Opinion by Bart Perkins

Is your service center too dependent on technology?

Your customers are unlikely to be happy if second-level human support is nonexistent or just too hard to get to

Opinion by Bart Perkins

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Service centers have a wide spectrum of goals. At one end are those that emphasize the lowest possible cost per call. They rely on IVR or newer chatbots while making it virtually impossible to talk to a real person. At the other end are those that emphasize customer service. They hire knowledgeable and enthusiastic product evangelists, who then try to persuade internal users to use recently deployed IT services or external customers to purchase additional products.

Given user-provided data, chatbots using natural-language processing can handle many tasks highly efficiently, from resetting passwords to assigning airline seats. But when things go off script — when a user asks a question that isn’t part of the expected interaction or simply has trouble defining the problem — their helpfulness plummets. Over-relying on technology could lead to customer dissatisfaction with your service center.

Here are some other ideas to help you get the most out of your service center:

  • Make self-service attractive. Integrated service centers allow users to interact through their preferred combination of telephone, text, chat, video or website. Fifteen years ago, an agent logged your network problem in the incident-tracking system or moved money from a savings account to a checking account. Today, most people handle these tasks through a PC or smartphone.

Prospective external customers will not stand for cumbersome tools, particularly for routine tasks. They will abandon you in favor of competitors with easier-to-use services. Although internal users cannot avoid the company IT service desk, they will complain bitterly if the tools are not intuitive or if the process is slow — and they will think poorly of IT.

  • Make it easy to access a knowledgeable person. A week ago, I wanted to add a frequent-flier number to a reservation made by a corporate travel agent. The airline’s voice response system was unable to complete the task but required nine additional responses before granting access to an agent. By the time I was able to talk to a representative, I had been reminded why I usually avoid that airline.

Even for help desks internal to the enterprise, wait times should be minimal. A month ago, an IT colleague requested a special-purpose notebook computer from the company service center. After 25 minutes on hold, she was finally able to talk to a customer service rep — and understood why corporate IT at her company was often referred to as “Slow and No.”

  • Deploy concierge service with care. Many organizations offer their best customers special telephone numbers to reach highly knowledgeable service representatives. Problems can arise when the organization makes it difficult to access the concierge service without calling the special phone number. Suppose a frequent flier gets grounded by a major storm and wants to use the concierge service to reroute the trip while avoiding the interminable lines at the ticket counter. If she hasn’t stored the number in her cellphone, she may be doomed to suffer through normal channels. The best service desks collect loyalty information early in the call and then automatically route the caller to the appropriate level of service.

Internal concierge services are usually a bad idea. The idea may be to keep executives productive, but special treatment sends the message that some employees are more important than others. Resentment is sure to follow, especially among millennials. Even worse, though, a concierge service can make executives blind to a poorly functioning IT service center. I know one consultant who, while creating an IT plan for a Fortune 500 company, had difficulty getting support from the IT service desk. She often waited several days for a response to simple issues. She then became the company’s CIO, and now when she requested help, she would find three people in her office within 10 minutes. The wide disparity of responsiveness bothered her, as well as the suspicion that headquarters executives had no way to understand how bad remote office support could be.

  • Organize the knowledge base. Recently, my PC response slowed dramatically. Task Manager revealed six processes with no user names or descriptions. Since this sometimes indicates malware, I researched each unnamed process. When I learned that several of the processes were critical parts of Windows that were sometimes co-opted by malware, I continued my research on the Microsoft website. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a clear set of criteria to determine if the processes were infected.

Microsoft and other software company forums are useful collection points for information on many topics. However, the unfiltered nature of the articles and the resulting comments make them difficult to decipher for people without deep technical skills. Well-organized knowledge bases are much more useful than knowledge bases that are allowed to grow organically, without curation.

Too much self-service can be a disservice. If your enterprise uses chatbots, make sure you are not cutting back on service representatives too much or too quickly. Monitor wait times for callers who need to speak with a human. If you would not be content waiting that long, neither would most of your customers. And if you don’t meet customers’ criteria for an acceptable customer support experience, they’ll be gone before you can say “Press 9 to speak to one of our better staffed competitors.”

Bart Perkins is managing partner at Louisville, Ky.-based Leverage Partners Inc., which helps organizations invest well in IT. Contact him at BartPerkins@LeveragePartners.com.


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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