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How Should Technical Support Work In IoT?

Oct 12, 2015 7:30:00 AM

Industrial Internet Radically Changes The Role of Technical Support

Industrial Internet Shifts the Paradigm

Back in the early Nineties I bought a top-brand scanner, which back then cost as much as a small car. The machine broke after a few weeks, making a loud rattling noise. I called support saying that this new scanner is clearly, audibly broken. I was transferred to second level support. I again conveyed the symptoms and reiterated that the unit needs to be replaced. The employee went through her troubleshooting flowchart, and finally asked me to place the handset of my (landline) phone next to the unit and scan. She listened to the rattle and stated “OK, it is broken.” This took a long time. What followed went smoothly with a next day replacement delivery. Logistics was already great back then. The troubleshooting, on the other hand, was indeed a bit technology assisted -  she used audio analysis.

Think about the change technical support has experienced in the last 20 years! Also imagine the challenges it faces in today's digital services economy. How should it work?

Well, for one it's less mistake prone these days. Less personal in positive ways. Tech support is now loaded with remote technologies. Guesswork is out of the game. The paradigm has shifted in troubleshooting. Supporting the products in the field has been one of the earliest and most advanced utilizers of what today is called the Internet of Things.

Tech Support IoT

Global Competition for Customer Loyalty

Simultaneously with the advancement in remote technologies, the overall technical development has brought competition in product businesses technically to par. Rivalry today is about customer relationships, not products. It is not a game of features, it is about the overall experience.

Technical support is one of the most central elements of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Internet of Things assisted troubleshooting is faster. The time saved is worth its weight in gold in customer relationships. Professionals finally have the time to have an outside–in perspective.

Okay, here is what has happened. I’ll check what we have with the customer, so that I can prioritize.

Of course prioritization has always taken place, but when troubleshooting was slow everything was late anyway in the eyes of the customer.

I thus claim that looking at the customer perspective will continue to increase. The possibility to proactively react has massive potential. This will move technical supporting functions one step ahead of the customer. This can and should be used for competitive advantage.

Apply Intelligent Automation 

Competitive advantage, however,  is not a direct outcome of IoT. Others use it too. Harnessing the technology for these benefits is a lot of work. A great deal of effort has to be put into the correct signal to noise ratio. If customers notice 1/10 symptoms, IoT enabled analytics will notice 9/10. Are all to be analyzed? No. The intelligent automation of business processes is required or else support will be flooded, returning it to square one in the amount of troubleshooting work but in a different way.

What's required to move forward in customer centric support in our new era?

The technical support engineer will need intelligent automation to pass wise judgement. Tickets need to automatically flow to the support system – enriched with relevant customer information!

Human interaction is called for only when needed. Ideally, an engineer can view customer revenues, past problems, open opportunities, customer satisfaction levels and SLAs in a glimpse. With this information the engineer can make the best decisions on how to approach the customers, and how to prioritize.

A critical category symptom from customer with a tight SLA is to take priority over an interesting case with a "no SLA customer." A symptom from a customer’s single (first) unit is potentially more important than a single symptom from a fleet of 1000 units as the older customer is already loyal, while the other is in a nurturing phase.

Oddly – with increased automation – I believe that social skills combined with business perspective will be more important for the people within the function. When support proactively performs technical tasks assisted by automation, nobody may even notice it. Things just work. But what if you periodically give the customer a call?

"I have seen these symptoms lately, all of which we were able to sort out without affecting your production. However, I do believe we could eliminate the arising problems and create new value by upgrading the following…”  

By doing this you manifest your worth and bring in new business.

Technical support will change. Management processes, staff competences and support’s role within the company will change. The tools and processes will need to talk to each other. Intelligent automation is needed between tools.

Monetize! Support Is Part of the Business

Back in the day companies provided free of charge support to customers. Once you bought a product you could count on a free lifetime presence. This no longer is the case. Companies look into making money on supporting customers one way or another.

Related systems must be tightly integrated to your monetizing machines. Depending on your support model you may charge, for example, based on time, number of events, or reaction time – often bundled within a quota in a frame agreement. This activity needs to be observed – and special attention is to be put on not dropping billable work between the cracks.

Billing data has to be gathered based on observations rather than reporting - as far as possible. This requires intelligent connections between the IoT platform, support systems and back office functionality.

Also, tools integration has to be preceded by process development.

If you are interested in repositioning technical support in connection with information flows, IoT and IT tools, please watch my ‘Black Box’ method video. Black Box development method has become a very practical tool for me. I would like to share it with you!



Janne Kivilaakso
Written by Janne Kivilaakso

VP of Solution Consulting Janne writes about business monetization, process automation, service business, industrial Internet, digitalization and business IT.

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