We Speak Geek, Do You?
December 15, 2010
By TMCnet Special Guest
, Chief Operating Officer, Alpine Access,
Advanced technical support is one of the fastest growing customer segments for virtual call centers. This makes sense when one considers the extensive knowledge, competency and skills of virtual call center agents, who are ideally suited to deal with the increasing number of technical devices introduced into the marketplace each year. For example, by 2013, Gartner (News - Alert) Group forecasts there will be 1.78 billion personal computers and 1.82 billion smartphones in the world. But it is not only the prolific growth of devices that is driving the need for additional technical support services; it’s also the complexity of the devices themselves. Products are being released more frequently and with more features, functions and applications than ever before, making them all the more difficult to troubleshoot and service. Companies focused on beating competitors to market with the next great innovation often fail to consider the importance of having a knowledgeable and experienced customer service team to assist consumers after the product launch.
Consider the case of Nexus One, a touch-screen smartphone sold directly to consumers by Google (News - Alert) through an online store. When it launched the Nexus One earlier this year, Google was unprepared for the higher service expectations of customers who paid for a high-end technical device. Initially introduced without a customer service phone number, consumers waited days for responses to their email inquiries. With no clear direction on who to contact with their questions and issues – Google, the device manufacturer, or the wireless carrier – upset consumers flocked to online forums, message boards, and social media sites to publicly express their frustrations and complaints. Fortunately for consumers, most technology companies finally are beginning to understand the revenue loss and brand damage that can be caused by a frustrated customer base and are looking for ways to improve the level of support they provide.
Technical Support Has Its Challenges
Creating an effective customer service team cannot be done as an afterthought in any industry, but especially not within the technology arena. The wide range of customer service calls and the unique characteristics of technology products make it extremely difficult to provide the necessary support.
The four main issues companies face when trying to handle technical support calls such as break/fix assistance, help desk services and Tier 1, 2 and 3 support are:
1. Longer call length. Issues with new generation products can often take twice as long to trouble-shoot and resolve as older generation devices. This means that the support costs for newer products are often double that of just a few years ago.
2. Higher call volumes. Pressure to reduce time-to-market cycles has created an industry practice of launching unfinished devices knowing they’ll require fixes at a later date. These shortened product development cycles result in products that are not thoroughly tested prior to launch. The tech support call centers feel the impact of this through higher call volumes with increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated customers.
3. Lower call resolution rates. According to the CFI Group’s 2010 Contact Center Satisfaction Index, callers are 15% less satisfied if they have to call back to resolve their issue, and if they have to call back a second time, they are 29% less satisfied. With the increasing complexity of devices, more callers are finding they need to speak with multiple representatives to solve their problem. Given the impact that satisfaction has on customer churn and loyalty, not resolving the issue on the first call can have a material impact on a company’s profitability.
4. Inexperienced agents. Many technology products can require one to two months of training before a new agent is put on the phones, and several more months for them to gain true proficiency. Unfortunately, agent attrition rates in large brick-and-mortar centers can reach over 100% annually, which mean agents are leaving just as they become proficient. The end result is that callers often interact with relatively new and inexperienced agents, which requires more time on the phone and lowers the possibility that the issue will be resolved on the first call.
Faced with these challenges and the rising costs they entail, many technology companies have historically turned to offshore contact centers to reduce the expense of handling support calls. However, this only tends to exacerbate the above issues. Based on CFI Group research, due to language barriers and cultural disconnects, offshore sites score significantly lower (27%) for customer satisfaction.
Virtual Call Centers Offer a Solution
Forward-thinking technology companies are now rapidly realizing the smarter way to resolve technical support issues is by partnering with a virtual contact center. Virtual call centers use sophisticated IT systems and processes to connect callers with technical support professionals working from their homes. With true nationwide reach, virtual call centers can tap into a nearly unlimited talent pool, allowing them to find and hire the most experienced and knowledgeable agents – a unique advantage not available to brick-and-mortar centers. For instance, with over 300,000 applications annually at Alpine Access, we are able to screen and test potential hires for proficiency on the products they would ultimately represent. This not only ensures that the agents have established brand and product affinity, but also shortens the learning curve and speed to competency, allowing them to be high performers from day one.
Possessing extensive product knowledge and experience, these higher caliber agents are ideally suited to address the unique requirements of the technology industry. They are able to help clients operate more profitably with results such as:
1. Improved customer retention. Inadequate customer care is often cited as a primary reason for losing customers. In industries like the wireless market, more than 2% of subscribers leave on a monthly basis, costing the industry over $350 million each month. With customer satisfaction scores that are consistently 5% higher than brick-and-mortar operations, virtual call centers have a proven ability to save and retain customers.
2. Faster first call resolution. Given the skill and maturity of home-based agents, combined with the best-in-class training they receive through innovative e-Learning processes, it is no surprise that virtual call center agents are better equipped to support callers with complex challenges. Their background and technical acumen allow them to efficiently troubleshoot problems to resolve issues on the first call.
3. Enhanced flexibility and scalability. Technology companies often encounter highly variable call volumes. Technical support calls can surge following new product introductions and during network outages or software glitches when consumers suddenly lose the use of their products. Virtual call centers are ideally situated to handle both planned and unplanned volume variability. With the ability to flex staff levels up or down by more than 20% on short notice, virtual centers can ensure that calls are answered and resolved without the long hold times or abandoned calls that would plague a fixed brick-and-mortar center.
Consumers are tired of fighting for answers and searching for help with their technology purchases. They are smart and savvy and should be valued for being early adopters, not ignored or placated with inexperienced staff. Using a virtual call center partner that employs well-trained and tech-savvy agents can keep costs under control while ensuring customers remain happy. After all, technology-based call centers supporting technology-based products just makes sense.
Rob Duncan is Chief Operating Officer of Alpine Access, Inc., the leading provider of employee-based virtual contact center solutions and services. Recently named the best contact center and CRM outsourcer for client satisfaction by Datamonitor’s Black Book of Outsourcing, Alpine Access’ clients include ten of the Fortune 100 companies in the financial services, communications, technology, retail, travel, hospitality and healthcare sectors. www.alpineaccess.com.
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Edited by Juliana Kenny