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Let Your Tech Support Agents Use the Web

By Patrick / May 27, 2014

Our research shows that tech support agents are increasingly peeking outside the company’s knowledge base. That’s a good thing for their customers who face a growing range of technology problems.

Several months ago, some of our customers and partners in the communications industry allowed us to survey hundreds of their tech support agents about the ways they discover, use and share the knowledge they need to provide great technology support.

These were supposed to be routine surveys with few unexpected results—after all, these companies have well-structured tech support operations, and have made significant knowledge management investments. We expected their ever-evolving knowledge bases to help their agents quickly solve consumers’ problems; the vast majority should be well documented and handled swiftly.

You would think they’d only resort to Googling for those rare times when problems require extended research. And since new solutions are routinely added to their knowledge base, you would expect the need to search the web to remain minimal.
Well, you would be wrong.
Our survey results surprised everyone. The agents surveyed said they used the web to find information more than half of the time. In some cases even to handle issues that have long been documented in their knowledge base but are incomplete, or not up to date.

We also gathered interesting insight into how agents share new knowledge that they find. Support agents are helpful people by nature, so they are glad to share the solutions they find with their colleagues… and they do it often. However, most of the sharing happens via ephemeral channels: web chat, word-of-mouth, perhaps an email to a small distribution list. These sharing events only reach a few agents, and at a time when most agents receiving the information don’t need it, and information is not stored in a structured way. In our surveys, less than 10% said they “capture new knowledge by writing or modifying articles in the knowledge base”.

The agents surveyed said they used the web to find information more than half of the time.

This only perpetuates the shortcomings of internal knowledge bases for maintaining knowledge external to your organization. They may speed up calls, but for the growing number of multi-vendor and long tail technology problems, they can’t beat the sheer problem-solving power of the web.

Yet, while consumers’ technology environments become increasingly complex and agents need to broaden the scope of their support, some support centers discourage access to the open web. They do it for a number of good reasons, including security and legal concerns, but their main concern is often the fear of increasing call handle times due to agents spending too much time on researching and finding solutions on the open web.

How do the costs of longer handling times compare to the costs from lower first-call resolution rates? Our research so far highlights an increased focus on the first-call resolution metric leading to more agents leveraging the full power of the web, but the potential of increasing call handling times as a result still scares many support organizations.

Ultimately, solving more issues more often is one of the surest ways to improve customer experience, which in turn improves retention. This is why we want to focus on ways to deliver the benefits of accessing support knowledge on the open web, without the drawbacks.

Would you like to know how your agents gather knowledge to solve issues, and how they share the knowledge they find? We’d love to survey your team and let you know how you compare with others. If you’re interested, send me a quick note.