The rise of ‘do it yourself’ customer support

The temptation with customer service is to assume everyone wants to speak to a representative but sometimes giving customers the tools to fix a problem on their own is the best solution
Confident Man Exploring The City With Smartphone

One of the more bizarre consumer trends to emerge on social media is the rise of ‘unboxing’. Some videos of this phenomenon, where viewers tune in to watch an influencer unpack their latest purchase, have reached upwards of 105 million views. 

Part of the reason for their popularity is that these videos tap into that moment of anticipation as we rip open the packaging on something we’ve been looking forward to opening. If the experience, and what’s inside, doesn’t meet our expectations, we can be left feeling very disappointed. 

Why does this matter? Well, businesses tend to focus their investment in customer experience on the journey to conversion. But all too often it is post-sale where the loyalty battle is really won. In PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse survey, reliability was most likely to secure brand loyalty, cited by 46% of consumers questioned, ahead of product availability on 31%. Exceptional customer service was the third highest criteria, at 26%. 

This data suggests reliability and customer service clearly go hand in hand. This is especially the case for today’s electronic devices, which may be manufactured to the highest specification but are also becoming increasingly complex. 

Equip customers with tools and information

This device complexity can leave customers unsure how best to set up or use their devices. And if that information cannot be easily found as part of the set-up experience or online, it can lead to a deluge of calls and emails to the manufacturer’s contact centre. That makes it imperative to ensure customers have the right information, making consumer education the first line of defence in customer care, while online is the battleground.

WiFi networking company TP-Link is one company that has been addressing this area of customer service. Its UK managing director, Will Liu, explains how the company aims to minimise unnecessary support calls by providing an intuitive set-up experience that invites users to download an app to guide them through the process.

“To help customers get the right set up for their home or office we’ve developed apps for complex products like routers and wireless access points. Apps are second nature to consumers, even ‘Boomers’ [those aged 57 to 75]. Familiarity with the app ecosystem means we can use our technical knowhow to guide the least tech-savvy consumers through the network configuration process,” he says.

Designing a comprehensive ‘out of the box’ experience is so important because of the impact it can have on customer experience and subsequent brand reputation. Liu says the number of support calls it receives about setting up its routers has dropped by more than 6% since introducing the app, while reviews on Amazon and Reevoo are now more positive. 

For mobile phone retailer and operator Three, making the most of all of its communications channels to stay in close contact with customers during the critical early days and weeks of their device usage is key. It also offers customers an app, while also pointing people to digital content on its website that can help with setup and usage. 

“In the first few weeks we are very attentive to make sure customers get support and we offer an ongoing programme of communications with tips and tricks,”  Three’s digital director Jon Davies reveals. “If they do have problems they can talk via chat, pick up the phone or go in-store. We’ll continue to make that more sophisticated as we understand more about customers’ device usage.”

Encouraging customers to self-serve information is a critical pillar of customer care. Not only does it have the potential to be more efficient and satisfying for the customer, but it reduces cost-to-serve for the company and allows customer care teams to focus on more complex needs. But for this to be effective, organisations have to make sure their systems are up to the task. 

Quite simply, we are striving to provide the customer with the capability to execute as much as possible themselves. It’s what they’ve told us they want to do

“There are many use cases, particularly if the customer is swapping devices or operating systems, where we are investing in improving search capability to allow them to find information more easily. A big cohort of customers will use Google as the first point of contact so we have to optimise our pages to make sure they’re visible there,” Davies explains. “The service side is just as important to make sure those pages are visible and optimised.”

One thing companies are increasingly conscious of is the need to be available in the same channels as customers. Some people will always want to speak to someone at a contact centre however sophisticated the self-service channels might be. This means companies must ensure support options are easily accessible whenever relevant. 

“There is typically a triage approach. Here is the content if you want to do it yourself but we will promote chat and have a chatbot that will also do its best to support the customer. If it can’t solve the issue, it will hand them off [to an agent]. It’s becoming increasingly context-sensitive to know what the right time is to push them in that direction,” Davies says. 

Technology to augment service expertise

While being available in the right channel is key, so too is understanding the query and the level of help that might be needed. Some customers may simply be getting in contact to find out when their bill is due. Others may want answers to much more complicated questions. 

For this reason, TP-Link offers several avenues for customer support, while its customer service staff are trained to deal with calls both from those with few technical skills who want the personal touch and those who are extremely technical and therefore cannot find an answer to their query via other means.

“Because one-to-one support is at the two opposing ends of the spectrum, our support team are all highly skilled networking engineers who understand the implications of other environmental factors and the potential knock-on effect to the customer’s experience,” he explains.

To be able to provide optimal customer service, agents need to be able to access the latest information and, critically, have the technology to do that quickly. According to data from Call Centre Helper, the tech and device industry standard average handle time – the time it takes to deal with a query – is six minutes and 10 seconds. First call resolution is deemed to be the gold standard of customer service because it avoids the need to call the customer back or hand them over to a more experienced member of staff. 

This level of customer support is often the reason customers seek out specialist retailers. Which? Magazine named Richer Sounds the best place to buy technology products, partly due to price but also for its reputation, customer service and warranty. Its customers cite “quality products with very good honest information [and] knowledgeable, helpful staff” as reasons why they score it highly.

Nathan Kennaugh, HR director at the retailer, explains that one of the reasons why it does not open its stores to the public until midday is because between 9am and noon its staff are on Zoom calls receiving training on specialist technologies from manufacturers. It also has a database of training documents and links to videos from manufacturers so staff can keep their knowledge up-to-date.

“Training is a huge part of what we do; we want our colleagues to have the knowledge and be specialists,” he says. “We place a lot of emphasis on training and technical contact, and our colleagues have access to training resource sites and eportals. That’s a resource that covers the day to day queries we might receive but we still need the technical contacts for the weird and wonderful things that pop up once in a blue moon. We never want to keep a customer waiting to get a resolution.”

Kennaugh admits the company draws heavily on the fact that its customers are more tech-savvy than the average consumer and are more willing to work in partnership with store staff to resolve a problem, rather than expecting an instant resolution. He also notes that the company is not yet looking to adopt automated customer service solutions wholesale.

“We’ve explored chatbots but from the customer service side, we’re pretty old school. With chatbots, we question if it could really understand the ins and outs of a nuanced problem and we don’t want to cause further frustration with a customer that’s already upset,” he says.

For specialist retailers and manufacturers, the direct route to human customer service operatives who are enabled and augmented by technology may still be the most effective option. But for large consumer technology companies, and particularly for manufacturers that rely on third-party resellers, the issue of managing brand reputation through customer service is one that is galvanising some into action. 

For TP-Link, this means working with retailers such as Currys PC world or Amazon to provide their staff with the technical knowledge to sell and offer basic customer support, as well as taking advantage of their customer relationship management processes. But it also clearly signposts its own support options on packaging and offers quick installation guides.

Three’s Davies believes there is ever more scope to use technology to enable both the company’s support staff and improved self-serve options. For example, its app allows customers to triage themselves if, say, the screen or battery is not working. A customer service agent can then pick that up and feed the issue to the logistics team.

“We’re in pretty good shape with a knowledge management capability that straddles both human and digital channels,” he says.

“Quite simply, we are striving to provide the customer with the capability to execute as much as possible themselves. It’s what they’ve told us they want to do.”