Improving Customer Service in Technical Support: Personalization


by Roy Atkinson
October 20, 2015

James arrived for his first day of work in his new position as sales manager. He was highly qualified for the position and looked forward to working with XYZCo, his new employer.

When he was guided to his desk, James found his new company-owned laptop set up and waiting for him to log in. He’d opted out of the company’s bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program except for his mobile phone. He was astounded to see a trackball-mouse set up on the left side of the laptop and a special ergonomic keyboard at the proper height (at least, very close to it). James is left-handed, and has a preference for good ergonomics. He had asked if there would be special keyboards and a trackball available when he had his first meeting with HR, but he didn’t specifically request them. He assumed he’d take care of that when he started work. He also found a new tablet and accompanying case on his desk. When he logged in, the sales management app XYZCo used was front and center, and he quickly discovered that he had all the rights he needed to manage his sales group. On his laptop, he found a shortcut to initiate a chat session with the service desk. He had asked if XYZCo used chat and had mentioned that he preferred it to making phone calls or sending email. James smiled as he realized that he was ready to dive straight into his work instead of spending time requesting adjustments and requisitioning different equipment.

What the fictional James is experiencing is a high degree of personalized support. Is this common today? Not very. Is it possible today? Yes, and it will become easier and less expensive for organizations to provide service like this in the future. But why should it matter? Why would an organization spend extra to personalize service? And, perhaps most importantly, how does personalization work?

What Is Personalization?

As illustrated in James’ story, personalization is the tailoring of service and support to individual needs and desires. In this case, James had certain needs (he is left-handed and needed a left-handed setup and left-handed trackball-mouse) and certain desires (he prefers an ergonomic keyboard and likes to use chat as a contact channel).

So what? Why should the organization care what James likes?

Over the past five years, consumerization of IT has had a big influence on technical support. The influx of mobile devices and the proliferation of BYOD policies was only the beginning of consumerization. The trend continues, and includes increases in Shadow IT—the use of nonstandard and unapproved applications, for example.

Every business now knows it can be a target for disruption. Ask the taxi industry about Uber, the hospitality industry about Airbnb, or the book industry about Amazon. Qualified, forward-thinking people like James are needed so that organizations can innovate and compete in a world that is changing at blinding speed. The faster James can get to work with the tools he wants and needs, the faster he can start managing a productive team. The better supported his style of work is, the more he can do for the organization.

What about the cost? Did it cost extra to give James the custom setup he wanted? Very little. The trackball cost about $25 more than the company’s standard-issue mouse, and the keyboard cost an additional $30. It didn’t take the desktop support technician who delivered and set up the laptop any more time, just a little extra care to set things up for a left-hander. It took a little extra time to gather the information about what James wanted, and it took administration time to add the fields to the company’s service management tool to allow the records to be kept straight. Considering what it would cost to have a senior manager like James be less productive for days, XYZCo actually saved money.

Let’s be clear: Personalization does not mean everybody gets everything they want. Of course, it’s easier to collaborate if people are using a common set of tools, and you are going to have guidelines and restrictions because of the need for information security and the reality of budget constraints. Wanting to use a more expensive tool or go about things in a more expensive way might be justified, but a business case must be presented.

Multichannel

Providing channel choice is another form of personalization; customers or end users can choose whatever channel is best suited to their context (i.e., their current location), circumstances, and needs.

A salesperson working online while grabbing lunch at a coffee shop or a manager who spends three-quarters of her day in meetings is not likely to have a long conversation with the support center. They are far more likely to open a chat session, send an email, or open their own ticket in the self-service portal. Highly mobile workers may report an interruption or request a service while between flights at an airport via SMS text, mobile app, or even through a social media channel, whether internal or public. Today’s highly mobile workforce needs to be able to contact support using whatever device they have, wherever they are.

Today’s highly mobile workforce needs to be able to contact support using whatever device they have.
Tweet: Today’s highly mobile workforce needs to be able to contact support using whatever device they have. @ThinkHDI

HDI currently asks about ten contact channels for our annual Support Center Practices & Salary Report (and includes another in the Desktop Support Practices & Salary Report, namely deskside). For the support center, we include autologging (no human intervention), chat, email, fax (10% of organizations still use it), mobile app, phone, social media, text message, walk-up, and web request (online form). The figure shows the percentage of support centers receiving tickets through each channel.

channels to contact support

Often, the support center adds new channels thinking that calls—or even total ticket volume—will be reduced, only to find that they have tapped into an unseen portion of their customers who have never or rarely contacted support because they don’t like the phone. One company saw total contact volume go up by thirty percent when they went live with chat, for example.

Not every organization needs to use all the channels possible. The support organization should have conversations with its customers to determine the most effective way for customers to contact support. Too often, support center management unilaterally makes decisions to introduce a channel without regard for customers’ preferences or needs. Some channels are swamped while others go underutilized. The older technologies and channels do not go away. The newer technologies and channels augment them.

The older technologies and channels do not go away. The newer technologies and channels augment them.

If new channels are added with the intent of taking some of the load from more expensive channels like phone, it is very important to do a skills assessment of support staff first. The skills needed to conduct a good chat session differ from those needed to conduct a good phone call.

When channels are added, service level agreements (SLAs) need to be created or modified to include them. Care should be taken to obtain customer agreement with the proposed SLA—it is called an agreement, after all—for any channel.

When considering SLAs for multiple channels, first divide the channels into the two major groups: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous channels are those that require both parties (i.e., support and the customer) to be on at the same time. Examples include phone, chat, and walk-up. Asynchronous channels do not require the simultaneous presence of support and the customer. Examples include email, web request, and text message.

SLAs need to take the difference into consideration. While a phone call to support may warrant a statement that it will be answered within thirty seconds, an email or web request needs a different time frame. Also remember that incidents that are high priority, and requests that are urgent should not be submitted over asynchronous channels. In addition, if your asynchronous channels are not monitored 24/7, that needs to be a stipulation of the SLA.

Self-service is of increasing interest and importance. It has failed in many organizations because it was designed from the perspective of IT, not the customer, and the customers could not find what they needed and gave up. Incorrectly seeing this as lack of willingness to adopt self-service, IT departments abandoned self-service instead of working with customers to improve it. (For an excellent way to improve self-service as part of your knowledge management program, read Rick Joslin’s What Is LZS?) Increasingly, end users are ready, willing, and able to seek out solutions for themselves, but they expect to be able to do so easily and quickly.

Another frequent mistake support centers make when considering non-phone channels is forgetting that the complexity of the issue highly influences the customer to choose one channel over another. When the customer or end user’s issue is complex, they most often want to talk to a person and explain it. Don’t expect customers to use self-help or to submit their own ticket when they perceive that their issue is complex and needs human assistance in real time.

Offering Enhanced Service

Many organizations offer a higher level of service for certain customers. Some organizations call these customers VIPs; some specify executives above a certain level. In general, organizations might want to identify groups of people whose ability to accomplish work is critical to the organization. Think of doctors in hospitals, professors at universities, senior scientists at research labs, and C-level executives in a business.

If your organization does chargebacks or another method to recoup money from the business units to which it provides services, it may be possible to offer enhanced services at a higher cost. A cost-benefit analysis can help you determine of this is a good thing to do.

It’s About Value

In recent years, it has become increasingly important for the support center to demonstrate its value to the organization. In a 2013 HDI study, 87% of support centers surveyed were feeling pressure to prove their value to the business. Value is in the perception. When a business or organization perceives that the support center is meeting its needs effectively and efficiently, they value the support center. A support center can find new ways to provide added value, such as personalization, concierge services, walk-up, excellent self-service, and the like.

Because the pendulum has swung from the days when IT was a mysterious place where magic happened to a new era where customers understand what technological capability is available and how much—or how little—it costs, support needs to become the leader in discovering ways to increase its value by providing what the business needs, when and where it is needed.


Roy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. In addition to being a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and is well known to HDI local chapter audiences. His background is in both service desk and desktop support as well as small-business consulting. Roy's blogs regularly appear on HDIConnect, and he is highly rated on social media, especially on the topics of IT service management and customer service. Roy is a cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on December 9, 2014. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.


Tag(s): business value, chat, customer experience, desktop support, mobility, multichannel support, self-service, service level agreement, service strategy, support center, support channels, supportworld, technical support, value-add, workforce enablement, customer service

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