Support ’em or lose ’em

Q. How do you get two tech support reps to give the same advice?

A. Shoot one.

You may laugh, but there’s truth in that gag. I recently used a live chat service (it was my only choice for support at that time of the day) to get help with a consumer product I was wrangling.

The first tech walked me through the most brain numbingly obvious and definitively useless diagnostic steps, and while I rebooted the product he took the opportunity to get rid of me by abandoning my session. The next TSR went down a completely different path and, after some ridiculous amount of time spent laboriously following a completely different but equally dumb support flowchart, told me the real problem was that the service was down at their end.

At that point I would have quite liked to have shot them both, and sadly, this is not an unusual experience. The same sort of aggravation happens to tens of thousands of people, the majority of whom are consumers.

And that’s this week’s challenge for you: What is your company going to do about supporting those consumers? You want them to use your online services to do their banking, manage their investments, track their accounts, and orders and pay their bills, yet there the poor dears are, lost and adrift in a sea of technology.

My wife often wonders how other families that don’t have access to in-house computer support get by. What do they do when they lose the password to their router, can’t figure out how to download their bank statements into Quicken, and are lost on how to make their Wi-Fi pass phrase (which works fine with Windows) work on the kid’s Mac?

The obvious conclusion is that these consumers need support but they aren’t going to get it from some local computer shop or an outfit like Geek Squad because the cost would be outrageous enough to make the average cable bill look trivial. Nope, if consumers are going to get support it is going to have to come from somewhere else. The risk is that, if they don’t, then all the cost saving benefits that businesses desperately want to realize from their online services will collapse because the consumer’s infrastructure won’t work.

I think that you are going to have to make their lives easier. Yes, you, the IT departments of the commercial world. It won’t be enough to offer consumers an online account. You’re going to have to provide all of the other tools and facilities that will integrate that account into the consumer’s lifestyle and help them keep their entire system running.

So what will it take to “own” the consumer’s hearts and minds? Say you are a bank, you’ll need to go beyond offering online accounts and provide online accounting so the consumer won’t have to wrangle that particular package on their PC as well. And along with that you’ll need to be able to answer basic questions such as what antivirus package should they use and why can’t this program do whatever the consumer thinks it should do. You are going to have to provide a fairly complete range of what I call “consumer productivity support.”

In time, the majority of applications used by average consumers will be more or less totally based on software-as-a-service, and the sooner we get there the easier your support will become. But from now until then the challenge will be to minimize consumers’ pain so they stay with you. So, here’s my question: How are you going to do it? Because if you don’t, some other company will.

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