Technology Support Flourishes Amid Crisis

The technology support industry has truly been tested with the current pandemic, but I am happy to say that, in general, technology companies have been able to successfully move thousands of support employees to work from home and increase virtual engagement with customers. In fact, the data we are collecting shows that not only have the challenges of the last couple of months been successfully met, in many ways, support is flourishing amid the crisis. With all the gloom and doom in the news, I wanted to share some data showing how resilient this industry has proven itself to be.

I'm hearing amazing stories every day. One of my favorite is from CSS, a global service provider that successfully transitioned 7,000 call center employees across the globe, with a large population in India and the Philippines, to work from home within 48 hours with virtually no drop in service levels. And according to the data TSIA has collected as part of our Rapid Research Response initiative, this is the rule more than the exception, as evidenced by the following statistics:

  • A total of 61 percent of companies said that the impact of transitioning support employees to work remotely has been minimal; 34 percent said there was a slight impact. Only 4 percent reported a significant impact to service levels, and most of these impacts were short term as work-at-home tools and processes were formalized.
  • A total of 86 percent of companies report that their support teams have been briefed on how to communicate their companies' responses to COVID-19 to customers. If you are in the remaining 14 percent, take some time TODAY to write up some FAQs for support employees to have at their fingertips in case customers are asking about impacts and guidelines.
  • A total of 79 percent of support organizations report they have recommunicated or renegotiated service level agreements (SLAs) on their ability to respond to customer requests. And in most cases, this was committing to even more challenging SLAs. Demonstrating to customers that you are there for them when times are tough is a critical way to build long-term profitable relationships.

All the hand-wringing by some firms at having employees working from home seems to have been misplaced anxiety. Having worked from home myself since 2003, I am always confused why executives are so fearful of remote employees, and these fears seem more often grounded in the desire to monitor and control employees rather than to enable their success. So what has been the impact of support suddenly moving to a work from home model?

Source: TSIA Rapid Research Response Poll, May 2020

As seen in this data, 44 percent of companies says they are having no internal challenges with remote workforces. The biggest challenge, faced by 33 percent of companies, is working remotely makes peer communication and networking more difficult. If your support organization has not invested in knowledge management and collaborative support processes, you are probably dealing with more bumps in the road than other firms. As I have been writing and speaking about for years, the single biggest determinant of a successful knowledge program is a strong culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration. If your company doesn't embrace and embody a collaborative culture, your employees are probably struggling working from home just as much as they were in the office. Working remotely is not creating new problems, it is just bringing ongoing issues to light.

How has remote working impacted productivity? More than half of companies, 56 percent, reported no impact at all, while a quarter of companies, 26 percent, said productivity is actually higher with employees working from home. Only 18 percent said employees were less productive at home.

What about impacts to customer satisfaction? The good news is that CSAT is not suffering due to employees working from home. Two thirds of companies, 66 percent, said CSAT is the same now as it was before the crisis began, and 34 percent reported that CSAT is actually trending up. No companies reported lower CSAT as a result of the pandemic and remote employees.

The bottom line is that 73 percent of companies say that they expect an increase in remote workers after the crisis subsides. We've proven it works, it doesn't impact productivity or CSAT, and there are other benefits including positive impacts to the environment and reducing carbon footprints. And while some parts of the country might not have the gridlocked traffic that has become the norm here in Silicon Valley, most of my friends are thrilled not to spend one to two hours a day commuting and hope they have the option to continue working from home permanently.

More than half of companies, 57 percent, say they are investing in new capabilities to better delivery support remotely. As I wrote about last month, some of this is for employees, but a bigger topic is how to better enable virtual customer experiences. Retail companies, from consumer companies like Revlon to high-end luxury companies like Tom Ford and Louis Vuitton, quickly began offering video-enabled personal shopping sessions. Customers are rapidly adopting these options, and now they expect other companies, including B2B companies, to offer similar capabilities.

TSIA's 2020 Channel Preference Quick Poll conducted in January found that customer preferences for digital channels are rising. Following are a few data points:

  • 53 percent of customers, and 60 percent of Gen Z, say they preferred or occasionally used SMS text for product support.
  • 47 percent of customers overall and 54 percent of millennials say they preferred or occasionally used video chat for product support.
  • 56 percent of customers, including 65 percent of millennials and 68 percent of Gen Z, say they preferred or occasionally used WhatsApp for product support.
  • 51 percent of customers, including 65 percent of millennials and 62 percent of Gen Z, say they preferred or occasionally used Instagram for product support.

So while support organizations might be flourishing in the current crisis environment, that doesn't mean that transformation is complete. I'm hoping that spending and adoption of more sophisticated digital capabilities for both employees and customers will dramatically increase in 2020 and 2021.

While no one likes spending time doing business continuity and crisis planning, clearly support organizations were better prepared than many departments, and in general, are handling the daily challenges with grace. My hat goes off to all of the support executives, mid-level management, and front-line workers who have risen to the challenge and shown that their commitment to customers is real. Keep up the good work!<

John Ragsdale is a distinguished researcher and vice president of technology research at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). He can be reached at