Everyone’s home. What’s next?
The video service is down. My gaming console won’t connect. I can’t get online. These days, I spend an hour or two each day acting as tech support for everyone in my home. No doubt, millions of others find themselves in the same boat. We’ve all become unwitting participants in a mass social experiment: to stay safe, we need to stay home. But what does that mean for the things we rely on to keep us working, informed and entertained?
Growing dependence on home tech
For the past few years here at Sweepr we’ve been working at exploring the best ways to support our increasingly connected homes. In recent weeks, technology trends that we had been watching slowly emerge within our industry are becoming relevant at warp speed. It’s like someone has taken the clock and started moving the hands forward really quickly: we’re seeing two years’ worth of acceleration in a matter of weeks.
"We’re seeing two years’ worth of acceleration in a matter of weeks"
As people stay closer to home, they increase their dependency on the technical stability of their homes. It means the implications of an outage, or of not knowing how to do something, or not being able to achieve what they want to, are now much bigger than they used to be. They used to be inconvenient. Now they’re making headlines.
Help is at hand
When it comes to getting connected, the first consideration for most of us is: do I have enough “oomph”? Is there enough capacity there for what I want to do? Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen outages and capacity issues across all sorts of internet-based services (and even concerns that we might actually break the internet).
It’s clear that our appetite for connected services and for increased network capability continues to grow. But then what? You only need open Twitter to see how frustrated customers get when things don’t work. When systems fail us, we reach for help and suddenly see that while there has been this incredible acceleration in technology (and acceleration in the complexity of that technology), we aren’t doing anything to help people in a similarly sophisticated way when it comes to support.
No matter how slick or impressive the service, when things go wrong, if you can’t easily fix it by looking online, or interacting with a chatbot, or whatever, you quickly get thrown into a very antiquated model for getting help: you have to find a phone number, call and wait to talk to a person, who may or may not be able to resolve your issue. It can be exhausting and frustrating. More so, because we tried and failed. And with (necessary) social distancing at call centers and more people than ever before relying on home networks, those wait times have become even longer.
Light is being shone on this problem now, but it’s not a new or temporary issue. There’s a need for a much more robust, responsive support model that scales effortlessly, that can help with many things. It’s what we’ve been making here at Sweepr, which is why I believe what we’re seeing now is part of deeper, more structural changes that were already coming our way.
"Internet Service Providers can’t suddenly put more fiber into the ground, but they can be a good partner to their customers"
Internet Service Providers can’t suddenly put more fiber into the ground, but they can be a good partner to their customers. They can help customers become aware of their problems and of what they can do to improve their own situation. They can help explain why it’s not feasible to watch Netflix in a room where the WiFi signal is weak. But what represents a good technology partnership? It’s responsiveness, it’s availability, it’s someone who can take action. People want their providers to help them through their challenges with technology – whether it’s a capacity, prioritization or settings issue. When something’s not working, support shouldn’t be an hour and a half away, it should be there immediately.
To understand what needs to change and why, we need to understand why the current support model is so prevalent. Why do we use call centres? Because we believe that talking to a human is the quickest way to get our problems resolved. Why do we think that? Because the human has the systems to look into our homes, the power to make changes to things remotely in our homes and the communication skills to walk us through this in a way we’ll understand.
Self-serve support was meant to help ease the load on call centres. But with the best will in the world, most of the current generation of self-serve solutions out there are awful. So many of them – from chatbots to forums to troubleshooting pages, FAQs and knowledge bases – aren’t tailored for somebody who’s non-technical. You need an approach that’s appropriate for each customer’s technical competency levels, one that makes it easy for them to ask for help.
"There is a big gap between most of the self-serve options available now and what people actually want and need"
And when they do reach out, two things are important: firstly, that you have an empowered, informed system that can look at the technology and understand what’s wrong and, secondly, can actually change the technology where appropriate. But there is a big gap between most of the self-serve options available now and what people actually want and need.
The digital divide
This isn’t just important because it will make call centre wait times shorter and customers less frustrated. As more and more people interact with connected technologies, and more of these technologies become part of our homes and our day-to-day lives, we’re going to see an even bigger need to support non-technical customers. If we want to avoid a future of digital haves and have-nots, it’s crucial we find ways to support customers wherever they feel most comfortable engaging.
“If we want to avoid a future of digital haves and have-nots, it’s crucial we find ways to support customers wherever they feel most comfortable engaging”
In recent weeks we have seen how important technology is for keeping us from becoming isolated and lonely. It’s not fair that just because you haven’t been taught how to use something or there isn’t a good partnership model between you and your service provider that you can’t enjoy what modern technology has to offer.
Whether it’s making video calls, streaming movies, researching for a school project or being able to ask your smart speaker for the day’s news – good technology becomes an intrinsic part of your life and if it fails, you need a partner you can rely on to understand what you understand, and help accordingly.
This article is part of a mini-series called ‘Everybody's at home’, exploring how we experience our connected homes. Read the previous article 'Remotely Together' here.