Verkada Disruptive Embedded Live Help

By John Honovich, Published Sep 24, 2020, 08:45am EDT (Info+)

Call up your integrator? Have someone come by the next day? Verkada is disrupting the slow and cumbersome technical support process by embedding live chat help directly into their video surveillance clients.

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Inside this note, we explain why this is a significantly superior process, why it is beneficial to customers but likely to upset many integrators who will feel they are being disrupted.

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Vote / ****

Comments (41)

Live help for technical support is great. Having them find my video snippet... Lazy on my part.

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A manufacturer's technical support is going to know more than most integrators about the manufacturer's own systems.

As someone who has worked many years in the field and spent many hours on the phone with various manufactures support techs, that line made me chuckle.

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that line made me chuckle

To elaborate, I certainly think there are integrators who know more about a manufacturer's product than the manufacturer's own support. However, I think the average integrator tech knows significantly less about each product they support than the average manufacturer tech support person knows about their own product.

Combine that with it typically being much faster to directly chat the on-call manufacturer tech support person than to reach the star integrator tech and, overall, this is better. Agree/disagree?

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Oh I agree generally speaking if you're taking about mid to small sized systems and customers AKA average. I was just poking the bear a little bit there! ;-)

However if it's a large customer/site they *should* have a very talented and knowledgeable tech(s) or they need to get a better integrator.

And I'll also add I have had great experiences with support where the tech knew the product cold and had the mindset of a troubleshooter and were great to work with.

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This is really the crux, the term "integrator" is the most over used term in the industry. For guys who sell volume plug and play systems and wouldn't know an API from ADI (90% of the security resellers and installers) having manufacturer handle their support would be a dream. I imagine if your AO is a large metro area there's enough new business out there to keep the wheels turning.

For a small town group working a small density of larger installs, I don't want ANYONE calling my customer. The relationship is too important for us to devalute in the smallest bit. I don't see this as Verkada's market though, they sell to IT groups used to doing stuff on their own and dealing with remote assistance.

Regardless, remote support can't fix a broken camera; diagnosing one before rolling a truck is a great deal for everyone involved and we certainly do that in our business. If you bought Verkada you better call who put it up for you, it won't be us and I'd argue it won't be any installer that values being an reseller as well.

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Forsooth. Ever tried talking with Hikvision support? Their first level people are about equivalent to a Google search and looking at the User Guides on the website. Second level support is occasionally better depending on who you get, but most of the time I need to speak with them they don't even know their own product well enough to help me.

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I liked when Genetec and Axis added chat support around 2015-2016, however it was not always productive on my part:

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Chat support, like all other support, is great when it works!

I know Bosch has a new tech support app. I haven't used it yet but you are supposed to be able to chat and video call with them to help diagnose issues.

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and then, the GTAC Blacklist was born.

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Spoiler Alert: Their name wasn't Jean-Patrick.

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I think this has the potential to open a can of worms for Verkada. Once customers get used to someone from support to pull video or add a credential they will exclusively let someone else do that. End users love the "Easy" button to let someone else do the work. We ran into this when we were smaller, always wanting to provide the best service and our support personnel spent way too much time doing tasks for the customer because they didn't want to learn it themselves during training at the end of the project. I would assume this is why most manufacturers use the integrator as the buffer from the customer. As an integrator, if we can offload those repetitive "How Do I" calls to someone else it would be a win.

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Verkada will have much better metrics on who is abusing tech support since it’s a logged in user from a specific customer.

Super easy to deal with that via paid model after so many clicks than traditional support.

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Yeah, hence the can of worms. Customers don't like if you go back and tell them you are using support too much...now you have to pay for what was already included in your plan.

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Support over chat is very inexpensive. The rep can handle many cases simultaneously, unlike phone support.

Also, since they have direct access to one's system, it is easier to find the problem. Yes/no?

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Yes, chat is inexpensive but companies tend to overload chat agents causing them to have so many open chats they are slow to respond, and when they do it is frequently a canned message or an unimportant questions which puts the ball back in the customers court so they can move on to the next.

I hope they are successful, I have never used their product so can't opine on whether or not it would be easy to support over chat. But I have been in charge of a group of support agents and it was extremely difficult to keep good CSAT scores on the ones who used chat. This is not like looking up order status or supplying a tracking number.

Also,

All Verkada Support engineers undergo thorough security and privacy training upon joining as well as annually. In addition, all are trained on proper protocols to access customer accounts, including getting written permission to view a customer’s cameras. We track and audit all access within our systems.

This sounds good but has no substance. Since this is chat everything is written, and I doubt their training amounts to much. Tech support generally has such high turnover you take what you can get.

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All Verkada Support engineers undergo thorough security and privacy training upon joining as well as annually. In addition, all are trained on proper protocols to access customer accounts, including getting written permission to view a customer’s cameras. We track and audit all access within our systems.

Also this says security and privacy training but does not indicate background checks. I imagine background checks are not common for tech support out of India which, I'm guessing as this model expands, will be using off shore tech support. This is really where trust comes into play. Im naturally distrustful of people and most of all corporations (ironically the same thing in the USA) so this is a no go for me personally.

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Verkada's response:

Support is based in the U.S. and UK. We do not have plans to expand to other countries at this time. All technical staff are background checked and trained to our standards, which will continue to be the case regardless of how much we scale.

Generally speaking, any company that has internal access to one's security / surveillance is a concern to me (Ring, Nest, Verkada, etc.).

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Well it's not like the customer can LEAVE with their ONVIF cameras, now can they... :)

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I don't see this disrupting integrators as much as just adding value to their system. This seems more geared towards navigating and working with the user interface and less so on the service side. Personally, as an integrator, I would welcome our manufactures to assist with this type of interaction.

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genius

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I don't mind the customers having the agility to communicate directly with the manufacturer for tech support issues or quick questions. However since this is Verkada it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In my opinion Verkada states they can only sell through the authorized dealer channel. However the dealer channel also consist of CDW and SHI who pass product along at a low margin since generally this is a box sell eliminating the dealer. In the end I see this as another way at minimalizing the value a quality dealer or integrator brings to the table.

The question really comes down to what is the limitation of support. Are they going to troubleshoot a camera, access panel or IOT sensor and if it is determined to be bad are they drop shipping an RMA directly to the client?

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I think it's great they're providing the means to get help immediately, especially since the vast majority of Verkada issues I've run into can be fixed remotely in a short time, as long as it was commissioned correctly in the first place.

In my mind, it comes down to core values. If you value providing your customer solutions that are impactful, and you care about them being able to sustain themselves without being nickel and dimed by their integrator, then it's very easy to support progress like this.

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Any one remember Amazon Mayday? This sounds similar to that, except more invasive and possibly useful.

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Thanks! Good point, related Amazon marketing video:

TheNextWeb speculated:

It’s also highly likely that Mayday was a massive money pit for Amazon — especially when you consider the rizla-thin margins on consumer electronics, and the relatively low price of the Kindle Fire HDX.

But they also praised it:

Users raved about the feature, and at one point, it surpassed the traditional customer service avenues in popularity, with Digital Trends at one point writing that “the vast majority of Kindle Fire HDX customers now ask for assistance using the Mayday feature, instead of calling the Amazon customer service line.”

It was released in 2013 and ended in 2018.

Thinking out loud, why not Apple or Samsung etc. offer something like this as a premium service? Imagine people paying for this to help family members solve problems on their devices?

The big benefit Verkada has vs Amazon tablets is that Verkada requires an ongoing subscription so no one is getting this for 'free'.

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And Verkada charges a boat load for their hardware. Way more that it is actually worth. I am sure they have a large R&D budget and other non direct harware costs, but their margins still have to be huge for the low budget stuff they actually put in the camera. On top of that, like was mentioned, the monthly cost. These companies are making money hand over foot per camera compared to many other manufacturers. Any integrator could technically offer the same thing with some of the cameras that are out there. Put a camera on DHCP or a pre assigned IP address, load a micro sd card and run the software on a server to host them.

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does Verkada provide direct phone support to end customers - or do they call the integrator who installed their system (if they used one)?

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Direct phone support to end users and, of course, as this shows, direct embedded chat support.

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so if they already offer direct to customer support via phone, then I don't see how this has anything to do with eroding the integrator relationship with customers. it's just another, maybe simpler way to reach support.

I like the option of chat support, but there can be some tradeoffs in using this type of communication vs speaking directly with a human.

and even though a support person can have more than one chat window open, unless most are easy fixes from dumb end users who don't like reading manuals, then focus can become a problem when trying to troubleshoot multiple things at the same time.

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so if they already offer direct to customer support via phone, then I don't see how this has anything to do with eroding the integrator relationship

If it's a call, you can Verkada or you can call your integrator. Embedded chat help is far simpler and easier to use than picking up a phone. You can just type in your question and get help while working on other things. And you can get someone who can see what is going on in your system at the same time (which you can't get on the phone).

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Embedded chat help is far simpler and easier to use than picking up a phone.

agreed.

You can just type in your question and get help while working on other things.

disagree in practice. in my experience, whether via phone or chat, once the end user connects they want to stay connected until the problem is resolved. they aren't washing their cars between comments.

And you can get someone who can see what is going on in your system at the same time (which you can't get on the phone).

security manufacturer system support has relied heavily on remote access to customer systems for a long time - though camera manufacturer support obviously can't.

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they aren't washing their cars between comments.

But they can check email, read the news, or a million other things on the Internet. Having to dial the phone number, hit various buttons, yell at the automated phone system, explain in detail to the person on the phone repeatedly, etc. is a far more tedius process than hitting a button, opening the chat and asking one's question.

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there are good support joints and bad ones... and this has been/will always be the case. and imo, the bad ones are almost always created by unrealistically limited budgets.

chat is not a bad thing to have as a tool - and I am not refuting that it 'can' be easier when a simple issue can be resolved by a simple answer. and these 'simple' issues can represent a significant percentage of support calls for sure. this is why most support sites have FAQ lists.

as a pretty solid communicator, I'm sure that when you use chat support it probably works optimally... but you are far from the 'average' person who might call/chat/fax support.

further, when you possess gobs of VC monies you can (initially) stack your team with CCNA certified support people. but how long can you keep them if you aren't paying somewhere around the national average that those with this cert can earn?

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you know any industry manufacturer support people pulling down $84Gs a year?

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you know any industry manufacturer support people pulling down $84Gs a year?

Verkada is not bound by industry norms. They have a Silicon Valley model and Silicon Valley pay expectations so it's not comparable to what Honeywell pays for support in Kentucky, etc.

Btw, I don't see any reason why their support people need CCNAs or generally to know lots about computer networks since all the systems are connected into their cloud. That is a related advantage for support. When you are supporting a Arecont / Exacq system (to give a previous decade example) you have no visibility into the system and are left guessing, not so with a single vendor cloud one, ergo support costs are lower.

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Verkada is not bound by industry norms.

at present, this is true.

but it will not always be true - as they can not escape the economies of scale over time.

chat is a cool tool, no doubt. but those that really like and use it will be a very low minority percentage of total support requests imo.

I don't see in-app support as any kind of game-changer - and further, I foresee more hurdles to widespread adoption than you do.

Once they are bought by (for example) JCI, those economies of scale problems (without the VC shield) will become more apparent.

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but it will not always be true - as they can not escape the economies of scale over time.

Strongly disagree. The whole point of why VCs are pouring money into Verkada is that their business model is fundamentally better and more lucrative than e.g., JCI.

JCI sells widgets. Sell a bunch of widgets this year. Sell even more widgets next year. Over and year.

Verkada sells locked-in subscription licenses. Sell a bunch of widgets this year. Next year, every widget holder needs to pay a subscription license or it turns into a brick. Sell more widgets. Year 3, all the widget buyers from year 1 and year 2 need to pay a subscription license or they all turn into bricks, etc.

JCI is a good example because see Exacq on Worst Manufacturer Technical Support 2018.

A big problem for Exacq is that Exacq does not require a paid service support agreement so it's a cost center for them.

With Verkada, everybody calling by definition is paying a subscription or the camera would be a brick.

I think you are right about how historically this has worked in the industry but the economics of Verkada allows them to operate differently.

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Full disclosure - I'm the CEO @ Solink.

In-app chat will, IMO, become table-stakes for companies that transition to the cloud. No modern company should consider building their own "conversational platform" (for support, leads or otherwise). There are so many great tools available like Intercom, Drift, Zendesk chat, Hubspot chat, etc. that are relatively cheap to get started with. The screenshot examples above are, in fact, Intercom's product (intercom.io) and they offer various modules one can embed in a product or website.

At Solink, we made a deliberate decision very early-on to focus on "Service as a competitive advantage". One of the areas we wanted to be best at was Support. As such, we made chat ubiquitous in the product from day 1 (4.5 years ago) on all clients (Web, iOS, Android, etc.). Of course, we still have email and phone support but we found that when a client first tries chat, they realize the benefits and become hooked (~85-90% of our inbound customer engagements is via chat). Some customers chat in to say "can you please call me?" because it's easier than typing an email or even calling. Our conversational platform that powers chat is the underlying glue that allows every team in the company to understand and empathize with the customer. That means, we use "chat" as a medium - for Support, product announcements, collaborating with Operations, pushing issues to Dev Ops, Prioritizing product features, etc. Behind the scenes from the chat above, the agent has a "cockpit" where they can pull in other employees for escalation by "tagging them", attach knowledge-base articles/images/emojis/etc based on the nature of the conversation and they can (when properly integrated) understand specifically how the user is interacting with the product. We track product consumption so we know the context that initiated chat. For example, we know how long video took to load and can diagnose network issues and bitrates from a customer's location and camera. With all this functionality our support team is super efficient - in fact they only spend 1/3 of their time handling inbound support (chats, calls, emails, tickets, etc.) and 2/3 of the team's time is focused on proactive support - network/camera/device/integration issues. As a side-note, Consumption data is critical to how you evolve a product - it's a feedback loop that helps you build a true "service" for customers. If anyone is interested in learning more or seeing a demo of Intercom in action ping me at mmatta@solink.com and I'd be happy to show you how this works (yes, even if you are a competitor I don't mind showing you).

As for Privacy - in addition to auditing every action by ALL users, we introduced an access-control layer called "Support Mode" where access to a customer cameras and data is, by default off. If a customer wants us to take control and help they can toggle Support Mode "ON" and that agent will be given access to see exactly what's going on from their perspective. We've had many cases where someone has been robbed at gunpoint or witnessed a tragic incident and they are almost paralyzed with fear - we are always happy to help them and consider it some of our most important work. Any "support Mode" access is fully audited and can be turned-off once the support request is handled.

Finally, and this is more personal, one thing that has irritated me over the years is when companies implement chat but treat it like email. Chat needs to be real-time. At Solink, we have an SLA to answer 90% of chats within 2 minutes, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. We are generally at 96% and the remaining 4% is typically between 2-5 minutes. This isn't a "cheap" model - to make it work well at scale (Shopify is a great example) you need to staff it and train your team. Someone above mentioned "CSAT" - as a fun thing, we measure customer satisfaction in Emojis - All chat respondents are asked about their satisfaction and 1/3 usually answer a 5-level satisfaction score in Emojis (from Mad Face all the way to Heart-eyes) - happy to say we have we have 97% Smiling teeth or heart eyes score.

Sorry for the rant - but "Service as a competitive advantage" is something we've taken a ton of pride in at @Solink.

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Mike, good feedback, thanks!

we introduced an access-control layer called "Support Mode" where access to a customer cameras and data is, by default off. If a customer wants us to take control and help they can toggle Support Mode "ON"

Interesting, that makes sense to me.

At Solink, we have an SLA to answer 90% of chats within 2 minutes, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. We are generally at 96% and the remaining 4% is typically between 2-5 minutes.

Are you staffing support 24/7 or? A lot of companies (even talking outside of video surveillance) only do 'business hours'.

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Thanks John.

We've been 24-7 almost since day-1. Early on we were on pager duty (rotation) but now have full support 24-7 across time zones. Rationale was that we have an always-on service and we wanted to be available when a customer needed help.

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This is Verkada propaganda. I can offer the same thing through a simple service that my customers can contact me through. For the absolutely ridiculous price that these cameras cost, I could charge less than them for a better camera and just pay someone to sit by and be support. Any integrator can offer live chat or email help. It just depends on if that is how they want their business model to be. If the customer wants to have to wait a day or two in order to have a way better camera at a fraction of the price of Verkada's cameras, that is a choice that they can make. This is definitely not "disruptive". That word is just trying to stir up drama.

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Kris, thanks for the feedback!

If the customer wants to have to wait a day or two in order to have a way better camera at a fraction of the price of Verkada's cameras, that is a choice that they can make.

I do agree about their pricing being high and the poor relative quality of their video.

On the other hand, there are obviously lots of IT managers that don't care about the price and the relatively poor quality video because of the ease of install and maintenance. That they include this chat makes ongoing usage and maintenance even easier.

Verkada people think I 'hate' them so its obviously not 'propaganda'. I genuinely do think this feature will disrupt the relation of the end-user and the integrator by allowing the manufacturer to better support the end-user at the expense of the role of the integrator.

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Great article John.

As you know I'm a Verkada Partner and thanks for highlighting the chat feature.

Given Verkada’s youth this chat is actually run by networking engineers that actually know their stuff. It's value added, I would rather my client have the ability to reach out to them directly than call us for those ”User Error” moments.

I hope this continues with the same quality of staff it currently has.

Like I have said before, things are changing and new ways of doing things are coming to life. If a client does have a problem for us to solve, I'll jump on the chat whilst doing other things, super easy.

Side note: I did have a chuckle when someone mention ”Propaganda” did they not see that you had written the article?

Great work, till next time Sir.

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