The Future Of Online Customer Support

By James O’Brien, freelance writer

The days of horrible hold music may not be entirely gone, but they are on life-support if you ask customer support experts.

“Technology is taking us further away from the phone,” said Christina Morris, a managing director for Xerox. “I think that self-service is where people want to get to. Customer service —  we can’t just say it’s what happens in a call center. It has to happen at every touchpoint.”

Minimal Intervention, Maximum Customer SatisfactionThe Future of Online Customer Support

In the past, you bought a product, took it out of a box, plugged it in and used it. Then came the onslaught of increasingly complex user experiences. With that, said Morris, customer-support call centers veered into expensive territory. Representatives had to be trained at higher levels. All the while, customer expectations remained the same: quick and effective responses to their questions.

Some key tools that Morris suggests will drive the future of customer support can be distilled to a shortlist:

—App-Based Customer Support: One wave of the future is app development. In the same way consumers can snap a photo of a check to securely deposit money in the bank, Morris suggested businesses can now rely on apps.

“Say I’m a small-business owner and I buy this application,” she said. “I can use it to communicate securely and in real-time with customers and partners.”

The future is about access, tapping into customer support from any location, via the ubiquitous mobile device.

—Interactive Voice Response: The phone won’t vanish from customer support completely. It should, however, become more automated and sophisticated. Interactive voice response (IVR) has already been around for a long time, but not always to great effect.

“The failure in the past is that it hasn’t always been robust enough and it’s led to a lot of frustration,” said Morris of the typical automated menu-driven support call. “It really kind of comes back to it has to be simple and it has to work. The options have to be very clear … if you’re going to do voice recognition, it has to be with a high degree of accuracy.”

That is, nobody wants to say “yes” seven times on the phone. But IVR is evolving, and Morris expects that what we learn from the best examples of it, now and in the future, will actually inform best practices on every platform. Reps won’t go away altogether, she said, but the human on the phone will become a professional trained to take on only the most intricate and nuanced of problems, with online and automated support absorbing all of the lower-tier tasks beneath those.

—Virtual Device Interventions: Device-specific diagnosis websites, similar to what customers might experience on a site such as WebMD are the next generation of online customer support that will replace old-school FAQs.

Laptop problems? Imagine if you could network with a virtual device that actually diagnosed and pushed solutions through to your machine. That’s the next step in online customer support that Morris predicts will gain in strength and popularity.

Perhaps most exciting is what Morris said these new approaches can do to the bottom line. Innovation is driving the cost of traditional live agent customer support down, to the tune of some 80 percent in savings through use of advanced tools and technologies. That’s the kind of future businesses can bank on.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

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