Tech support hero #6: Smarter peer-to-peer support
Sometimes the best answer to your specific problem comes not from the manufacturer, but from someone who works in your industry and has a similar technical setup. Peer-to-peer support is not for every problem; it's not for account issues or issues that require part replacement, for example. But sometimes it is the best possible -- and the fastest -- support available. The problem today is that it can be difficult to locate the right answer.
But more and more companies are recognizing that peer-to-peer support is not only essential but also saves money, engages customers in the company's community, and delivers better support than any trained tech ever could. So, in the near term, companies will embrace peer-to-peer support -- and not just by watching Twitter or setting up a Facebook page. "Companies have to host their own peer-to-peer 'party' and attend other people's parties," says David Vap, chief solutions officer at RightNow, a developer of customer experience products. And that's what they are hard at work doing. Tools that help companies harness peer-to-peer support and put it to work serving customers are available now.
And as companies adopt them, the Tier 1 support technician will increasingly be less about being in the front line of phone support and more about policing social networks to make sure the right information is easy to find and that evidence of technical problems make it to the right internal departments. "Technical support people need tools to curate and promote information into peer-to-peer content," says Vap.
This won't happen at the expense of phone support, though. The phone is just one line of communication -- although an important one. And each has to know about the other. "You can't have these support parties going on in a siloed environment. When a customer calls, the phone support people need to know if they have also been on Twitter or in the forums."
Tech support hero #7: Virtual worlds with avatar support
As Internet connections get faster and the Web gets more visual, you might find yourself wandering around in something like the next iteration of Second Life to check in with your social networks. Imagine two guys are kvetching about their network hassles over a virtual beer in a virtual pub. A fellow patron joins the conversation, offering to buy both of them a virtual pint. He asks a few pertinent questions and solves the issue they were complaining about. It turns out that the guy is a lackey for the company the two were dissing. His job is to respond to alerts, seek out upset customers, and set things right before they bad-mouth the company too badly.
This vision may seem far-fetched, but with the convergence of keyword alerts and virtual worlds, it could happen. In fact, it already happens in gaming environments. Some of the people wandering around MMORPGs (massively mulltiplayer online role-playing games) are hired -- or getting some sort of kickback -- to help.
"The traditional manufacturer's website is likely to go through some major changes," says HP's Potts. That could include avatars. Now where we see only a chat window popup to offer help, we might get a very lifelike avatar with audio and facial expressions.
The hope is that they will better be able to convey the subtlety of human emotion that chat cannot -- a gap that often leads to misunderstandings and frustration. "This would make the online experience more personal," says Potts. But it is a dangerous territory, he adds, because avatars that are too human cross over from warm and welcoming to creepy. "It is a fine line," he says. "These websites are so impersonal. But if you try to make it too personal it gets weird."