Manufacturer Asks: How Can I Provide Better Technical Support

Hi all,

I work for a surveillance company that is striving to provide one of the best support experiences for our customer base; without giving it away, I will say we are within the end-user space with our products being sold through online vendors most notably Costco and Amazon.

In any case, one of our hugest challenges is providing very high quality technical support; I am working on a few projects personally to provide better support content as well as a more tailored user experience. Within the last two quarters, we have focused on providing mobile friendly support content for our customer base and so far, we have gotten some good feedback from our customers. We have also started working on personalizing our support experience for customers with the end goal being the ability to provide customized content and better tools for troubleshooting.

What I was wondering was what are YOUR typical expectations for customer support? What kind of service do you expect when calling into technical support? Are there ways that companies can provide better support that you haven't seen catch on? If you are someone that is more about self-service, how do you go about finding the correct information to troubleshoot your technical issues? If you work with end-users, what are your typical troubleshooting scenarios?

From my perspective, support should really be focused on outlier cases; the typical set up for any sort of technological product SHOULD be intuitive or at least it should work out of the box. While this is something that we genuinely strive for as a company, there are times where we don't meet the mark. I do feel that this is something that takes time as we develop our products towards our customers' needs, so that is almost never going to be "perfect".

I can see that there are a range of people within the surveillance industry that are active within IPVM, so any feedback is welcome. My hope is to take some of this feedback to bolster high quality self-support as much as possible. I totally understand that within this space there is a lot of complexity and some of this will get lost on most customers; however, I feel that there is some middle ground that can be reached and any effort towards that is worthwhile.

Kind Regards,

A Curious Dev


"What I was wondering was what are YOUR typical expectations for customer support? What kind of service do you expect when calling into technical support? Are there ways that companies can provide better support that you haven't seen catch on?"

The biggest integrator / user support complaint we hear is speaking to a support rep who can only read from a script. The expectation is clearly that the first person whom they speak with can answer real issues. On the other hand, manufacturers don't want to 'waste' skilled reps on the typical call which might be very basic.

One technique that is expanding but not as predominant in surveillance is having online / chat based support, which eliminates one of the other common complaints - holding on the phone for a long time waiting for someone to find an answer.

Thanks for sharing this discussion!

From a purely structural standpoint, I think it's great to be able to upload files, pictures, or screenshots with tech support. Remote desktop viewers are great too.

It's not a training issue as much as an efficiency aid. "I can just show you in 1 picture rather than spend 5 minutes telling you."

From a tech's standpoint, the ability to email transcripts of support sessions is crucial. The ability to cut 'n paste transcripts into job notes is great.

When I worked support for a camera manufacturer, a lot of what I dealt with was integration, image optimization, and image quality questions. I always tried to get remote connectivity into the system whenever possible...especially for integration issues. I routinely asked, 'can I jump on a take a look with you'?

However, when dealing with optimization and image quality issues, sometimes the remote connection hurt things more than helped. With many customers having low bandwidth connections along with the inherent video quality re-rendering by the remote connection app, left it hard to discern small intricacies in the video feed while troubleshooting. That being said, I believe it was still better than nothing.

In any case, I always tried to educate the customer on WHY I was making or suggesting the changes that I was. This gave them a level of confidence in what I was saying (usually), as well as an opportunity to learn.

The ticketing systems I used in the past recorded the phone calls, so it was easy to go back listen to what was (or was not) said during the call(s). It embedded the recordings right in line with the open ticket also.

A key issue in my opinion is finding the right way for the customer to provide you with what you need to help them, with as little of an inconvenience on them as possible.

Another important, less controllable thing that I feel is important is the personality of the person helping them. I don't want to get into a whole rant on this, but if someone genuinely cares about the issue that the customer is facing and treats them with respect, many parts of the customer satisfaction component magically become easier (not always, but sometimes).

Re: phone tech support. I understand the reasons for needing complete information on a trouble ticket before starting, but I wish there was a way to just ask something stupid without going thru the 5 minute speak and spell exercise, just to ask simple question.

Also, accurate estimates of hold wait times are key, and fill up whatever time a person is on hold playing back recorded answers to the stupid questions mentioned above. Instead of music or

Instead of playing the dreadfully upbeat sales announcements at a time when it's better just to lay off the "how great we are" thing.

On the plus side, "on hold" music doesn't require attention. You can do whatever it is you do to fill hold times, and whenever you hear human speech, you can continue with your support call.

This is why "the dreadfully upbeat sales announcements" are doubly pernicious. At a time when you are not feeling terribly positive about that message, still you MUST pay close attention. Just a few seconds of failure to notice the transition from a recorded human voice to a live human voice, and they've dropped your call. This is especially delightful after, say, 20 minutes of hold.

My role is a field application engineer, (designing and validating proposed installations) but that also includes a variety of training (in person, remote and video based training), in-person support, phone support, etc. etc.

I've found that if the person providing the support has a lot of experience with the product, it will make the process much faster and easier. (Genuinely understanding vs. reading a script) So in your case, have your support guys install several systems. (actually install them, not just assemble them on a bench). Have them configure remote access, mount cameras, drill holes, and configure every feature so it will work reliably in a real-world setting.

On the phone, nothing ticks me off more than having to wait through a person reading a script. But real satisfaction with a call comes when the person you are speaking with LISTENS to you (instead of just going to the next step of the script), understands how the product works (and doesn't work) and can start to ask questions and diagnose based on the symptoms you are describing.

I agree with the other posting suggesting online chat. We don't really use it for support, but it's helpful sometimes for quick fix or simple issues. I've seen some online chat supports that even offer a menu where the user rates their competency, it ranges from "Novice: I know nothing about electronics" to "Tech Pro: speak to me like I'm a tech expert", this let's the support guy adjust his approach on a case by case basis.

I totally agree with the other suggestion of more benign hold music. Keep the music volume lower, this way when a human does come on the phone, it's obvious. If you must have messaging keep it low key, the support line is not the time to be trying to upsell someone who's ticked off that their existing product isn't working.

I've also found that having a resource that provides remote desktop support (TeamViewer is my favorite, but there are a number of other solutions) is invaluable. You are able to see exactly what the customer sees (if your product is PC based, or if it interfaces with a PC) and you can "drive" and show (as well as teach) the customer how to solve the issue. None of this "Do you see the red icon on the bottom right side of the screen?" 5 minutes later... "No, it sounds like you are clicking in the application window, I mean on the very bottom right of the screen..."

Teamviewer even allows you to brand a quick support version of their product with your company logo, so the customer see's that it's you, and, they don't have to go through installing anything. (run once, delete, and done).

In your case for example, if the customer needs help configuring the port forwarding on their router to remote view their cameras, then you are able to assist right then. Video looks "funny" on the screen, log into their remote viewer to see what it's looking like to diagnose what "funny" is... (Camera upside down? Something on the glass reflecting IR back? IR cut filter stuck? Now you know) It's not the end all solution, but it's a helpful tool to have in the box.

Jason, great feedback, thanks!

Btw, interesting idea - had not thought about that:

"I've seen some online chat supports that even offer a menu where the user rates their competency, it ranges from "Novice: I know nothing about electronics" to "Tech Pro: speak to me like I'm a tech expert", this let's the support guy adjust his approach on a case by case basis."

Axis has this... they even have an option to the effect of, "I probably know more about this than you do". I use that one a lot :)

Jason, you pretty much stole my entire answer :)

One other thought on hold music, too: make sure you're not half-tuned to that radio station. The only thing that makes over-volumed crappy elevator music worse, is when it staticky and fading in and out.

Regarding plugging a radio into a music-on-hold system, there are copyright laws that you break, risking penalties... Beware...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_on_hold#Radio

Since you are designing small systems for the consumer market mostly...may I suggest a series of small videos that address all the common things that a user must do to setup and run the system. A good portion of your customers will try to help themselves.

Using video is key beause expecting a typical user in your market to READ a manual will work against you...they wont read it.

For example, we manufacture larger systems and have a 2 page Quick Start Guide that has the system userid and password on it.... yet our support center constantly gets calls asking what the UID and PWD is.

An good example of these videos can be found on VideoInsight's web site.

Mike beat me to the videos. The most common user issues that can be fixed remotely or questions about utilizing a function should have a short how-to video posted on the website.

As a salesman and account manager this is a distillation of feedback from our customer base: Timely (call them immediately to show care and get ball rolling), knowledgeable, effective (do techs/support know your products/services and how to fix most common problems), polite/respectful/pleasant, and largest...reasonable on the cost side. Nothing makes a client more angry than an exorbitant trip charge or something intangible that is expensive. Some times client is unreasonable but...something like $750 to roll a truck to just evaluate a problem will create quite a sour taste. Two cents or less...maybe

Thanks,

Dale

I'll throw a couple of things out there..

If call volume warrants it, keep track of number of calls and resolution times. If your people are taking too long to solve problems, they need better training/tools. Caveat: make sure your people are not gaming the system by hanging up too early just to get the resolution times down.

The ‘rate your experience’ surveys might be cliché but they’re a great way to smoke out the bad experiences and make them an opportunity to set things right. Happy customers will usually ignore these surveys but somebody who’s just had a bad experience is more likely to respond and give you a piece of their mind.

Make sure you can have new guys shadow the more experienced techs so they can learn from experience. Don’t let them sit around doing nothing if there’s a call they can listen in on and gain from.

Make sure you listen in on your techs and rate their performance and improve any deficiencies you find.

Be sure the tech support process is part of the feedback loop into product development/management. Products or configurations that generate a lot of calls need to be improved upon so they do not generate a lot of calls. The nature of your calls can tell you a lot about the quality of your products, how they’re being sold, how they’re being installed, and how the customer’s being trained.

Please, if you ask for the caller to key-in any id# (trouble ticket or business phone#) before putting them in the support queue, then make damn sure your system is able to make the customer support 'screen pop' when the call is transferred. And that you don't have to repeat the same number again.

If if doesn't work, then disable it.

Here's one: when you have good support people, especially second- and third-tier techs... DON'T LET THEM GO. Do whatever it takes to keep them around, because they're gold.

Few things are more frustrating, as a user (be that end user, integrator, installer, etc.), than building that relationship with a good support tech who understands your level of knowledge and knows enough to just bypass the noobie questions ("Have you tried rebooting it?") and knows the product inside and out himself (or herself)... only to call one day and be told, "yeah, he doesn't work here any more"... and then discover the hard way that there's nobody else available who CAN do much more than read from the script.

Or worse, getting to the point where you more often just contact one of the product engineers directly because you already know the product better than all their tech people... then having their email bounce one day because they've left too.

Nothing like realizing further down the road, all these people keep moving on because of the shoddy way the company treats them.

Don't be "that company".

Webchat, or, failing that, Twitter based support.

YouTube videos showing common setup and troubleshooting tips.

Speaking as someone who supervises a call center team (among other stuff): you must have metrics to help you determine how effective your team is, you must track and review the metrics on a regular basis, you must have a supervisor listening in periodically and randomly, and you must train your people in basic phone skills (how to speak slowly and clearly, how to say please and thank you, how to calm down agitated customers, and so forth).

I've used webchat with Axis a couple times, it's pretty prompt and efficient... except there's no way to send files or photos or anything other than text within the webchat. My last interaction with them, the ability to sent photos or even a brief video clip would have probably saved an hour.

Our cable provider here is great on Twitter. I had a question about my internet connection once... I called their support line, sat on hold for about ten minutes before trying their webchat... while I was waiting for a response on that, I tweeted them... less than two minutes later I got a reply, exchanged a few DMs, and had the whole thing sorted out in under 5 minutes while still sitting on hold on the phone.

Moral of the story: whatever avenues of support you use, BE RESPONSIVE.

Personally, I dislike "Robot People". Talk to me like a real person and drop the script. The best tech support guys I deal with make your problem their problem and don't give up until the problem is fixed.

If you want an idea of what NOT to do, call Sony's tech support and take notes. No attempts to help while on the phone or walk you through troubleshooting, just speaking at you about what you probably did wrong to get rid of you as soon as they can.

"If you want an idea of what NOT to do, call Sony's tech support and take notes."

Related: Best Manufacturer Support 2014

Hi everybody,

Not sure you all can read this, but I want to thank everyone for their feedback on my questions. I have been reading through some of the responses and can already see some really great ideas coming from a variety of perspectives.

I am going to share the results with a few members of our team to evaluate where we are at and how we can incorporate some of these suggestions. I particularly like the suggestions to focus on chat or Twitter as a channel, streamlining information collection, and assessing customers' technical fluency. I also strongly agree with the comments regarding how agents should connect with customers; I will pass this on to our trainer for his use.

In any case, thank you all again for your responses.

Gratefully,

A Curious Dev

Everything has a cost, and how much support can you provide for an item that sells for $149.00, and had a production, distribution, and money cost of $90.00?

Rather than focusing on providing the best support on your product, I would focus on providing the best instructions to the DIY'r. Avoiding the calls will have offer the best ROI! The single most common problem have seen in the tech business, is that 99% of manuals simply explain feature settings.

A great manual, begins with written goal statements of what you may be trying to accomplish.

The goal of this manual is to help you properly configure and install our Widget, and when completed, you should be able to remotely access and manage your new home widget via your Android or I-Phone.

To help you acheive this goal the following steps should be taken.

A. Verify your Internet Provider is compatible..

B. Pre-test the software on your phone and access our online test system. (you can view your changes in real-time on www.testingmystuff..

C. Preinstallation testing of equipments...

and any other humanly written tips, and likely things that go wrong.....

Is it your responsibility to teach someone about port forwarding? low cost broadband is going to non-routable IPs.

Is it your responsibility to walk someone through testing a cat5 cable?

During the last 35 years in the support business, the most responsive vendor gets all the calls, and helps resolve a multi-vendor systems, and if you're not careful these can become unfunded mandates.

If I were building a DIY's support center, I would create an online index of every support call, and make these playable and accessible on the WEB.... People can listen better than they can read. "How often do you hear this call is being recorded for training purposes?" Start using those recordings...

A. You staff will quickly learn to be professional and courteous.

B. Your customers will appreciate being able to hear actual customers experiencing the same things. (Multi-lingual)

and any other humanly written tips, and likely things that go wrong.....

And on the note of written tips: get someone to do PROPER translations. Thick Engrish can be amusing, but it's not usually very helpful.

Once you have your tech support set up, pretend you are a customer and call your own tech support line!

See what your customers experience for keying in ID #'s, hold time, music or messages on hold, automated attendant trees, and the greeting from the tech who finally answers the call.

Do it on a regular basis to make sure you maintain a high level of support for your customers.

Offer a chat service so that the client does not have to hold thier phone on thier ear waiting for a tech for an easy answer. Chat can also alleviate local language issues that can frustrate clients.

Do the Undercover Boss thing, in other words!

Instead of waiting on hold, consider a call back system, with an estimate of when you will receive the call back.

Make sure that the person who records the automated menu prompts knows what the products are and how to pronounce them. Makes the whole company look silly if it says to "press 2 for network, video, recorders" insead of "network video recorders" or running products together so it sounds like "for IP analog cameras, press 3" instead of "for IP or analog cameras, press 3"

Try a major manufacturer at 800-528-6747, option 2. It has been this way for a few years, and I think it makes it sound like they don't know what the products they support even are.

Speaking as an end user, there have been many great ideas/bits of wisdom/advice in the responses above. To reiterate a few that I personally find helpful and provide a good image of the company I am calling:

  • Online chat option with ability to upload files (and an emailed transcript at the conclusion of a chat session). Dell does a decent job at this.
  • Remote assistance (e.g., TeamViewer)
  • Call back option ("You are the nth caller. If you would like us to hold your place in line and call you back, press x.) I believe Avigilon does this (?).
  • Online instructional videos . . .
  • ... with links to those videos that actually work. If your webmaster likes to redesign the site every two weeks, be sure they keep links to content (video, quick start guides, manuals, etc.) intact. YouTube is a great resource for posting your videos.
  • Have a quick link to support from your home web page. Don't make the user have to do more than two or three clicks to get to where they need to be.
  • Have FAQ and knowledge base sections easily accessible from your support pages.
  • Consider a forum for end users (in addition to the above, not as a substitute) - many people enjoy helping others . . . for free (plus the cost of maintaining the forum). MONITOR the forum. Respond to serious questions/concerns promptly and direct those with unresolved problems to contact tech support.
  • Thoroughly train your support staff. They need to know the product, not read from a script.
  • The idea above about having a check box for the user's level of proficiency with the product is a great one. I've not seen this many places, but always appreciate it when I do. Be sure you offer the "I probably know more than you" option. :-)

Bottom line is: make sure your tech support staff is knowledgeable of the products they are supporting, and be sure support is accessible and responsive.