When it was known more commonly as “product technical support” a decade ago, most IT customers (and their suppliers) focused on a handful of key issues: Is the coverage 24×7? Does it cover me in multiple geographies? How long is the warranty on various devices, and what does the maintenance contract look like when the warranty is done? Important questions in an historically low-profile part of IT.
As we move towards a new world of converged infrastructure, cloud services and Big Data, the old technical support paradigm is being replaced by something known more broadly as “customer care.” It’s a euphemism, but it also describes a sea-change in the role of support services. The contrast between the old days and 2011 is striking:
|Support Factor||10 Years Ago||Today|
|Customer’s expectations re: vendor response to problems||React to the problem quickly, escalate when needed; downtime is bad but impact is hard to measure||Prevent the problem from happening, or solve it transparently; customer can measure downtime in lost revenues|
|Vendor/customer support touch-points||Field service, phone, email, some automated remote data monitoring/management||Whatever the customer prefers: In-person, chat, phone, email, social, any combination of these, along with sophisticated remote monitoring/management tools (now table-stakes)|
|Role of customer support in overall customer experience||Important but circumscribed role, largely reactive, somewhat preventive||Integral part of customer experience, with much higher stakes for the vendor|
|Support’s role in customer’s buying decision||New CIO customers had limited ability to evaluate; important in retaining existing CIO customers who could see the value||Exploding growth in available opinion and data is raising the profile of customer support, making it more important and visible to buyers|
|Impact on the OEM’s brand of support quality/vendor response||Bad episodes generally controllable; good performance had limited upside||Critical: Success stories can lift the brand, horror stories can go viral (see Twitter, “XYZ Company: Massive FAIL”)|
|Ability to mine support-related customer data||Limited, based on small number of customer touch-points and scarcity of tools||Greatly expanded due to new universe of touch-points and Big Data analytical tools|
Responding to the Changing Role of Customer Support
Going back to the early design of its core storage product, Symmetrix, EMC has a long history of building remote monitoring and support capabilities into its products. The company’s goal has always been to keep its systems in the field up and running with little or no downtime, and to keep in-person field service calls to a minimum. As early as the late 1990s, EMC was crediting its remote monitoring and management capabilities as allowing it to solve 85% of customer problem incidents without requiring a field service call – meaning that customers saw problems solved faster, and EMC was able to keep its own cost-of-service down.
What was once a developing capability, system remote monitoring and management, has now become simply table-stakes for large OEMs supporting thousands of customers around the globe. Even PC-class systems have some level of remote monitoring capabilities built into them. As the table indicates, the game has changed from rapid reaction and recovery to pre-emptive, seamless support where problems are predicted and often prevented before they occur. More significantly, the universe of customer touch-points, within a customer support experience and beyond, has grown much wider, with data available in some cases almost instantly. More data, available immediately: This is changing the game in customer support for every company in the industry.
EMC, as part of its strategy in recognizing this shift, has continued to expand and refine its online support toolset. The tools combine online content with the ability for customers to connect with EMC when and how it is most convenient for them. The current toolset accessible through Powerlink, EMC’s online support portal, includes the following:
- Alerts and technical documentation
- Interoperability and product lifecycle information
- Knowledgebase search
- Live chat
- Product and diagnostic tools
- Service request management
- Software downloads and licensing
- Support forums
- Support by product
And the enhancements continue. For example, EMC’s live chat was rolled out fully in 2009, and was one of the early OEM chat offerings that offered coverage across the entire product set, including at an enterprise level for enterprise products. Customer satisfaction is ~90% with live chat, EMC reported recently.
The bottom line is that customer support is now very much at the heart of the “customer experience” that smart companies are focused on, all the time. As such, we expect to see ongoing investment in support tools, people and processes as customer support gains a higher profile at companies in the IT industry and beyond.