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September 21, 2012

iPhone 5 and Customer Support - Time to Automate

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

In case you like Rip Van Winkle have been asleep for a while, today was iPhone (News - Alert) 5 retail day. The lines were long and enthusiasm and frustration at not getting one were both high. In New York City and other places, the police were taking advantage of the lines to urge buyers to register their new devices with them and to be mindful of where they openly displayed their new found prized possessions because every time there is a spike in sales like today the crime rate goes up. Yes, the bad guys are good business people as well as Apple (News - Alert).

With all of the hoopla surrounding today, I was struck by an e-mail I received from Amdocs. The company raises an interesting point. Service providers are the way that customers experience the iPhone because at the end of the day, and for that matter at any time of the day or night, they are the throat to choke when people have questions. And, as with any new product, boy do they have questions. Not only do they have lots of questions that put enormous strain on service provider contact centers, these calls generate enormous costs. These are costs as Amdocs (News - Alert) points out could and should be mitigated. In fact, surveys consistently point out that 15 percent or more of new smartphones are returned, and two-thirds of them have perfectly working devices in the box. The primary reason for returns is a failure of customer support at the service provider end to help people get their phones activated or get them running according to the user’s expectations about ease of use.

Some factoids are in order, and Amdocs provided some good ones. The context is that typically 80 percent of consumers ask one question while half of new smartphone users have two or more questions. The result as noted is that service providers risk subsidising new launches through tying up expensive call center resources or handling device returns for incorrectly configured rather than faulty devices.

Where Amdocs came down on this is that all of these calls should be a catalyst for service providers to automate smart device support and, “take advantage of healthy consumer appetite for smarter self-care options.” I agree.

Here are those proof points from a recent survey:

  • 75 percent of consumers would prefer to use online support if it were reliable
  • Only 37 percent do so
  • 91 percent say they would use a single, online knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs
  • Social media could be an answer but its potential seems wasted currently since more than half of consumers say they seek help this way
  • 73 percent said they did not receive satisfactory answers

There is a certain irony that after five years of such launches that the numbers regarding support are so abysmal, and that service providers have not done a better job with self-service, especially since it is a win/win for them and their customers.

As Yossi Zohar, director, Amdocs Customer Management,commented: “At the moment, service providers are facing not one but several waves of new devices with product designs ranging from multiple Windows 8 smartphones through to new iOS devices and the arrival of the Kindle Fire among other devices. It’s this concentrated burst of new product launches that could cause more than gentle ripples in support operation because with each new device comes a plethora of new advanced technology – like Nokia’s (News - Alert) City Lens augmented reality feature and wireless charging – leaving customers perplexed by device configuration and connectivity settings. Smart CRM solutions need to be in place to support such product launches, enabling a 360 degree view of the customer to resolve these types of issues quickly and effectively to achieve high ROI and keep new customers happy.”

What all of this points to is that the talk about improving the customer experience seems to be more talk than action, either that or the survey that show increased spending in the area needs some more granularity as to where and how that money is being spent.

The challenge presented by the numbers is a bit more complicated than just saying it is time to automate. What they actually seem to indicate is that it is time to automate smartly. Customers seem ready, willing and able to use self-help rather than wait on line for answers and then get frustrated if they don’t get satisfaction. I have not seen the numbers but my suspicion is that a vast majority of initial problems that lead to long contact center calling queues could be easily answered through self-help but those interactions are as frustrating as dealing with a live agent who is not the right one to answer a given problem.  

Another problem is that companies rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, and that customers who have had a bad online self-help experience are more likely to fall back to at least venting at a real person, or as the other numbers indicate just return the thing.

In an age of instant gratification and high expectations, it is a bit confounding that the service providers have not perfected this new product launch support thing—they can do better. Getting automated self-help is the right path, but getting it right the first time will continue to prove to be critical. With a contract about to expire and interest in an iPhone high in my household, I think I am going to do it the old fashion way and wait for my gadget crazy friend to get one and then walk me through what I need to do. In the mean time, as a fan of the service providers, I hope that another year does not go by where they have not moved the customer experience ball significantly forward. To be honest, like the majority of those responding, I’d like to be able to take care of this myself and quickly enjoy the wonders of my new device.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.




Edited by Jamie Epstein
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