Chat / IRC
Increasingly popular, chat gives customers the “feeling” of immediate service by a product expert. Frequently however, you realize that you are really speaking with an outsourced Level 1 support organization! A major obstacle to the widespread success of this technology: the vigilant efforts by IT organizations to prevent the high risk and “productivity draining” IM protocols from invading their networks.
Increasingly, companies are using streaming media such as webinars and audio / video clips, to support their products. This technology hopes to show as well as tell the user, how to resolve their issue. Cost barriers prevent wide deployment of this technology. The cost of decent video editing software, video recording equipment, personnel and expertise required to effectively produce the medium, time and effort required to “refresh” the content, and bandwidth to name a few.
So where is the relief? How do you offer high quality technical support without overstretching your budget? You don’t have to be rich, just smart. Companies have deployed older technology in innovative ways, and done so affordably. The two prominent methods are Bulletin Boards (BBS) and RSS/ATOM.
Some of the best technical resources I’ve come across rely on a company’s most important asset, their customer base, to their advantage. Even more surprising, many larger vendors have yet to even consider this mechanism to support their users. Easily deployed, cheap to administer and fairly low cost pre-packaged BBS applications make this a very attractive and effective support solution. For customers, finding a solution that they can trust, quickly and easily leads to high customer satisfaction. Community Web boards should be sponsored and moderated by the vendor themselves versus an angry community of bloggers. Quality, well-informed solutions, often from another user, are just a reply away. Quality BBSs rely on these key characteristics: good content and search engines, and ease of use. If users don’t or are unable to find the information they need, they will stop visiting, leaving you with another piece of outdated technology to manage.
Certainly not the newest technology on the block, RSS/ATOM is commonly used by many reputable news organizations. A few support organizations have been innovative enough to use the simple medium to easily deploy technical information en masse to their users. By simply ‘hooking” the reader with a short hyperlinked one or two sentence lead, the user can opt to get critical, “real time” information by simply following the hyperlink to the fully posted content. Advantages are that it’s fairly cheap to deploy, easy to administer and works on almost every platform imaginable – MAC, Linux, Windows, Palm, cell phone – it’s all good. Word to the wise – don’t abuse your customer’s trust by using this platform as a sales / marketing tool unless you have clearly communicated your intentions to do so.
The importance of creating quality support tools should be obvious. When all other features and pricing are comparable, a vendor’s ability to provide high quality support will be the product differentiator. The cost of creating these tools can be reasonable. Great service can come in smaller, less expensive packages that empower you to get much more than you paid for.