Support Interaction Optimization (SIO) Takes on the Changing Face of Customer Service

Feb 09, 2015

Today’s sophisticated consumer and increasingly complex products and services have put a strain on technical support personnel who are on the front lines of providing customer service. New tools are required to handle these changes, and Support Interaction Optimization (SIO) represents an important development in answering that requirement.

The changes didn’t happen overnight. While call centers have been around since the early 60’s in one form or another, modern call centers took off in the 80’s, morphing into what we now call contact centers. The first thirty or so years of modern contact centers focused on adding new features and finding ways to improve customer service while reducing costs. That aspect certainly hasn’t changed, but the drivers behind new developments in contact center technology and best practices, and the tools required to help customers, have changed dramatically. It's no longer about just figuring out how to improve agent performance, add new channels, and provide better routing, reporting and analytics. The last five years has seen a sea change in our thinking about the very nature of customer service and how we deliver it.

The hallmark of this change was the application of technology to broaden how we serve customers. For instance, in much the same way that the ATM revolutionized brick and mortar banking, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) revolutionized access to every other conceivable business. Yet most of these developments were driven by providing additional functions more focused on issues such as agent compliance with scripts rather than on finding out what the customer really needed.

About ten years ago, things really changed. The industry was forced, by consumers themselves, to look at what customers wanted. In business and the contact center, this type of change started making itself known with the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend. As mobile devices began to proliferate and consumer adoption soared, people reacted by wanting to use their favorite type of mobile phone for work, rather than switching or carrying two or more. Businesses paid attention, changed their policies and adapted.

One of the ways businesses responded was by providing apps for those mobile devices. In the beginning, these were very basic apps that forced customers to click on a link to get to a business website. If they required customer service, they had to find the phone number of the business to call, and then dial that number themselves. Around 2012 the contact center industry responded by unveiling true mobile customer care applications, which made it easy to reach a company with click-to-call, and also allowed customers to do a lot of self-service right from the device. More changes occurred when the industry began to pay attention to consumers' amazingly fast-growing usage of social networks. As a result, we saw the emergence of social media as a customer care channel.

This led to one of the most important consumer trends impacting tech support: These connected, mobile and socially-aware customers like to attempt self-service before contacting a business.  They will talk to their friends and families, chat on social networks, search for information on the Web, or do research before buying goods and services. Only after they've tried to do it themselves will they call into the contact center. Accustomed to finding the answers themselves, at their own pace, this same group of customers now wants ready answers and fast resolution to problems.

By the time customers reach an agent, they are pretty educated as to what is wrong and have tried ways to troubleshoot the issue. This goes way beyond the increasingly sophisticated mobile devices that we all use; there are a plethora of other consumer devices that are growing in complexity. Cars with advanced telematics, complex entertainment systems, and a rapidly widening range of non-IT products connected to the Internet and each other to comprise the Internet of Things (IoT)…all require a higher level of customer support than ever before.

The confluence of these more educated consumers and complex goods and services has put a strain on those in customer support, particularly the agents who often are required to remotely access computing devices and phones to monitor usage, troubleshoot problems, configure applications, and transmit and install new and updated software.  Existing tools, such as those in the customer relationship management (CRM) and customer interaction management (CIM) arenas are no longer sufficient. It's a challenge to find, train and keep good agents who can do all of the above, provide them with quick access to information, and allow them to “push” links, documents or software to a customer, but all of these can be greatly eased with the adoption of SIO tools.

SIO comprises a set of applications and processes that enable contact centers and support organizations to more effectively resolve even the most complex customer support issues in a highly streamlined and efficient manner, while ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction and agent performance. It provides the right balance of live and self-service assistance while leveraging tools to smoothly guide agents through complex interactions. This set of solutions incorporates guided resolution integrated with knowledge bases and interactive analytics that suggest the right answers and solutions to support agents or directly to customers.  The breadth of SIO applications encompasses remote access, diagnostics and resolution, including the transmission and installation of fixes and new software. 

SIO allows companies to manage and solve complex issues in less time and with less expense by providing agents with step-by-step guidance.  Analytical tools built into SIO applications provide timely insights into agent behavior, support processes and product data.  These tools uncover which methods and techniques solve problems faster and more effectively.  They also check on agent compliance with guided resolution procedures, uncover process bottlenecks, pinpoint causes of average handle time (AHT) spikes, and detect product errors and malfunctions.  SIO, therefore, results in minimal escalations and fewer repeat calls, and can significantly reduce agent onboarding and training costs.

Key components of SIO solutions sets include:

  • Customer Self-Service – search capabilities, knowledge databases, virtual assistants and mobile apps. They can provide social media support through communities, provide specialized offer management, and solicit customer feedback.

  • Remote Support – allows customer support technicians to remotely access and control a customer’s device, with their permission of course, to execute diagnostics and implement fixes.

  • Guided Resolution – provides agents and end-users with optimized, step-by-step procedures for solving complex tech support problems

  • Analytics – provides detailed information about how well the guided procedures are working, with suggestions for fine-tuning, along with deep insights into agent-customer interactions and product-caused technical issues

Increasingly complex and interconnected products, along with changes in customer expectations about support, are likely to impact the support environment for some time. Companies that respond by providing their agents with the right tools to quickly resolve complex issues will have a major advantage over the competition. To get a more complete picture of the capabilities of SIO, download a copy of Frost & Sullivan’s recent white paper on SIO, “Support Interaction Optimization: Tackling Tech Complexity with Advanced Support Tools.”

Nancy Jamison


Nancy Jamison is a Principal Analyst within Customer Contact within the Digital Transformation group at Frost & Sullivan. She covers all aspects of customer contact including cloud and premise-based systems and applications in the core areas of inbound/outbound routing, IVR, Workforce Optimization, and recording and analytics, with a particular focus on peripheral and emerging areas that impact the Customer Experience. These include speech technologies, omni-channel customer care, Big Data, digital marketing, Back Office Workforce Optimization, and Support Interaction Optimization.

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