Friday, November 8, 2013

The More Connected Our Cars, The More Connected Our Contact Centers May Become

By Brian Crounse
Last week, I attended and presented at a session of SOCAP’s Automotive Summit in Scottsdale, AZ. This event focuses on automotive contact center and customer support operations. In the session I attended, we discussed drivers of near-term (the next 1-2 years) customer contact volume and subsequent contact center resource requirements. One data point that we brought to the group, from our own Customer-Facing Contact Center Focus Day this past June, is that several OEMs have significant contact volumes pertaining to telematics, navigation systems, and, in particular, assistance with pairing phones to cars’ infotainment systems. Another OEM participant shared their trends in infotainment-related contacts (a steep increase in recent months), and noted that these calls tend to take much longer to handle than other call types. This finding was confirmed by another guest speaker whose business is in consumer electronics support. Another participant mentioned that customers can get particularly emotional about phone-pairing issues - it’s really frustrating when you phone won’t talk to your car!

My takeaway was that figuring out how to efficiently and effectively help these customers—particularly those with phone issues—should be a top priority for automotive OEMs. These contacts will be a key driver of cost and customer satisfaction.

As luck would have it, the night after I returned home from this event, I realized that my new Netgear wireless router was actually slower than the ancient one it had replaced. Being someone who used to be good at figuring out consumer electronics, I first tried self-serve help via Google. No luck. I then tried, and got a “website under repair” message.

Blood pressure increasing.

Next up, I tried Netgear’s live support chat. I know that live chat support is relatively new in the automotive space, so I was curious to have this experience. What I found: no agents available; don’t close this window; don’t go anywhere.

Blood pressure increasing further.

But at least I was free to zoom around the house and put kids in bed, as long as I didn’t forget to swing by the computer from time to time. Eventually, success. After entering my router’s serial number, my passport number, and my first-born’s social security number, I got through to a person:
Joseph: Hi, my name is Joseph, with Expert ID xxxxx. How can I assist you today?
We walked through the script to debug my router. Thankfully, this was clearly more structured than reboot and pray. After around half an hour (including a few instances where I had to step away to put kids back in bed; thankfully the chat never dropped), we finally found the magic setting that, when changed, increased the router’s throughput 20x. Success! Despite my initial frustrations, I really felt better at this point.
Joseph: Anyways, upon closing this case, you will receive a survey via e-mail. Please help Netgear improve our products and services by taking a few minutes to tell us about your experience today. Okay?
One advantage we have with our contact centers is that it’s much harder for agents to game the surveys than, say, service advisors. As the survey was mercifully short, I was happy to provide feedback. I gave Netgear mixed marks on my overall experience (I was still sore about the long wait time), but gave my agent high marks, in both the skill and empathy categories (that’s another finding from our Focus Day—most of us ask about agent performance, but we all do it in different and hard-to-compare manners!).

The Bottom Line

My findings from this experience are:

General observations:
  • Yes, consumer electronics calls—and this includes automotive infotainment support—do take a long time to successfully complete. Our chat took at least half an hour and 1,500 words. All this, for support on a $50 router.
  • Yes, consumers do get emotional over these issues, myself included.
What worked:
  • The chat never dropped, even when I disappeared for a few minutes without explanation— an inadvertent drop would have sent me over the edge.
  • My agent established credibility—even if Joseph was simply following a debug script, the steps we took suggested to me that we might actually find a solution.
  • No “on hold”. Responses from my agent never took too long. This speediness helped offset my frustration with the initially long wait.
  • We found a solution. Of course this is everyone’s objective; success went a long way (but not all the way) toward satisfying me.
What didn’t work:
  • The downed support page. It’s up at the time of this writing, so maybe I just had bad luck.
  • Too much data entry up front. I realize the agents can act more quickly if they have info about my equipment up front, but having to enter a lot of info, after a long wait, with no gratification, was slightly vexing.
  • The long wait for a chat agent. I hated this. Some contact centers (airlines, in my experience) will call you back if there’s a long wait time. I love this. For chat, I would have loved the option of a text message when the wait time was down under a couple minutes.
The Bottom, Bottom Line

I’m only a sample size of one, but I really want two things from customer support:
  • A successful resolution. No surprise there.
  • Even if the problem is complex, minimal time lost due to waiting. If I have to wait, I want to be told how long, and/or get called back. Having reviewed metrics and survey instruments for a number of customer contact centers, this is one area where I think we don’t place enough emphasis.

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