A root and branch overhaul of the way your company delivers tech support seems mandatory as cloud services, connected devices and intelligent system proliferate.
Expect the unexpected
The combination of cloud services and connected devices means tech support will become increasingly more predictive, rather than reactive. This is because in future connected devices – from vending machines to semi-autonomous vehicles; from cold food stores in large restaurants to the soil condensation and monitoring system in the middle of some remote field to the fisheries stock management system – all will be connected, intelligent and self-aware.
These connected devices will communicate with cloud services using built-in system sensors to identify the warning signs of imminent problems.
When they do encounter problems these solutions will automatically alert tech support. Remote management and control systems will enable tech support to review fault diagnosis data on the device before a field agent is despatched.
Armed with this information, IT management will be able to access and diagnose problems before sending staff to address them. This provides the opportunity to deploy those members of staff who are most well equipped to deal with specific problems – in some cases before the problem transpires.
“This is a new era of business for the field service management industry,” said ServiceMax CEO Dave Yarnold. “Leading companies will move to outcome-based service offerings for the growing number of smart, connected devices.”
An Ovum study claims the number of customers using a mobile phone to contact customer support doubled over the last two years, while the use of mobile apps has more than tripled to 16% (up from 5%), and use of live chat support almost tripled to 29%.
Multichannel communications like these already pose challenges within call centers, but connected devices will provide new forms of disruption, transforming the nature – and demands – of customer support requests.
An Internet of Things report from Gartner predicts that 5 percent of customer service requests will be autonomously initiated by connected devices within three years.
Gartner anticipates these systems will be capable of monitoring operations, status, and service levels. This could mean (for example) printers ordering paper and/or ink; connected vehicles purchasing parking tickets; automated software updates will become standard.
The adoption of such intelligent machines will change the nature of tech support from being an incident-based service toward becoming an always-on participant in customer experience. (This is just as true for internal enterprise systems as it is for consumer solutions, it doesn’t mean too much if the customer is external or internal, just that their expectations will change to reflect new realities).
Customers will grow accustomed to proactive connected devices requesting support, and will expect support provision to be equally agile. Enterprises offering such support will need to manage the expectation and response.
However, as connected devices handle the most common support requests autonomously, the importance of human tech support call center staff grows:
Tech support company PlumChoice claims around 80 percent of support calls comprise relatively easy to resolve requests, while the remaining 20 percent require high-level expertise call center staff may lack.
However, as connected devices resolve most standard requests on their own, call center staff will need to be given the expertise it takes to answer more complex queries effectively – and customers will expect results.
The effect is that while the number of interactions with customer service operatives should decline, the significance of those transactions will increase.
"Marketing may fill the sales funnel, and the sales department can close a deal, yet it is the overall impression of the enterprise generated by the quality of customer service that differentiates one enterprise from another," said Gartner analyst, Michael Maoz.
This vision for the future of support delivery reflects Microsoft’s concept of “DevOps” – old siloes between customer relations and tech support will necessarily dissolve to reflect the new multi-touchpoint, uber-connected omnichannel reality. Product development, support and customer relations become part of the same paradigm in which product ownership becomes experiential and connected devices (to a limited extent) aware.
“The idea of having development functions distinct from the operations function, that line is already blurred to some extent, so it's almost a natural progression to say that Dev and Ops have to work more closely together," Adil Ahmed, director of information architecture and knowledge systems at Bristow Group told Computing.
Stepping up to this plate may require enterprises in the B2C and B2B spaces revisit some of their key concepts before the machines – and their customers – become smarter than they are.
Find out more about Orange Business Services and how it can help you drive new business from machine-to-machine communications and explore some of our customer case studies here.
I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.