The Future of Customer Support: What’s It Really Look Like?

In The Future of Customer Support is Social, Mobile, Video and Insourced, Vala Afshar, CMO and Chief Customer Officer at Enterasys Networks calls out some eye-popping social, mobile, and web statistics from a 2012 Internet trends report at

“Today, there are 2.4 billion Internet users worldwide with 1.1 billion smartphone subscribers. The amazing fact is that the 1 billion-plus smartphone users only represent 17 percent of the global mobile phone market. In addition, nearly 1 out of 3 adults in the U.S. have tablets. The report also showed that 13 percent of the worldwide internet traffic is mobile, versus 4 percent in 2010.”

Afshar also highlights “the explosive nature of social networking via mobile devices,” as reported in a 2012 Nielson and McKinsey research study.

Certainly, one would find no reason to argue against the validity of these trends. Any day at work, or any Saturday at the mall offers all the evidence you’d ever need for these facts to meet muster with the eyeball test. We see the ubiquitous adoption of mobile technology all around us every day.

What I question are the conclusions drawn about how these trends will affect customer service and support. Certainly, we already see social media being used to varying degrees of effectiveness today; however, I don’t necessarily agree with Afshar’s take on how this will evolve.

“But the future contact for customer service representatives will be a mobile, socially savvy customer who is likely to connect using a video social application, like Google+ hangouts, on a consumer tablet/smartphone…Social savvy service professionals who are well trained and able to engage with other subject matter experts — R&D, field, and professional service engineering — will be ready for this mobile and social revolution.”

While this sounds intriguing, and admittedly cool, my first thought was – what about everyone else? If 1.1 billion smart phone users constitute only 17% of the global mobile phone market, there are 5.3 billion other mobile phones out there today. With 6.4 billion total mobile users in the world today, and a comparatively small number at 2.4 billion Internet subscribers; the number of people likely to use mobile video applications for customer support is dwarfed by those likely to use voice support.

And remember, there is one thing every mobile phone user—smartphone or dumbphone—has in common. THEY ALL HAVE A PHONE!

The fundamental truth about every customer support experience is that the sooner it’s over, the better. Quick, accurate answers are what every customer wants; regardless of support channel.

In order to provide an effective video chat support channel, companies would need a much stronger skill set to support face-to-face communications. For me, this is all an issue of back-to-basics. Make it easy for customers to get in touch, solve their problems as quickly as possible, and invest in the systems supporting your customer support processes.

Instead of spending money on video chat agent skill sets, additional bandwidth, and hardware; hire additional resources to update and maintain your knowledge base. Focus on keeping information fresh and relevant. A “mobile, socially savvy customer” will have no trouble navigating your self-service center and will love it when they the right answer without a lot of effort. Additionally, phone and text chat agents will have a stronger knowledge base to support their own customer activities.

Is there room for mobile video chat in customer service and support? Certainly. But the more important question is why? Does the format somehow solve any of the existing issues in customer support? Perhaps face-to-face chat adds a personal element not available in today’s customer support environment. If such a support channel also presents a great opportunity to deliver better, more effective customer support, then I’m all for it.

But the tools underpinning any support channel must be robust and well attended. No matter how your customers choose to get in touch, you must have great tools to support those customer experiences. And the core of any great customer experience is a satisfactory outcome. Whether it’s a real, live person smiling back from my tablet, or a dour phone agent from parts unknown; a good experience relies first and foremost on whether the individual gets the job done.


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