Product support is a commodity service. At least, that is what has been considered—until now. Things have changed! Product support, once ridiculed for its insignificance, is now being seen under a different light. The changes so far have been largely on the back-end of the service, with companies focused on making operations more efficient and cost-friendly. Seldom has there been a case to give the customer center a makeover. There is one now, and it’s a strong one
Customer Services are gradually transforming into Solution Centers, providing 360° solution to the customer. Once a provider of basic Customer Services, these Centers are now going beyond to become an extension of the product itself. Solution Centers are staffed by product specialists who are the subject matter experts in that domain, trained in the particular products. They have a thorough knowledge of the product as well as a keen understanding of how customers interact with the product.
How is a Solutions Center different from a Service Center?
This distinction has been triggered because the fundamental nature of product has undergone a change. Digitalization has altered the product into a service to be delivered and consumed online. There are multiple tools and services offered by the same company and from the interplay of these, holistic service emerges as a solution. It might become a bit complicated to comprehend even for the tech-savvy. For example, students of Higher Education, trying to figure out their way through myriad digital learning tools, would need to configure their product, connect to the right set of instructors and peers, and select relevant and effective training material. This is beyond traditional services of product troubleshooting, login issues, infrastructure issues, and so on. Solving user issues in the digital world requires a new mindset, which is the domain mindset. Agents are needed to not just know the product inside-out but also understand the usage of the product in the context of the user.
This change is also different from sales. The Solution Center people are not selling—though selling can be taken as by-product on account of strong customer retention. This new approach is different from the cross-selling and up-selling customer lifecycle targets, which usually customer centers have. This is different from the issue handling approach too. These are product experts, trained and skilled in all products they are supporting and also possess a strong customer service streak. Much like the upscale hotel concierge service desk who specialize in offering premium services. Imagine such a service desk operating in any industry that is providing online services. The result is a premium support services desk in real sense.
Activities performed by a Solutions Center:
While the solution centers are evolving, it is observed that more than 50% of issues handled by the product SMEs are around product functionality, inter product usage, exploring products, and learning about the products. Solution centers also conduct formal training sessions for the end users primarily through webinars or videos. Inter-user issues dealing with data transfer or connectivity from one user to another also form a significant 10% of the total activities.
Solution Center App: Quite different from Customer Services, Solution Centers have separate access, usually through an application to be accessed through a mobile device. Solution Centers can also be accessed through phone call, but the app usually provides all channel access including calling. The apps can be built using a messenger-based application where the Solution Centers can enable video chats, sharing of the screen besides the usual chat, and mail options. Such apps have fully built FAQ capability with videos of most popular issues posted. Users can also search for cases from other users that may be similar to theirs.
Monetization: Solution Centers can be power-packed in terms of the value they provide to the end users, tempting companies to put a chargeable model on the service. Subscription-based model is the most popular, where users are also able to gift subscriptions to their friends and families through gift cards. Such a digital model itself positions Solution Centers on a level very different from the Customer Services.
Product feedback and innovation: One distinguishing feature of Solution Centers is the extensive use of data. Since Solution Centers are primary customer contact sources, they can be used to capture both qualitative and quantitative data about the customer. All interactions are recorded and entered into a system in a structured format, converting clues given by user about the product into a measurable source. Unstructured feed is also captured. The customer analytics team then combines this data with other customers’ data to generate insights that are used as inputs by both the sales and product teams. The product SMEs can contribute hugely to product innovation and improvement by channeling the customer feedback through the analytics process. The data insights also help the SMEs to proactively reach out to the customers, with suggestions and tips to use the products in certain situations or with information about new released features.
With the growth of digital, companies are running a danger of reducing their customers to data and losing the human touch with their customers. Solutions Centers can be true enablers of the new digital model. Here, the solution SMEs act as partners to the customers, while keeping them engaged well beyond the completion of the sales process. If deployed well, it can become a customer retention tool, and a big differentiator as well.
Solution Centers help unlock the true value of the digital product for the customer and ensure that the products get deployed to yield the intended results.