Does Siri Dream of Eclectic Tweets? (A dream for the future of IT and Customer Support.)
As a young boy growing up in the 80′s I was blessed by having access to a plethora of creations by visionaries who wrote, directed, and created some of the most amazing pictures of the future. Those books, stories, shows, movies and comics created a great excitement for me for the future. I watched Star Trek re-runs every night, I read every Philip K. Dick and Issac Asimov novel in the public library, and disassembled every piece of then current technology I could get my hands on.
I couldn’t get enough of the future and for me, the future couldn’t come fast enough.
Imagine my disappointment some 30 years later that most of the technology that I had hoped would be here is nowhere to be found.
Flying car? Nope…
Jet Pack? Not really…
Matter Teleporter? No Sir.
Food Synthesizer? Not even close…
Wristwatch sized Personal nuclear power plants? Sadly no.
Robotic personal assistant that caters to your every whim?
No….. Hey, wait a second???
Now this new Siri thing, she’s more Cortana than she is C3PO (who needs all that british snarky-ness anyway), and she isn’t physically embodied, but she may just be the first real sign that the future may already be here.
Siri is not the first attempt at getting you to talk to your technology to make it do things for you (hell, I have been talking to or screaming at computers for years), but it almost certainly is the best wide spread commercial implementation of it to date. Over one weekend, more than 4 Million people suddenly have the 21st Century equivalent of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Computer literally in the palm of their hands. Most of the uses I have seen so far borders on the absurd, but the practical every day applications are soon to abound. And while sending a text or a tweet with just the power of your voice is exciting in and of itself, I am once again excited about what the near future may bring.
Imagine what will happen when the Siri APIs are opened to the developer community.
Imagine what can happen when Siri is connected to your corporate apps.
Imagine further, what if Siri connected you to your customers?
This brings me to the Dream I have for the future of the IT and Customer support industries. I use them both here, because as those of you who have been in IT Support for any period of time know, the line between users, clients, customers, partners, contractors and other folks has become more blurred as technology crosses the imaginary lines we drew for ourselves when we started networking computers together for business needs many moons ago.
We have a Dream, when support grows beyond the traditional I break, you fix roles.
The last 5 years have seen an explosion of growth and thinking around how we support technology in the workplace and beyond. We have seen everything from white glove service, to minimal personal support models and every thing in between. Most of those models were variants of the same model we have all been using since the dawn of services and products.
I break. You fix.
The biggest drawback of this model is that it assumes a level of maturity and capability on both parties to ensure that whatever is broken can be fixed and that whatever activity that was disrupted can be resumed. When any part of this breaks down, the model becomes sub-optimal and often one or both parties involved become frustrated which sets the tone for all future encounters.
As an industry, we are currently suffering from 30+ years of residual shared frustration that sets the tone for all Support interactions before we even make contact (look in the mirror next time you call for tech support and realize you just got connected to an offshore call center, you see that face you made? That look says it all).
The App Store Generation
By now I am sure you have seen the video above. It has been on most major news shows as of this morning and has close to 3 Million hits on Youtube.
Most see it as a cute video of a little baby trying to do something with a magazine because it looks like and ipad and she doesn’t know any better.
Me, I see the future. Literally.
We have an entire generation who will be raised in a time where they will have access to the entire world through something they carry with them at all times. They will interact with these devices natively and I am quite convinced that many of them may not even know what a keyboard is by the time they hit adulthood.
Talking to their computers and having ready access to useful information at all times regardless of the activity they are performing (with few limits).
As they enter the workforce, they will expect to be able to work at any time, from anywhere with the same level of proficiency as if they were in an office, only many of them won’t be held back by the paradigm of matching their experience to the traditional office experience, because they will have never worked in a cubicle farm.
How much of what we imagine today is constrained by our own experiences?
In the future support should be:
Customers shouldn’t have to go somewhere else to tell yet another program that they are having an issue, support should be as close to the customer as can be. It should be available as a natural extension of the work they are performing. Lot’s of people vilified Clippy, but in my mind, he was way ahead of his time, if albeit a bit underdressed.
Native contextual support should be the first line of defense for any form of support. Helping people solve issues before they can prevent them from being productive is the best place to support a customer for many reasons:
- It allows them to continue to be productive
- It is a “Teachable Moment” that reinforces how the technology should be used to support the activities they are performing.
- It allows them to feel like they can be self reliant and in turn they may become less reliant on outside assistance not just in this case, but also in the future.
Most importantly supporting someone as a natural extension of how they use a product or service allows them to feel like a product provides a complete experience. The closer we can move the support channels to the customer and their every day use of our products, the better our products will become.
For most people, a product or service they use every day, especially for important things, is more than just a lump of bits and bytes. Apple has proven to us that superior products alone are not going to win over the market. Great companies provide an experience from the point of purchase through the upgrade to the next version, control the experience and always ensure that it is positive (especially during trying times), and you will ensure that the consumer of said product will hold it in high regard.
The support of a product or service has more impact on how people regard it in many cases than the actual day to day usage. Ever have to take an apple product in for repair at an apple store? Ever have them provide anything other than an amazing experience. From setting an appointment from your iphone, to being greeted by roving hipsters, the minute you walk into an apple store for support, you know you will be taken care of. I have been into the apple store for support on a half dozen products over the last 3 years and I can say that I have always gotten more than I expected and those rare times where I paid for a repair, it cost far less than I expected. The first time that happened with my MacBook Pro, I vowed I would never buy another PC from anyone else.
Are there technically superior products out there for less money? Certainly.
Do they come with the same type of experience as an Apple product? Certainly not.
Treating all aspects of a product or service, including the support of it, as part of a holistic experience is essential because:
- People are coming to expect it and reward those entities that provide that with repeat business.
- It is the best way to engage with your consumers to see both how they use your products and how they are impacted when they can’t use them
- When you create an experience that centers around your products, supporting them becomes easier especially when the people who work for you are empowered to solve your consumers problems (it goes back to the dynamics of two people working together to solve a problem and achieve an positive outcome for both).
Successful brands have proven time and time again that you are only as good as the way you support your products, those that fail at this seldom rise above a simple vendor who wins business on price alone. Value and quality are measured by your consumer, the higher they value something, the more likely they are to create soem level of emotional attachement to your product and your company by extension. Experience is everything!
We have beaten the words “Social Media” to death in the last few years and quite frankly I am kind of tired of it. We have been building communities for years before we had Social Media. Social Media is an extension of our communal nature.
I will let you in on a little secret, if you aren’t good with real life old fashioned communities, you probably won’t be good with online “Social” Communities.
Products that capitalize on the experiential currency do so because they have rabid fans of the product who seek each other out and revel in the commonality of that experience. When more than one person get’s together, you have the makings of a community.
Great brands recognize this and find ways to encourage the community building in such a way that they can be a part of and benefit from the conversation that is occurring around their products and services. This is especially true when it comes to support.
People love to solve problems, and in groups, they are often far greater than the sum of their parts. The power of the collective crowd is amazing, and properly harnessed it can become an amazing source of knowledge, ideas, improvements and brand empathy for your products and services. When people invest themselves in a product based community they feel a greater sense of ownership and loyalty towards that product, and at the end of the day that can often be nothing but good for you.
Communal support done right should be very beneficial on many fronts, including:
- Providing support channels at little to no costs.
- Increasing the pool from which support knowledge can be gathered, refined and distributed.
- Extending the benefits of your product experience beyond the walls of your locations and web presence.
By tapping into the power of community and our natural human instincts to surround ourselves with people of common interests and desires, we elevate the relationship with our consumers beyond the transactional and into the realm of trust.
“When software — or idea-ware for that matter — fails to be accessible to anyone for any reason, it is the fault of the software or of the messaging of the idea. It is an Accessibility failure.”
This concept is essentially important when it comes to support for two reasons:
- First, if your product or service becomes inaccessible, your support mechanisms become crucially important to maintaining your experiential relationship with your consumer. Everyone falls, it’s how we get back up that matters.
- Second and perhaps of equal importance is the accessibility of you support mechanisms themselves. People should intuitively know how to get support for your product or service in the event that they need it, from the place and at the time where they are impacted. Additionally, you need to understand how the majority of your customers will choose to engage with you to get support for your products or services when they need it.
For many years in IT we have tried to force people to come through specific and restricted gateways into support. With the consumerization of technology, expectations for a flexible support model have increased dramatically. Generational alignments drive a lot of affinity towards one support model over another, but mobile technology is quickly becoming an equalizer that spans generations.
What is vital for a provider of products and services in the near future is to be able to understand how your clients prefer to engage for support and to provide them with the greatest amount of accessibility needed to maintain that product experience.
If people want support by email, make it easy.
Twitter? Facebook? Email? Phone? SMS? Skype? Carrier pigeon?
By all means make it happen.
Why try and force people to conform to a support mechanism that does not add value from their perspective?
There is nothing worse than having to jump through a series of arbitrary hoops just to be able to get to a point where you can tell someone you have a problem. In this day and age, you need to be able to quickly connect consumers experiencing pain with solutions that alleviate that pain and return them to a productive state.
Too often lately especially in Corporate IT we have seen a trend of isolationism and of hiding behind web forms and so called “Self Service” tools. In some cases, those may be legitimate support channels, but in many cases I would bet that they are underused and most likely increase support costs in some cases by extending the time a consumer is non productive.
At the end of he day, getting support for a product or service should be simple and easy.
If I had a Time Machine.
If I could create an ideal image of what support should look like in the near future, it would look a lot like this:
“How can I help you?”
“I seem to be having problems accessing my corporate email.”
“It appears that your corporate mail servers are up and responding, but they are not accepting your login credentials. Would you like me to reset your pass phrase for you now?”
“Yes, lets try that.”
“I have reset your pass phrase based on your preferences for email and have stored the new pass phrase in your keyring. I have also logged a ticket with the corporate help desk indicating what work we have done. The ticket is visible in your activity stream. I can now log in to email, but performance does appear to be somewhat degraded due to bandwidth issues over the hotels wireless connection. Would you like me to switch to the 12G network for this app today?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“You are welcome. I also took the liberty of moving 2 appointments that came in during the last 20 minutes to later in the week to better accomodate them.”
If all of this seems too far fetched, realize that the majority of what I have outlined above is available in some form or fashion today. Making it all work together wouldn’t take much but some leadership from a few tool vendors and an opening of the Siri APIs to the hordes of developers in the crowd who are chomping at the bit to do something with it.
Service Desk tools like Zendesk, Service-Now.com, and Hornbill already have a lot of the community support, ability to create tickets from a variety of sources and powerful “Social” features. Companies like flowdock provides activity stream aggregation for a large number of apps that are as easy as configuring a plugin, or sending a notification. Tropo, provides the ability to add SMS, Phone, email and text to speech support to almost any app wth 2-3 lines of code.
Siri can already do almost anything your phone could already do for you just by asking it.
So tell me, what is limiting us from living a future like this? I dare say only our own notions about what is possible.