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Cutting-Edge Technologies For The Contact Center
April 2004

Improving The Quality Of Post-Sales Technical Support Through Virtual On-Site Technology

By Eric Jensen, Citrix Online, A Division of Citrix Systems, Inc.

In today's competitive business climate, the need to 'do more with less' is forcing technology companies to cut back on critical technical support resources. In the near term, these cuts move dollars to a company's bottom line. But in the long term, customers are lost, selling costs go up, investments in brand equity are squandered and revenue can decline. For years, technical support managers have made these points to upper management, but the evidence cited has usually been anecdotal.

This has changed recently, with studies and surveys focusing on the long-term benefits of quality support. For example, a new study from the Sam Walton School of Business found that the quality of post-sales technical support was the most influential factor driving customer loyalty.1 This loyalty, in turn, was the most influential factor driving as much as 20 percent of a technology company's revenue and profit. In addition, it has become an industry-accepted reality that it costs five to ten times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer.

Despite these facts, two out of every three technical support professionals surveyed by Gartner Research in 2003 reported declining budgets, while almost one-third reported difficulty hiring and retaining staff with adequate IT knowledge and experience.2 In the same survey, more than half of the respondents reported a significant increase in the number of new applications and products that must be supported, and an increase in the number of applications and infrastructure classified as critical by end users.

VOS Support Technologies On The Rise
In light of shrinking budgets, businesses are rapidly adopting virtual on-site (VOS) support technologies to make technical support staff more efficient and productive. In fact, according to the Gartner survey, 70 percent of all businesses using support tools will increase their use of 'e-support' technologies in the next year, with VOS technologies at the top of the list.

Businesses find VOS technologies to be more productive and easier to use than traditional phone and e-mail support methods for resolving technical support incidents. The primary drivers for technical support centers in adopting VOS support solutions have been to improve customer satisfaction, deliver immediate payback for the investment and contribute longer-term positive return on investment (ROI).

VOS technologies fall into the following categories:

  • Remote control tools that provide the ability for a remote technical support representative to access and control an end user's device to better perform technical problem diagnosis and troubleshooting,
  • Remote monitoring and management tools that enable an application or infrastructure vendor to receive problem alarms and initiate a support case without end user intervention, and
  • Remote support tools that enable a technical support representative to chat with an end user, run diagnostics and access the diagnostic output.
    The most effective VOS technologies enable your technical support representatives to remotely view some aspect of the problem without having to travel to the end user or spend significant time on the phone or trading e-mails with the customer.

But how do you distinguish between run- of-the-mill remote support tools and best-in-class VOS tools that will produce measurable, positive results? Too frequently, CRM software investments have led to never-ending implementation cycles with no investment payback or positive ROI in sight. When evaluating VOS tools, consider the solution's real-time performance capabilities, security and how it can optimize your support operation.

Real-time Quality Of Service Capabilities
It is counter-productive to engage your customer in a remote support session only to wait to download software, wait for files to transfer and wait for action to occur over a slow connection. Not only is the customer unimpressed by this support experience, but support costs go up as handling time increases. Key questions to ask about real-time performance are:

  • What is the total size of all downloads that must occur for a technical support representative to remotely diagnose and troubleshoot problems?
  • What is the average file transfer time over a high-speed connection? Over a lower bandwidth connection? Is the vendor willing to sign a service level agreement to guarantee this average file transfer time?
  • How persistent are the connections between technical support representatives and end users? On average, for every 1,000 sessions, how many sessions are dropped? Again, is the vendor willing to sign a service level agreement?

Security is a top issue for technology users these days. This issue is particularly important if you are supporting end users in the healthcare or financial services fields, and must meet Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLB) Act requirements. Some key questions to ask about security are:

  • What kind of encryption technology is employed by the remote-solution vendor? For example, there is a significant difference between Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), Data Encryption Standard (DES) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption.
  • What other security measures does the VOS support solution vendor put in place to ensure that support staff can only perform activities for which your end users have granted permission?
  • After the support session, does software remain on the end user devices without their knowledge?

Increasing Productivity Through Continuous Improvement
As budget pressures continue to mount, technical support centers will be expected to be more productive, supporting more products and more end users while providing higher service levels with the same ' or reduced ' number of staff.
Remote support solutions offer an opportunity to take technical support center employee productivity to the next level. Key questions to ask about how a remote support solution will enable you to optimize your support center are:

  • Is real-time, centralized customer feedback gathering and reporting offered as part of the solution? Can I customize the feedback gathering to my particular needs?
  • What kind of reporting is available and what technical support center 'best practices' experience has been leveraged to create this reporting?
  • What access will I have to the best practices experience and lessons learned from others who have been using the same tools?

Remote support solutions using VOS technology are being rapidly adopted, and many analysts foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when VOS support solutions are a required set of tools for any technology company. Although most technical support managers face a long 'to do' list and declining resources, implementing VOS will very soon become a strategic piece of your support strategy.

Eric Jensen, GoToAssist product marketing manager, works closely with Citrix Online customers and engineering teams to build secure, scalable virtual on-site support solutions designed to enhance service levels and increase customer satisfaction.

1 Competitive Edge: High Quality Tech Support Key to Financial Success for Computer Companies. Walton School of Business, University of Arkansas: October, 2003.

2 E-Support and Support Automation Solutions: Where Is the Value? User Wants and Needs. Bob Igou, Gartner Group, November 22, 2002.

[Return To The April 2004 Table Of Contents]

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