The technical service and support landscape is a highly dynamic and oftentimes highly reactive space. Just as all professional fields evolve, adapting to new realities, new expectations, and new responsibilities, our field finds itself moving in lockstep, continuing to do more with less while expanding the very definition of technical service and support. Though it often feels like we’re moving away from our foundations—those skills that have enabled us to serve, support, train, and engage users within and without our respective organizations—our single most important mandate hasn’t changed: ensuring that we treat our users as customers and that we provide technical service and support that meets real business needs.
Over the years, tools have changed, workflows have evolved, staffing levels have fluctuated, responsibilities have expanded, and roles have been redefined. The latest expression of this trend is the mobility revolution—not just the presence of mobile devices in the workplace, but also support for customers who are both mobile and using mobile devices. How does a customer’s physical location and device dependencies change how we serve and support them? How do we ourselves support a customer base that is becoming increasingly mobile when we, the technicians, are also becoming more mobile? And finally, how can we ensure that we’re meeting the same standards of high-quality service and support in this new landscape?
Like our customers, we are increasingly mobile, virtual, and geographically dispersed, and that makes us more efficient, effective, and readily available. This is good, because our customers require and expect to receive the same (or higher!) level of support as they did before the mobile revolution. It’s our responsibility to ensure that we’re prepared to serve and support our customers whether they’re in the next cubicle, the next office, or the next state. Brick-and-mortar buildings have been replaced with smartphones, tablets, and laptops; we have customers in every time zone, and they’re using nonstandard devices to send emails and hold web conferences around the clock. One could argue that we turned a corner when the first cell phones appeared in workplaces, or when the first teleworker fired up his computer and dialed into work from home, but we can’t deny the significance of the current phase of the revolution: the volume of mobile users in the workplace has increased dramatically, and it’s having a tremendous impact on our work and personal lives.
As we strive to embrace mobility and satisfy our customers’ and organizations’ expectations for technical service and support, we are faced with several challenges: managing mobile customer expectations on a 24×7×365 support cycle; maintaining a high standard of technical service and support in a mobile environment; and being effective mobile technical service and support professionals.
Mobile technology provides instant gratification, but it also increases our expectations, and managing those expectations can be a challenge. One of the most important (and often most overwhelming) features of “being mobile” is convenience, providing access, communication, connectivity that expands where and when you can work. That convenience opens up the possibility for round-the-clock support, and customers have come to expect it. Independent of specific devices, customer expectations have risen to the point that, without a proactive, strategic approach and established protocols, we can easily find ourselves exceeding the boundaries of traditional service in an effort to meet those expectations.
It’s also important to note that customers are working longer hours, and many are working outside of what we might consider to be a standard business day or service window; terms like “end of business” no longer apply. Supporting “unofficial” work cycles is just another challenge brought about by the mobile revolution. Such challenges can increase volume and create unreasonable expectations for response and resolution, putting additional pressure on technical service and support professionals.
Our workplaces and work behaviors are changing to accommodate greater mobility and flexibility, and technical service and support professionals must be prepared to change the way they provide support. When customers are geographically dispersed, it’s all too easy to let that distance affect how we prioritize their requests: out of sight, out of mind. But if we expect to provide the same high-quality support for all customers, we must operate as if our entire customer base is in the same building, working the same hours, and using standardized equipment. This ideal scenario sets the bar for service quality. Whether through policy, precedent, or professional development, how your support organization clears that bar depends on the company and industry you serve. Strive for success, but recognize that the way you achieve and define success may have changed. Above all, keep in mind that, while the world has become more mobile and we can’t control how our customers use the features and functionalities available to them, we are responsible for providing a consistent, high-quality experience and managing customer expectations.
Our customers are working in a mobile universe, and, consequently, so are we. Mobility and informality often go hand in hand, but this does not excuse or permit degraded service. For example, many mobile users include a “Please excuse any brevity or typos” disclaimer in their email signatures, which is fine for personal emails and possibly even some nonessential work emails. However, the disclaimer, tone, and any errors would be inappropriate in customer communications. It’s important to avoid knee-jerk responses, shorthand, or indifference when communicating with customers in more traditional work settings, and the same applies when you are not. All too often we get caught up in the convenience of mobile communication and we respond to a customer’s request immediately, forgetting to apply the principles, rules of etiquette, and service standards we otherwise might if we were sitting at our desks in the office. It’s critically important that we maintain a level of professionalism and quality control in our mobile communications.
Like their customers, technical service and support professionals are increasingly enjoying the same mobile privileges, like working from home and maintaining flexible work schedules. (If your company can accommodate these staffing models and practices, they can be a great retention tool, especially when bonuses and raises aren’t an option.) In such situations, it’s also important to consider what it means to be “available” and how increased or flexible availability affects you or your employees’ work-life balance. Technical service and support touches all corners of the organization. This means that technical service and support professionals must be able to respond to any number of technological requests, inquiries, and demands. This translates into continuous and nonstop communication with customers, often in addition to other responsibilities, including user training, documentation development, etc. Being busy doesn’t make technical service and support professionals unique, by any means, but coupled with 24×7 connectivity, it can be very easy to overcommit in the name of being “readily available” and “on demand.” This overcommitment often comes at the expense of maintaining a positive work-life balance, and the resulting strain can increase the likelihood of service degradation. Organizations must be prepared to implement appropriate measures to support their mobile technical service and support professionals, if they expect them to be as effective working remotely as they were working on site.
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When the only constant is change, there’s no limit to what’s possible. For all the change that’s come with the mobility revolution, mobile devices and the mobile lifestyle are permanent fixtures in the personal and professional landscape. Though the devices we use will change, we must help our customers become successful mobile natives by serving as proponents, defenders, and consultants. As technical service and support professionals, it’s our responsibility to continue to embrace change and move our field forward with new and innovative ideas and practices that make us better stewards for our colleagues, our organizations, and our industries.
Brian Fodrey is currently the director of technology services for the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has more than ten years of experience working in higher education, and his professional interests include using technology to support administrative and academic effectiveness in higher education. Brian received his MS in adult learning and organizational performance from Drake University and his MEd in instructional technology from Kent State University.