What type of technical support representative do you want to work with?

Jeff Coco

Think about the last time you called a technical support line for help. What was the experience like? When the call ended, did you feel like the technical support representative answered your inquiry quickly and efficiently?

This is the type of question call service managers (and their companies) also ponder. Recent Forrester research indicates that most companies (72 percent) feel that improving their customer service is their top objective. That’s the good news. The problem, however, is many businesses are shockingly unprepared (or possibly not serious) about actually doing so.

A different Forester consumer survey, for example, found that only 36 percent of companies have adopted multichannel integration to improve service consistency and reduce the chance callers have to “restart the conversation” with a representative. This is the reality despite research that indicates nearly 90 percent of consumers feel aggravated when they have to repeat themselves to a customer service specialist when discussing an issue.

Why are companies failing to properly implement the correct customer service procedures despite having a strong desire to do so? Answers likely vary, but it’s safe to assume a few include:

  • They don’t fully understand their customers’ service needs and desires: Many companies may not completely understand their customers beyond their purchasing history. In turn, these enterprises are ill-prepared to provide their TSRs with the necessary resources to properly care for their customers’ most basic needs let alone their multifaceted technical ones.
  • They don’t evaluate the level of care they offer: According to Forrester, many companies fail to properly examine their existing customer service initiatives, with only half of companies using monitoring solutions to assess their customer representatives’ performance.
  • They don’t have the resources to improve their customer services: Many customers are solving simple problems on their own, and turning to tech service representatives (tier 2 and 3 level support) for help on more complex issues. While this may reduce queues, it places increasing pressure on service representatives who may not have the knowledge to quickly and efficiently take on more challenging questions. Of course, it’s not necessarily their fault: Upper management may not have the resources or know-how to train staff.

For companies to truly update their call centers and tech support services, they need to realize and accept their service’s shortcomings, and understand what their customers’ value most in TSRs.

Today’s challenging customer service environment

Today, consumers don’t have the time or patience to contact a call center and be placed on hold. Forrester Research found that nearly 80 percent of U.S. online adults believe that the most important thing a company can do is value their time by offering outstanding, quick customer service.

However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for call centers to provide quick service. Not only are customers solving simpler problems on their own, they want companies to give them the means to do so. For example, an Amdocs’ consumer survey found that FAQ page usage increased 3 percent between 2012 and 2014. And, as far back as 2012, 91 percent of consumers said they’d use a “single, online knowledge base” to solve their problems. We can safely assume this number has, at the minimum, remained consistent since then.

Of course, this doesn’t mean consumers don’t want to talk to a live representative. They do! A recent global study of 24,000 consumers in 12 countries conducted by Verint, an analytics company, found that 4 out of 5 people prefer that companies retain the human element of their customer service. And 83 percent feel that talking to a live representative will remain a critical component of the customer service experience.

This means one thing: Despite new, emerging challenges, companies must not neglect their call centers. Still, despite the overwhelming evidence that these centers are critical to maintaining healthy business relationships, Harvard Business Review noted that business leaders continue to leave their customer service representatives exposed on the front line.

HBR cited one large retail manager who said the company’s call center had devolved into something that is wholly unrecognizable from what it was before.

“Our people are woefully ill-equipped to handle today’s customer and their issues,” said the source. “We’re not running a contact center here. It’s more like a factory of sadness.”

Even if a call center – such as the one just cited – regresses to the point that it’s little more than an answer mill, churning out questions with little regard to quality service, that doesn’t mean management can’t fix it. To do so, leaders must know what customers want in their company’s technical support, and they must fix existing support problems by gathering the necessary resources to implement change.

How the best companies are solving call center challenges

When you first started reading this post, you may have never thought technical support was a complicated process. After all, how hard can it be to answer a question? However, technical support is more than just finding a solution, it’s about providing the client with a great experience throughout the support process.

Companies with top-notch technical services are meeting today’s challenges by:

1. Staying ahead of emerging customer service trends: More so than ever before, customers expect companies to offer proactive customer support rather than the customary reactive assistance. A recent Amdocs global survey revealed that 96 percent of consumers want companies to reveal and solve problems before they happen, and it’s easy to see why. Greater product or service uptime likely equals a greater return on investment and an improved bottom line.

One company, Nimble Storage, is doing just that, explained Rod Bagg, the company’s vice president of analytics and customer support.

“Ninety percent of the time Nimble Storage is informing our customers about issues rather than the other way around,” said Bagg in an interview with Inc. “We eliminated 50 percent of our call volume immediately after implementing this predictive and prescriptive approach, and last year that call volume remained flat while we grew 30 percent new customers.”

At Axis, we’re continually exploring new ways to proactively solve customer inquiries. We place tremendous importance on ensuring our solutions center is stocked with the latest customer-centric technology. We also ensure that our TSEs always have the necessary resources to handle the toughest questions about network cameras, video encoders and other video surveillance solutions.

What’s the result of these efforts? Axis’ technical support team has exponentially improved its level of service – they answer many inquiries on the first call – despite the increased complexity of questions. First Call Resolution for Tier 1 is at 31 percent and Tier 2 is at 70 percent. This is of particular interest because of how valuable a client’s time is. A delay in installation or a second of camera downtime can be the difference between a network camera identifying a criminal or the offender escaping.

2. Identifying what customers want in technical support specialists: Every customer has different technical problems. That’s why it’s crucial companies identify how customers want to solve those issues.

Consumer Experience Insight noted several expectations consumers want customer service departments to meet. Here are a few:

  1. Additional technical support options: While many consumers still value technical support via phone call, they also want a company to provide them with additional service options for convenience. For example, at Axis we offer clients a comprehensive, user-friendly tech-support page, which includes an online chat, help desk, FAQ section, support videos, troubleshooting guide and technical notes.
  1. Greater personalization: We treat customers like human beings and not numbers. For example, take how our technical support team not only supports clients when they have questions about our network cameras, access control technology or other security solutions, but also provides each other support no matter how difficult the problem is.

Our engineers consistently rally around each other even if they’re talking to a customer five minutes before close on a Friday. Our engineers won’t leave their colleagues behind, and they’ll continue to provide them with extensive resources and support so he or she can properly assist clients. This level of teamwork is unique to Axis, but it’s not surprising. After all, technical support’s moto is, “Staying with you all of the way.”

With a seemingly never-ending array of support options, personalized customer support has become more and more a relic of the past. Axis is steadfast on making sure it continues to expand its service options without sacrificing quality technical support.

  1. Always connected: Customers want to know companies care about them both when they have a problem and after the issue has been resolved. The best TSRs follow up with customers to ensure they’re satisfied. These businesses also know when and how to follow up. Great customer support goes beyond surface-level assistance (answering a question). It’s about forming deeper relationships with the customer even after the phone call ends.

Customer service, particularly in the always competitive tech industry, should be the backbone of any successful organization. If it’s not, businesses need to take time to evaluate what their customers want to see in their TSRs and customer service offerings, and devote the necessary resources to exceed demand.