A good amount of my past work has been in technical support. It’s a job full of rewards, and when support is being provide over the telephone line (internet chat in those days was non existent except for the hardcore unix chaps) methodology and communication skills become vital. You can neither see or touch the remote PC or Printer or Tape Drive you’re trying to fix. You guide the technician at the other end with your voice. The biggest insight I gained from my time in tech support is related to the title of this blog.
There were situations where remote support just didn’t cut it. Which led to times like where I was doing all nighters at Bukit Kayu Hitam, a remote town on the thai-malaysian border. The problem we were looking at there happened only with a specific combination of components – Chipsets with a specific date code + 3Com Token Ring Cards + OS2. I remember wandering between the immigration counters in the dead of night, rain beating down on the high roof. Forests all around. Insects singing from the trees, and some of them being drawn to the lights. Typing this has suddenly made me aware of the sound of the cicadas and crickets in the trees outside the balcony window. It’s just before midnight on a hot, sweltering saturday evening and going by the insect sound level, this must be ideal weather for 6-legged courtship.
I’ve been watching with interest the new fee based support models that have been emerging. You can get tech help at special counters in stores, help over the phone, and over the internet. The newest I’ve seen from Web Chat type support is at www.supportspace.com.
Supportspace has an attractive site. In paid support, the first thing a company has to sell is confidence. There are lots of visual elements on the site to give customers the impression that the person you pick (yes, you get to choose the tech support person to engage) is capable both technically and professionally. Your payment does not reach the tech support person until you are satisfied with the solution provided.
Each of the Techs has a page listing their charges (each sets their own fees), products they can help with, certifications, the kinds of services they provide and ….. the part I like best …. customer feedback with dates, comments and star ratings. From the page, I can tell how many cases the tech has helped with, hence his experience level with this kind of support. From the comments, I know what kinds of problems the person has solved. From their prices ……. I suppose it’s reasonable to assume that higher prices are an indication of their confidence in solving the problem quickly and cleanly.
Support is given over web chat. The specialist can take control of your PC to diagnose and apply fixes. They’ll help remove viruses, do backups and make broken software work. They’ll help with not just PCs and software, but printers, digital cameras, MP3 players, TV. Give buying advice even.
There was a good range of Techs to choose from when I looked. Going by the names and photos, there are Russians & Indians, as well as the expected American Caucasians. I found myself clicking on the icon for a lady who calls herself “MommyKnowsDesk”. Her customer ratings were impressive.
I don’t need such a service for myself (where a typical 20 minute session might cost $25 and a virus clean up costs $89), but if I were on business travel, and my wife called to say that our home PC could not send eMail despite trying the simple instructions I gave her, I would happily pay one of the supportspace experts to fix the problem via remote control. The savings in call roaming charges would more than make up for the cost of the tech support session.
Which brings up an issue with web based support and remote control, whether done by a fee-based agency or from a vendor’s warranty support team. This support will be no good for a PC that can’t boot into a decently functioning operating system, or that has lost internet connectivity. The other gotcha is browser support. The first time I tried the “Connect Now” button, I was told that the firefox browser I was using would not work with the service and I had to use Internet Explorer. This probably means the target customer is a windows user, as not too many mac users will be using IE.
Why does supportspace matter? They’ve put a Web2.0 slant on remote support via Web Chat and Remote Control, by enabling users to choose WHO they want to have support them, voting with their wallets, and rating their support experience. If the ratings system is not tampered with, the opinion of the crowds will enable the Techs with the best knowledge, methodology and manner to rise to the top in a very visible way. These Techs will get more customers, and the lower rated Techs will improve their services to rise in the ranking. Poor performance and service delivery cannot be hidden.
What if such a system were to be introduced into warranty support, and the techs were paid according to how good a job customers think they did, instead of how many hours they spent in the support centre? What if a corporate HR were to introduce such a system to enable management to see who was truly delivering and teaming well?
If Web2.0 can bring benefits to customers in an area like paid tech support, it can do the same in many other areas of endeavor.