Just because you're a tech company steeped in a proud history of innovation doesn't mean you have to treat technical support as a do-it-yourself venture. Gone are the days when tech support meant helping a customer locate a CD-ROM drive or walking them through installation of an Internet dial-up service. Consumers have become more knowledgeable and selective about how and when they get help solving their most challenging problems, making the delivery of technical support that much more difficult.
Many tech and telecom companies are taking a different tack-outsourcing tech support to vendors with expertise spanning telecom, Internet, network equipment, hardware, and software. It's all part of a new way of looking at technical support: as part of a broad relationship management strategy that can boost customer satisfaction, increase loyalty, free up internal resources, reduce costs, and even drive sales. The numbers speak to the success of this trend:
- Money, money, money: By outsourcing technical support, a major cable and Internet service provider saved $3.6 million annually and cut call handling times by 38 percent-even as its subscriber base grew 44 percent.
- Happy customers: A global software company with tens of millions of customers increased customer satisfaction 14 percent, cut average call handling time by 30 percent, and increased agent productivity 10 percent.
- More, more, more: By outsourcing its technical support, a major telecom equipment manufacturer achieved a 30 percent efficiency gain in the first six months, another 30 percent efficiency gain through the next two years, and is now handling 400 percent higher volume with 50 percent fewer staff.
- Global sales: For one global networking technology company, outsourced technical support is now integral to the success of its channel partners program. A team of 50 tech specialists help partners to serve customers more effectively-and to close sales, ensuring that the most appropriate equipment is selected and properly installed. Outsourced technical support is offered in over a dozen languages.
A number of factors have converged to help fuel this burst of interest in outsourced technical support: processes, staffing practices, training, locale-based opportunities-all part of a new business approach called "relationship management."
Outsourcers are making good use of structured quality improvement processes based on Six Sigma principles to ensure the highest levels of technical support. These new high performance processes make it possible to continually review customer satisfaction data, incorporating the all-important "Voice of the Customer" that adds the human dimension to regular audits. Findings are funneled back into the organization to ensure that practice and process are performing as intended.
Top-flight staffing practices reduce attrition, expedite problem handling for customers, and, as importantly, match the best, most appropriate specialist to the problem at hand. For example, a typical multi-tiered program design designates specialists at higher levels to handle more complex situations while those less skilled or newer to the job are assigned to easier customer situations. As agents advance through a tiered progression, they move on an upward-bound career path-improving agent satisfaction by creating exciting and more rewarding career horizons to work toward.
In technical support, you're as good as what you know-and you advance according to your ability and willingness to learn. Outsourcers emphasize performance-based learning models that span the complete agent lifecycle from new hire training through continuous learning and performance management. This transforms business by enabling companies to address evolving challenges head-on. The result is well worth it: a better-educated, motivated, and customer-oriented workforce able to meet the intense demands of technical support. Front-line employees can steadily improve performance with just-in-time information, consistent coaching, and easy-to-use technology, resulting in a more satisfying agent experience and longer job tenure. Because learning correlates directly to skills required on the job, performance-based learning produces significantly more effective technical support reps, in less time and at far lower costs. With its tremendous results, performance-based learning is here to stay. One indicator: Contact center operations that use performance-based learning are improving business performance, increasing customer satisfaction, lowering operating costs, and decreasing employee attrition.
Locale-based opportunities are also propelling the tech support phenomenon. Specific geographies such as India offer a large population of technical graduates with a proven track record of specialized technical support experience. Outsourcers can quickly tap technical support engineers with advanced certifications, and access labs that allow them to test and resolve model customer situations in a pre-market environment. What's learned in a lab setting contributes to improving the quality and speed of live tech support in the field.
Lastly and most importantly, a focus on relationship management is a high priority for companies. They are looking for the right mix of agent-assisted and automated services and want to pick the proper blend of traditional self-service, and human interaction based on what customers tell them they want ensuring that technical assistance is only a phone call, email, PDA tap, or mouse click away.
Outsourced tech support spans direct-to-consumer and business-to-business markets and is used today by companies in diverse technology and communications sectors: consumer electronics, computers, mobile handsets, broadband, Internet, cable, telephony, video on demand, personal and business hardware and software, and network troubleshooting. By moving tech support outside, they're concentrating on what they do best-creating and marketing innovation.
About the Author
Sukant Srivastava is vice president of operations and country manager for India with Convergys Corporation (www.convergys.com). Convergys provides technology, business analytics, and consulting services that help create valuable relationships between businesses and customers.
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