Supporting Emerging Technology

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Report after report and numerous articles have been published about the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable computing and vehicles as a computing platform (also known as the connected car). Analysts project the market for these technologies to be in the billions of dollars and will likely exceed $8 trillion by 2020. All these articles address the core technologies with little or no attention being given to all the support efforts that will need to be put in place and maintained for years to come. While this topic is far less sexy than the core technologies, it is necessary in order to leverage the unique capabilities of these technologies.

Most organizations develop the technology and sell it directly or indirectly to a broad spectrum of users who are far less technically skilled. However, these users are typically very knowledgeable about the application areas in which they use the technology. Think of all the people who must be hired and trained as well as the physical and technological infrastructure that will need to be put in place to support all these connected computing devices (IoT, cars and clothes). These emerging technologies will be extremely impactful and therefore require quality services and proactive problem solving support in order to avoid problems that often accompany new technology. Given the vastness of the coming era of IoT, wearables and connected cars, allowing customers to struggle with the issues on their own is a recipe for failure.

Case in point…

Today many organizations struggle when it comes to customer support and a recent experience illustrates the current suite of problems. An email from a large, well-known technology firm triggered an online account inquiry. Using the information in the email, I attempted to log in to what they considered premier services online. I could not, so I called the toll free number they provided. After listening to all the menu option, it became apparent there was not an option for what I was experiencing. I made what I believed to be the closest choice and after a modest wait-time, I was connected to a member of their support staff. The employee recognized that my problem did not fall within the script he/she was following (on the computer) to diagnose my issue and properly respond. The person put me on hold nearly a dozen times and consulted with others. The employee finally decided to try to contact management internally and placed me on hold once again. The call timed out and I was dropped. The customer support person called me back about five minutes later and said he/she was going to transfer me to someone else. Therefore, I had to explain the situation all over again and that person said he/she was not the right one to talk to and gave me an email of an individual to contact. Once again, I did and that individual promptly responded, said they do not work in that department any longer, and gave me the phone number to call if I wanted to buy some servers. I called the same toll free number again and went through explaining the issue again and this person finally figured out where I should be routed. I was transferred once again and had to explain the issue and the problem was found this time. Even though I had received an email for the premium service, I was not enrolled in the program and then it was discovered I was not even eligible for it.

Problem solved, right? No, it gets better. I went back to my computer and found that I had 54 email messages (all the same) and identical to the one that started this fiasco. So, I called the number again, and after talking to the call center representative and the supervisor and being placed on hold a few more times they transferred me to a gentleman who said, “I don’t know if we can fix this. It’s the end of the day and most people have gone.” By now, the number of emails reached more than 170 — again all the same. After a few choice words about them DDoS-ing my inbox with useless email he found the project manager, who got the emails stopped. This took approximately 2 hours. I didn’t even get a “thank you for your patience” or a “sorry about all of this.” The only thing I got out of this is a story to use in my speeches and training sessions.

What’s the solution?

All indications are that this sort of situation is all too common, illustrating just how poor customer service can become when tech firms have not properly prepared their organization for customer support of new programs. What do you think the odds are that I will do business with that firm again? Somewhere between zero and none. Consider for a moment the total cost of that call and the repercussions — that company lost a customer that had been with it for more than a decade.

As all these connected devices move from production into real-world application, it is a sure bet that problems will arise. All too often, new product support is an after-thought, and in some cases the help desk staff has not received the training necessary to assist the knowledgeable and novice users. Given the size of the emerging technology market and all that is at stake, companies had better start now and take a much more proactive approach to customer support.

So how would an organization go about addressing issues such as the one in the example and the others that all too often accompany new technologies? There is no easy answer to this issue. Customer service support training for emerging technologies that enter into the rapid advancement stage of their evolution is not a one and done event. As these technologies progress and advance, the support training must be updated and delivered to all those supporting the rollout of the new products and services. Progressive companies train a few customer service staffers and use them to support pilots. That experience is extremely valuable when it comes to the actual rollout of the new product(s). Another company provides prototype products to customer service for their personal use. First-hand experience is a very powerful training technique. Those individuals move into the trainer roles when the product is in launch preparation so they can share that first-hand experience. Another company actually finds previous customers and asks them to use the product that contains the new or emerging technology, gets their feedback, and then has technology professionals in product development ask the customer service representatives to conduct a trial period and get feedback.

Investing in customer services pays off. In fact, one survey found that more than 70 percent of customers who were asked stated that they were “very” or “extremely” likely to shop at a company because of their reputation for outstanding customer service. Thinking that new and emerging technology will not experience technology glitches is a “go out of business” strategy. Integrating customer service support (including training those in customer support) is the best path forward. With the next great wave of advancements in technology just over the horizon, will you lead…quickly follow…or will you be pushed aside?

kgc 2013— Kevin Coleman is a dynamic speaker, author, advisor and visionary who provides riveting insight on strategy, innovation, creativity and the high-velocity technology era that is just around the corner. He was Chief Strategist at Netscape and at another start-up that grew to be BusinessWeek’s 44th fastest growing company. Kevin has spoken at some of the world’s most prestigious organizations, including the United Nations, Congress, U.S. Strategic Command, and before multiple Fortune 500 organizations, and he has briefed executives in 42 countries around the world.

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