 percent are investing in technology to facilitate the relationship. The days of frontline agents simply logging information for another worker to pick up appear to be on their way out. This change not only increases employee satisfaction but it also greatly reduces support costs by eliminating multiple customer touches throughout the organization.

Why the Gap?

The combination of these trends put a lot of pressure on help desks to operate at a higher level of service. And this pressure isn’t likely to go away. Coupled with a continued increase in IT ticket volume, it is driving the need to invest in technology and process improvements that increase capacity while reducing the cost per interaction.

An HDI study revealed an interesting finding -- the difference between how long it takes for a ticket to be resolved and the “tech effort,” or how long a tech actually spends on resolving the customer’s issue. HDI found that the mean time to resolve an issue is 4-8 hours, but “tech effort” averages only 30 minutes. This means that at most organizations, resolution of a customer’s issue takes substantially longer than the length of time an agent actually works on the issue.

Why is this the case? Tech effort is a metric most organizations don’t measure, so it can be difficult to decipher. However, it’s important to understand because the time reps invest in resolving tickets is a key component to capacity planning as well as being able to notice gaps that are unnecessarily extending the time it takes to resolve customer issues.

For some issues a gap is understandable. The team needs to wait on the customer, another department or for a part to arrive. In a lot of support organizations, resolution is delayed by an issue sitting in an escalated queue or through multiple customer touch points. Most service organizations tend to only look at how long a ticket takes to resolve, which is a great metric to understand the customer experience, but it does not give a good indication of how long the team actually spent on resolving the issue.

Some easy ways to get a better grasp on tech effort -- if not available through current technology -- is through the simple use of a stopwatch to monitor agents working on issues to resolution, updating the quality evaluation form to include issue type and overall handle time, or asking the agent how long they spent resolving the issue within a case management ticket field.

After getting a better understanding of tech effort and with a few technology considerations, organizations can move quickly toward improving support center efficiency.

Shrinking the Gap in Time to Resolve Issues vs. Tech Effort

The following four approaches could help streamline the support process:

1. Remote Support

Providing remote support enables agents to troubleshoot and deliver end-user support in a more efficient manner. Often, language barriers -- whether in terms of technical terminology or linguistics -- can prevent efficient support and increase the length of resolution by creating incorrect escalations.

Over 20 percent of desktop support organizations in an HDI survey stated that over 30 percent of escalated issues could have been resolved by Tier 1 which has large implications on time to resolve and support costs. With remote support, the agent simply takes control of an end-user’s system and performs the necessary troubleshooting and repair steps, rather than spending longer periods of time trying to understand the issue or waiting for a support agent to be dispatched to help in person. This can reduce both wait times and actual support times.

2. Collaboration

The collaborative approach allows a Level 1 agent to work with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in a collaborative manner when the Level 1 agent cannot resolve the issue alone. To improve First Call Resolution (FCR), the Level 1 agent can ask for assistance from a SME in real time, rather than passing the customer on, which causes both delays in resolution and customer frustration.

Many times escalations drive multiple touch points from both customers calling back in and/or higher tiered teams needing to call the customer back for additional information. Remote support with collaboration allows for processes to be created where tech effort equals the time to resolve the ticket. All of the time and effort is tracked and the wasted time is greatly reduced.

3. Empower Frontline Agents

In some environments, Level 1 agents are only allowed to handle the most basic issues, such as password reset requests. All other tickets are escalated to Level 2 agents, which can cause backlog and delays in getting end-user issues resolved. Training and empowering Level 1 agents (a finding in IBM’s research mentioned above) to handle a larger scope of issues should help streamline the support process as well as drive down support costs.

4. Automation

Another effective way to improve information gathering, troubleshooting and resolution time is to automate processes, which ensures consistency and removes steps with no value. Support agents are trained to troubleshoot and handle issues the same way every time, with the expectation that customers will receive the same consistent experience regardless of which agent they reach.

The reality is that session experience and time to resolution can vary depending on agent experience levels and other factors. Providing the agents with automated processes such as software installation and setup can streamline the process and enable greater predictability and consistency for agents and end-users alike.

What’s the best approach to enhancing a support center? It will vary depending on the business type, customer base and existing infrastructure. Yet many would benefit from a combination of several of these approaches, as long as you keep your eyes on ways to drive quicker, more effective resolution for your customers. What’s important to remember is that it’s not just Fortune 500 companies that can innovate their support practices -- organizations of every kind can reap benefits from viewing support delivered from their contact centers as central to the customer experience.

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