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The anonymous techie

By 7th Dec 2016Jan 19th, 2017No Comments

We’ve all been there: the PC starts giving hassles and – after fiddling with it for ages – we succumb and get hold of tech support. Except tech support is increasingly a faceless, first-name-only person who wants to take control of your machine.

The trend towards online technological support is growing as the cloud becomes more pervasive and disruptive.

This shift means companies that provide software – and, increasingly, other support – need to make the change, and make it now. But it also opens up a can of worms for those who make use of this support, especially when you have sensitive information on the PC that is being taken over.

Andrew McNair, head of global benchmarking at Dimension Data, says in the past three to four years, digital channels have steadily overtaken the traditional call centre as a point of contact. In South Africa, for example, the average organisation – such as a cellphone company – will offer nine different contact channels, which can range from e-mail to a call centre as well as peer-to-peer. “We forecast that contact centres will handle more digital transactions than phone calls by end of the year.”

Liron Segev, CEO of Swift Consulting, believes online chat support is great for two reasons. “Sometimes you want to speak to a human before you make a purchase, so it’s good to have that chat box available, especially when it’s time-sensitive, like when purchasing an airline ticket, hotel accommodation, or concert ticket – something where the price changes all the time.”

In addition, says Segev, chat support is also great if you have an issue with a product and want an answer immediately without having to phone and navigate the IVR menus or don’t want to send an e-mail with the question to a vague ‘info@’ e-mail address.

The people who do chat support, he says, are usually call-centre type of staff. “They have limited access to information and work off scripts and respond to most frequently asked questions.”

Dial a Nerd CEO Colin Thornton adds that most IT support companies now offer online tech support, and some companies only offer this sort of assistance. He adds less time is wasted traveling or setting up the repair process; a support engineer simply logs on and immediately starts working. In addition, an engineer can often work on multiple machines at the same time. “It’s not unusual for good remote technicians to work on three or four machines at once.”

Segev says it makes sense for an enterprise to use online tech support, but notes that the techie’s ability is limited. “It makes sense, as it offers customers a way to engage with the enterprise. Usually if the company is large enough, the support chat staff is available 24 hours a day, as it uses staff around the world. So regardless of your local time, there is someone to answer your question.”

Thornton says it makes sense for enterprises to go this route, but usually a combination of on-site and online support works best. He adds Dial a Nerd solves about 70% of problems remotely.

IDC analyst Jon Tullett notes tech support is a giant pain in every respect, notably cost and human resources. “Outsourcing manages that pain, if you do it right. It’s not usually about pure cost, though; that’s a mistake that happens in many outsourcing spheres.”

McNair says, in some instances, it’s more cost-effective to provide tech support via an online chat, but it’s not always the case. He says there are economies of scale to be gained in blending different transaction types when a query is not overly complicated.

He says companies are unlikely to lose their call centre support altogether, and that planning is rather a question of the right mix for the customers’ needs. This, he says, will be based on analysing the interaction mix, and see if there is value to be added.

For example, says McNair, an automated system will work well if people want to check their bank balances, and the choice is about recognising customer choice; that it will differ often by age, and also by transaction type.

Call centres, for example, are more closely regulated and controlled than online interaction, and have been around for substantially longer. Digital channels are relatively new on the scene, and many of them are still evolving, says McNair.

Growing phenomenon
As the Internet of Things becomes more pervasive, the future will be dominated by proactive and more personalised automation online tech support, says McNair. Organisations need to now rapidly expand their channels because it will be at least five years before they get it right, he notes.

In addition, says McNair, call centres have to move to fit in with this evolution. He notes that Merchants – a Dimension Data unit – is already doing this, with their capability now expanded to offer a full spectrum of phone, assisted digital and full automation customer experience (CX) services.

Tullett notes tech is rapidly becoming support-light, adding that the cloud is very disruptive in this space, particularly in the low end, but that’s not a bad thing. “And there’s still a long way to go; look at the push-back Microsoft got for building telemetry into Windows 10. It was seen as an invasion of privacy, even if it was mainly done for product improvement.”

Yet, using online support is not without its risks.

Industry veteran Adrian Schofield says the crunch lies in when you pass your PC over to an anonymous techie. “I would not hand over control of my device to some faceless person. I would hand it over to an employee of a trusted service provider, where there exists an enforceable agreement covering service levels, data integrity and costs.”

Thornton adds data integrity is a big issue when handing over control of a PC. “You are often watching what the person is doing on your computer so you can oversee the work and ensure privacy. But a technician meaning no good could leave the session open and continue to access your computer when you aren’t aware of it.”

Using online support can be high-risk, says Tullett, and you need to know who you’re dealing with. “The tech-support scammers are the inevitable criminal face of this sort of problem, but there are lots of other issues, from malicious activity (on either side) to accidental loss by inexperienced agents.”

Sadly, adds Tullett, poor providers can get away with promoting cheap service and churning over dissatisfied customers quickly, which can put people off outsourced support entirely. In addition, the people filling this role are often relatively junior, and this is their first step into an IT career. “It can be a good learning environment, especially if there are clients with a mix of technologies being supported.”

Segev notes that when it comes to data integrity, reputable companies will always use software they required you to activate, and then you’ll have to provide a code to the operator, who is trying to help. “The advantage is that, once you disconnect, they cannot get access to your computer anymore.”

Segev says he would advise people to keep an eye on the screen and ask the online techie to explain what they are doing as they do it. “This lets them know you are watching and they should be able to simply talk through the process, having done this thousands of times.”

In addition, users should uninstall the app that allows remote access when they are done. “There is no reason to have it, and if you need their help again, then you install it again,” says Segev.

This Article originally appeared on Brainstorm

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