Self-Service or Live Support? It’s Not a Question of Either/Or, It’s When and How

While there is a growing trend toward self-service technical support, the nature of technology innovation and consumer adoption means self-service will never be able to stand alone as a definitive support solution. Why? Companies are developing products at such a frenzied pace that hapless consumers often become involuntary beta-testers, discovering problems that engineers overlooked in the development process.

The Internet of Things (IoT), especially the sub-domain called smart home automation, is one of the places where this challenge is most keenly felt. Smart home systems might be the hottest thing on the market right now, but consumers are baffled by the complexities of getting their new gadgets up and running. To meet the promise of this technology, all of these devices need to communicate with each other, which means they need to be integrated with other systems from different manufacturers. That usually means that some level of professional support will also be required.

When it comes to a question of self-service support or live support, it's not a question of either/or, it's a question of when and how.

A Balanced Approach

Consumers don't always know when or how to reach out for help. Early adopters (think technology geeks) like to think that they can figure things out on their own and avoid asking for help. On the other end of the spectrum, mainstream consumers have little patience or desire to try to fix something on their own. They are more likely to turn to tech support when self-service options could have quickly and easily guided them to resolution. Worse yet, they might just return the product because that's easier than figuring out how to set it up.

Instead of making the customer figure out which steps to take, the support function should anticipate when customers actually need live, professional assistance and when they can do it themselves. The key is better information and insights on each customer via intelligent, contextual support. Having the data necessary to enable this and a system that can act on it are critical elements in designing a more intelligent and context-sensitive support strategy.

Truly intelligent contextual support provides step-by-step guidance to both users and support agents, taking into account the history of prior interactions, preferences expressed by the consumer, and the current state of the user's devices and networks.

Bridging the Connected World

The smart home demands this kind of integrated support strategy. Current owners as well as potential buyers already find the technology too complex. According to recent data, one out of three smart home systems owners struggle with the complexity of installing and integrating their connected systems. And while they prefer to install devices or fix issues on their own, they also want guided access and professional assistance at the ready. Additional research shows that one in three connected consumers prefer the flexibility of having both support options available.

Companies that want to deliver on the promise of the smart home need to tackle head on the complexity of resolving issues and the current lack of adequate customer support at the installation stage and beyond. Delivering the right support strategy inspires brand loyalty, and not delivering it threatens wider consumer IoT adoption.

Striking the Balance

The right technology should provide intuitive self-support and anticipate the need for live support. Once human help gets involved, the technology should supply bread crumbs to inform agents of the steps already taken, along with corresponding device and user data. This balanced support strategy optimizes the live interaction to build satisfaction and enable the upsell of products or services.

Every customer is different and has different tech support needs. Developing an intelligent, contextual support strategy addresses the diversity in your customer base and, in the end, delivers better customer service, brand loyalty, and the potential to increase sales.

Lee Gruenfeld is vice president of strategic initiatives at