Taking Tech Support to the Next Level —
At the time of this publication, we’re about 7 months into the COVID pandemic in North America. Understandably, one of the big questions everyone asks is When can we get back to normal? Normal, of course, is defined as everything we knew until the second week of March 2020, before terms such as lockdown, quarantine, shelter in place, and social distancing became part of our vocabulary.
As we eagerly await to do things we’ve taken for granted, like eating in restaurants or going on vacation, there are many things that we’ve accepted as being “normal” that should never again be part of our daily reality. One of those things is how telecom providers/ICT companies deliver support to customers who experience broadband connectivity issues.
Until March 10, 2020, customer service was a fairly predictable affair. Customers would call a support desk to report a problem, and support personnel would walk them through a troubleshooting checklist to help diagnose and fix it. If issues couldn’t be resolved remotely, a crew would be dispatched to the customer’s home to do a deeper analysis and (in a perfect world) repair whatever wasn’t working.
As we move into the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, telcos, like all large organizations, are reevaluating their operational capacities to meet social distancing guidelines, provide better service, and reduce overhead.
While it’s easy to get nostalgic for pre-pandemic life, COVID-19 is actually giving the ICT/Telecom industry an opportunity to reimagine what customer support can look like. After decades of following the same basic playbook, they are at a point where change isn’t an afterthought but a necessity. And while the transition might be challenging, the reality is that the new normal could be orders of magnitude better than what they had before.
Today’s Needs Are Different
The North American economy was built around the concept of “going to work”– that is to say, people leaving their homes to work in a factory, office, farm, or other centralized location. Not surprisingly, our IT infrastructure was designed to support locations where hundreds or thousands of people gathered every day. Home Internet connections were never built to support commercial-grade usage, even though many areas have fast connections. Thanks to COVID-19, a record number of people are now working from home and using high-bandwidth applications such as Zoom and WebEx to collaborate with coworkers and customers.
Because of this, a problem with a home Internet connection isn’t just inconvenient: it can have serious implications for people’s livelihoods. That’s why customers need their telecom providers to fix problems in a matter of minutes or hours, not days and weeks. The traditional approach to tech support was never designed for this kind of workload or user demand. And it’s not like this is a temporary situation. In the “new normal,” millions more Americans will work from home, either by choice or necessity.
One of the major issues with the current mode of providing support is the house visit. Because of coronavirus, no one wants strangers coming into their homes. And even though most areas are relaxing their restrictions on social distancing, including allowing people to form pods with close friends and family, there is still a high level of apprehension when it comes to interacting with technicians or other workers coming into customers’ homes.
Unfortunately, people with inconsistent Internet connections are faced with an unpleasant choice: either deal with continued connectivity problems or burst the safety “bubble” they’ve created for themselves and their families. Even if service professionals take every precaution, it’s still an issue for people who are avoiding unnecessary contact with the outside world.
This is an opportunity for telecom providers who can figure out how to deliver a hands-free experience for people who need home Internet troubleshooting. Those forward-thinking providers will reap the benefits of being able to deliver a positive troubleshooting experience, including increased loyalty and customer retention.
All of which brings us to the bottom line. Even those who think the reaction to COVID-19 has been overblown and unnecessarily restrictive will acknowledge that one of the most expensive services provided by telcos is on-site troubleshooting and service in customers’ homes. Dispatching a technician is as time-consuming as it is expensive and disruptive.
No one knows what the next year or two will look like. We don’t know when a vaccine will be available. We don’t know when a second wave of COVID-19 will come, or how bad it will be. Even further out, we don’t know whether masses of people will go to offices in 5 years. But we do know telecom providers need to reimagine how they handle service requests. The pandemic may be the kick in the pants that we all need to do away with the outmoded approach we’ve been living with for more than a century.
So, what does this look like? How can we even plan for a future that is so unknown and difficult to predict? The answer is fairly encouraging, because most of the tools that telcos will need already exist, such as personal devices, mobile phones, and apps.
Most speed-related customer technician visits consist of lengthy back-and-forth conversations with clients who aren’t tech savvy, or simply don’t know the technical aspects of their home Internet. Even the savviest customers can give incorrect or inaccurate data, leading to improper diagnosis of the problem.
By giving customers the ability to run a diagnostic test from their mobile device using a mobile app, telcos can quickly gain access to important information on the configuration and health of the customer’s network. They can collect data about router usage, speed, and device information. With all of this data available instantly, problems can be solved quickly and accurately, reducing the number of call-backs or home visits.
Video calls can also be part of the foundation for new tech support systems that allow people to do their own troubleshooting. However, in order for telecom providers to take the next step in customer support, they must go beyond video-enabled solutions.
The Ideal Solution
The ideal solution is a collection of tools they can use while NOT being in the customer’s home. The solution would check the wireless spectrum and coverage, run hardwired speed tests, and even evaluate the ability of customers’ end devices to keep up with the speed being delivered to their home. Such a platform would incorporate advanced diagnostics and combine video chat capabilities to help solve many of the issues virtually that traditionally required a technician going on-site.
This paradigm shift, in which home technician visits are replaced by support staff in call centers who have the tools to fix issues remotely, is ultimately what comes next in providing quality customer service in this new, post-COVID-19 world.
There is no single fix to the incredibly complicated problem of providing world-class support to home Internet customers. It’s not like there’s a magic app that can eliminate all technical issues. But by adopting a new mindset around technical support, ISPs and telcos can pave the way for a new normal that is far better than the normal we left behind.
Resources and Notes
Desilver, Drew; Senior Writer, Pew Research Center. “Working from home was a luxury for the relatively affluent before coronavirus — not any more”. World Economic Forum, weforum.org. This article is published with permission from Pew Research Center March 21, 2020. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/working-from-home-coronavirus-workers-future-of-work/