Why Your Technical Support Services Are Holding You Back

In today's fast-moving world, consumers want more from the retailers, telecoms, and software companies that sell them products and services. That "more" includes the promise of top-notch technical support for issues defined by the user versus a company's definition of "in-scope" or "warranty coverage." This level of technical support, delivered easily and personably directly from your brand, will have a powerful impact on your customers' experiences.

Advanced tech support is not easy to deliver. It can range from challenging to daunting, given the diversity and interconnectedness of customers' technical environments, which are always evolving. This is against a backdrop of the need to juggle various customer relationship management technologies and channels. However, the effort is well worth it. According to Interactive Intelligence's 2013 Customer Experience Study, consumer respondents ranked a "knowledgeable representative/agent" as the most valuable piece of their brand interaction, but 66 percent said they're often "very frustrated" that their business or service providers' agents don't have the requisite knowledge to answer their questions.

While you work to provide positive customer experiences for the 2013 holiday shopping season, as well as consider improvements for 2014, contemplate hitting the "reset" button on customer service, starting with a re-evaluation of the who, what, and how of your tech-support program.

Let's look at five examples of how your current tech-support services may be failing your customers—and your business:

1. Customers are only interacting with you when they're frustrated. If your product or service is not fulfilling its promise, your customer needs assistance, and/or the product is no longer under warranty, it's likely customers are unhappy or disappointed when they come to you for help. This is no way to start—but it is a good way to end—a relationship. Rather, your technical support interactions with the customer should start at purchase via offers to help with installation, configuration, optimization, and/or network integration. Following the initial transaction, regular "care points" help your brand establish a positive rapport with users prior to negatively toned support inquiries. Send an email or text offering a tour/tutorial, tune-up, or upgrade, or call to discuss their needs and concerns. Let them know you're thinking of them outside the sales cycle (it might result in an upsell to new products or services).

2. You're not able to help end users do what they want to do with their products. Customer and tier-one support teams are often focused on issues specific to their product or service rather than the product's role in a larger network or technical environment. For example, who's responsible for helping an Android user sync his or her smartphone to an iPad? Is it the device manufacturer, the wireless provider, or Apple? Offering resources and solutions to help your customers use a product more effectively or efficiently, or integrate it with other technologies, tools, or brands, can provide added value that drives customer loyalty.

3. You're not just overlooking your customers' needs, but a new revenue stream as well. Support that goes above and beyond is valuable—and your customers will pay for it. According to recent statistics from Fronolo.com, 86 percent of consumers said they would pay for better experiences. If you feel as if you're sinking a lot of money into your call center or tech-support staff, consider delivering on what are currently out-of-scope requests by offering advanced, paid-for services. Third parties can help you turn your tech-support channel into a revenue driver while improving customer satisfaction and loyalty; delivering faster, more efficient and valuable interactions; growing your share of wallet; and reducing no-fault-found returns.

4. Your reps are glued to a script. No one wants to feel as if they're talking to a robot—they want personalized experiences specific to their needs and technical environments. You can (and should) develop guardrails for the conversation to ensure that your agents are meeting core standards through consistent messaging, but your agents should be nimble and knowledgeable; they should be able to quickly respond to various scenarios, resolve the issues at hand, and counsel consumers on how they can further optimize their experiences with your product or service.

5. You're either untouchable or too high-touch. Automated support technology can be a blessing—both for the consumer and the brand—but it can also be a curse. Make sure you're using support technologies in an efficient and balanced manner, but don't forget that service is always the differentiator. Take installation and configuration, for example. Certain software products easily lend themselves to automated services. On the other hand, installing a home security system can be a massive undertaking. Make sure you're not relying solely on one channel (automated programs, DVDs tutorials, chat, or phone) to help your users get started with a new technology, and be sure to offer the aforementioned "care points" and various support channels to encourage them along the way.

Paul Weichselbaum is the executive vice president of PlumChoice, a company that creates, executes, and manages white-label technical support programs for Fortune 500 companies, including top retailers, telecoms, and independent software vendors.

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