If you’ve worked as a business professional in the tech age, you’ve undoubtedly had your fair share of run-ins with technical support. Perhaps you’ve resolved complicated IT issues with internal help desks or your company’s IT department; or, you’ve logged countless hours on the phone with external call centers; or, in all likelihood, both. Although it’s possible that at least some of your experiences were pleasant, painless, and successful, it’s also just as probable you’ve had to deal with some of the more lacking aspects of the industry.
After all, tech support doesn’t always have the best reputation these days, even including the support that is provided to employees by their own company. Let’s take a look at the five arguments we’ve outlined as summaries of some of the most significant areas for improvement when comparing human expert-powered tech support to IT self-service—both internal and external.
Part 1: External Call Centers
Impersonal Human Encounters
When we approach a human, we are naturally inclined to anticipate a human response. When we fail to receive one, we chalk the experience off as a negative one. Nailing the human experience is tricky enough on a one-to-one basis; managing it on a scalable front is almost impossible. Some support teams make a fair effort at it. Many do not.
The truth is, tech support reps will struggle to remain personal for many reasons, most of which stem from the culture of an industry that is driven by cold, calculable results: MTTR (Mean Time to Repair, FCR (First Call Resolution), etc.. This emphasis on numbers has the tech reps focused more on the process than the client experience. They are often obliged to read from scripts and are being monitored by managers to ensure that they do. This is the reason the first five minutes on the phone with a rep are usually spent answering painfully obvious questions, such as Are you sure your computer is plugged in?
Factor in volume as well to get a true appreciation for the monumental task these reps have to stay friendly and personal on the phone. At some call centers, tech experts can answer up to 80 calls a day. You can understand why your time with them often feels rushed, canned, and impersonal.
With self-service technology on the other hand, there is no human expectation and therefore there is no human letdown. Users save time and grief skipping over pleasantries, miscommunication, and questions that don’t apply to them.
Even more impersonal non-human encounters
Considering how problematic it can be to scale meaningful human contact, it’s no surprise that many companies, such as Skype, automate their tech support. In this approach, there are no humans involved at all. Support requests are not accepted by phone, fax, or email—only by “support ticket” submissions, which are scanned by a computer program that looks for keywords. If a keyword, or a pattern of keywords, is detected, a canned response is sent by email. If no keywords are found, a randomly selected reply may be sent. This is known in the industry, cheekily, as the “stall them until they give up and go away” method of support.
As a software company, we at Softthinks are not against the idea of simulating human expertise with technology; the problem, however, is with the expectation. When a user expects to speak to a real human, or when the user assumes they are in fact speaking to a real human, technology will not suffice to replace friendly sentience. However, when the user does not expect to speak to a human, when they know that the solution lies in their own hands, the psychology of expectation changes. They become their own source of user satisfaction. And observation informs us that they like this. According to Zendesk’s report Searching for Self-Service (Gartner, pewresearch.org, oracle.com, nuance.com, coleman-parks.co.uk) 67% of respondents said they prefer self-service over speaking to a representative.
Low technical experience
Call centers typically have dispatch staff that take the initial call information and pass it on to an entry level (Level 1) technician. Most of these entry level reps have limited experience and a shallow knowledge base. Generally, they are capable of solving basic issues, but mostly rely on Level II support.
Once you have been transferred to a Level II support, you may begin to solve deeper IT issues. Hopefully you’ll be connected to someone whose customer service prowess matches their knowledge of technical repair.
Part 2: Internal Help Desks
Finding the right balance between the number of on-site support technicians and number of employees isn’t easy for companies. That’s because tech issues do not occur at a constant rate; they tend to spike during certain periods—sometimes foreseeable, sometimes random. During these surges in IT service demand, it can be frustrating for employees to share the resource, particularly in high-intensity work environments.
Unfortunately, much of the in-house IT expert’s time is wasted on basic problems that could very well be solved through self-service; that is, with the right solutions in place. With these self-service solutions implemented and available to end users within a company, the IT department is left free to focus on broader issues.
Do you know what the average workweek of an IT employee is at a company? Do you think it’s the same as any other employee? Not exactly. In a recent survey by Good Technology, it was concluded that up to 80% of employees take their work home with them. This includes evenings and weekends, when IT employees are not on the clock. Even in the case where they are, they’re not going to be taking a trip to your home or wherever you may be on the road.
Self-service technology is therefore the only means for employees to be able to solve their own computer issues while travelling or working overtime.
None of the above was meant to disparage tech support. In fact, even as a software company we understand that the best solution is usually the right balance of technology and human power: with software solutions as a first defense. We’ve developed SmartKey with exactly this in mind.
To learn more about the subjects addressed in this post, Softthinks is pleased to make its 2015 Gartner survey available to the public.