Forever Dependent: The Human, Technology, and Support Love Triangle


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An evolutionary process, whether in nature or technology, is the transformation and gradual growth from something relatively simple into something more complex.

Of course, those two aforementioned examples—nature and technology—are intertwined. And they have been since the days when homo sapiens first started using tools.

There are a lot of theories about where we as a species are headed: One theory says we will eventually become indistinguishable from those very tools, or technology (maybe one day we will all have chips in our brains!) But there are a lot of steps before we reach that point, if it ever does pan out to be more than just science fiction.

But no matter how society progresses, the one thing that is clear is that we will always need help. We aren't perfect, and our tools certainly aren't perfect. Therefore, we will always require support, especially as we are learning new tools and tech. And the ideas behind optimizing support is ever-evolving too.

As we live in a dynamic world, exploring the dynamism of support with the technology can produce more informed insights into the way forward for both. A good avenue for extracting these insights is the evolution of communication through modern technology.

Since telephone landlines started becoming household items, customer support hasn't been too far behind. Customers could call stores directly to inquire about issues they were experiencing, and eventually call centers started popping up. The pains of calling phone support were quickly realized, though, as agents could only help one customer at a time and call centers were systematically understaffed. Long queues and that dreaded elevator music became synonymous with customer service phone numbers, not to mention the irony accompanying the oft-repeated line "your call is important to us."

Luckily, personal computers and the internet soon started to take over, and a new way of communicating evolved: email. For both individuals and businesses alike, email became a way to access and communicate with hundreds (if not thousands) of people all over the world at once.

Likewise, support agents were no longer limited to one conversation at a time. They could respond to hundreds more inquiries and achieve new levels of efficiency. But responding to that 100th person certainly took longer, and that customer on the other end still had to wait. And sometimes, that person had to wait awhile and was not happy about it.

Meanwhile, technology kept improving, and along with higher bandwidth, the speed and ease of the internet have led to a whole new world of possibilities. The barrier to entry for many industries fell due to the accessibility of the internet, thus requiring new competitive advantages for businesses to excel.

So, companies started to see the value in prioritizing customer service as a way to get ahead.

Thus, live chat was born, allowing for quicker communication with companies. People could now use their computers and multitask in different browsers while doing so.

In theory, the concept of live chat is great. But many companies don't have the resources to have enough agents online for a one-to-one ratio. Therefore, they cannot instantly respond to all the users who start a chat. Similar to phone wait times, there are typically queues for chat as well.

Another problem is that web browsers on cell phones are clunky and make it difficult to multitask.

But, at the same time, we're officially in a mobile-first world. The mobile-first world means that we need support designed and geared purely for mobile. That means using apps instead of web browsers.

Messaging apps are the latest technology, and it's the next step in the natural evolution of support. But there is also an opportunity here to expand beyond messaging and get ahead of the tech.

To do so, we need to think of in-app support as not just an evolutionary step, but a separate entity altogether.

So how is in-app support different? It's partly about the user experience, but also about the flood of information available that allows for an entirely different support process. Mobile apps can integrate platforms like Helpshift, that collect user data, and that is crucial because they deliver context along with accurate, actionable insights.

Having such accurate and actionable insights allows companies to segment users based on categories, like usage and loyalty, and prioritize them and their service experiences accordingly. That might not sound like a big deal, but it opens up so many possibilities for efficiency and expansion.

One huge benefit of smart, real-time segmentation is that it allows for the best overall experience. Many companies simply don't have the resources to treat everyone the same, and they shouldn't, because of the wide range of customer profiles, from bargain-hunters to high-rollers. Being able to give exceptional service to some raises the bar for everyone because, through this efficiency, the business can grow and improve and bring more people into that VIP group.

Another key component that sets messaging apart is that there is no expectation of an instant response (unlike live chat); users are perfectly content waiting a short while, just as if they were waiting for a text response from their friends. This allows for a leaner support team while still exceeding customer expectations.

If you are able to accommodate live messaging, that's great too, but having the option to streamline, prioritize, and still excel opens up so many opportunities for growth.

What does this mean for the future?

Smart segmentation is a means to an end, as is the seamless integration between the person, technology, and support for that technology. The end, if you will, is a perfect user experience where the user can take advantage of technology so effortlessly that there are essentially no friction points before reaching the desired outcome. This experience should be so natural that it almost becomes invisible and blends into the background.

Cue ambient computing.

When we reach that point, that integration, we will then be leading the technology forward and enter the era of ambient intelligence. We are well on the way already. The idea is that computers, like Amazon's Alexa, will exist in the background of our lives. We'll be able to effortlessly communicate our wants and needs, and the support infrastructure will be built right in. Doesn't that sound familiar?


Abinash Tripathy is co-founder and CEO of HelpShift.


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Posted May 26, 2017