I would like to talk about a prediction I made in 2013. After all, I am an Industry Analyst, and I am expected to make predictions. This one was about Google Helpouts, a new service that allowed people to connect with experts on a wide variety of topics using Google’s video chat services. In most instances, you paid a certain price for a 15- or 30-min session. The tagline read: Real help from real people in real time. I used it on several occasions, particularly to validate the setup of certain home electronics and to ensure that I didn’t do more damage with my shoddy work. Anyways, my prediction was that this would be one of Google’s most successful services and that it would change how service and support would be delivered.

Helpouts ran into several issues. Not enough experts signed on. The categories were too broad, and it was difficult to really find help. And it was difficult to monetize. On the last one, people just started seeking help from another Google channel: YouTube, which had a much larger monetary opportunity. Fast forward eight years. Many organizations are now relying on visual support tools (Helpout-like) and technologies to offer remote service and support to their customers. Our team has recently written quite a lot on this topic (forward to end of blog). Remote customer support is not a new trend, but one that was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, companies are beginning to ask questions about the continued need for remote support once things return to normal. The question of monetization is a big one. On one hand, you have service providers that are charging their customers per field visit and see remote as a revenue roadblock. On the other, organizations see a field visit as the most expensive and least responsive medium of support and see remote as a panacea.

As a team, we (notice how I have made this a group prediction) believe that remote is here to stay and it will be vital for all organizations to inject remote support into their service delivery ecosystem. Remote support might not be the right service channel for all customers or for every service request, but it will be a filter through which an increasing proportion of work orders will be passed, either from remote triage, diagnosis, or resolution. It is essential that service leaders plan for a future that includes remote customer service. And in that, it is essential that service leaders identify how it is that they plan on monetizing their investment in remote support. For this, we currently see three primary paths:

1. Operational Efficiency

In this path, there might not be a direct revenue stream attributed to remote support, but the remote channel leads to trip and cost avoidance. A truck roll (or airplane flight) is expensive, and avoidance can lead to significant savings to the bottom line. For those businesses with a high level of contract coverage, avoiding unnecessary trips is a great way to improve service margins. For those who charge per trip, while there might be a short-term reduction in revenue from reduced trips, it’s worth considering the value of the extra capacity available to your field workforce. Are your technicians now able to visit and be more responsive to customers who really need their help? Or provide on-the-job support to colleagues who need assistance? Come to think of it, the added capacity is of benefit to the entire service organization as it can be costly to truly account for all the back-office work that goes into a field service visit. And this is extremely valuable, especially in those industries where finding new talent is incredibly difficult and expensive.

2. Covered by Contract

In industries such as high-tech equipment or medical devices and life sciences, remote support entitlements have been the norm for some years. With an eye on improving uptime, service organizations have relied heavily on remote support to quickly resolve issues without dispatch or to conduct enough triage to ensure that the dispatch that is made is the only one that is necessary. Therefore, service contracts might include a remote response time entitlement or indicate that certain service queries must proceed via a remote support channel. It’s worth noting that these remote support teams are now more likely to use live video to support their customers, but the workflow has generally stayed the same.

From a monetary perspective, there are several approaches that have been followed. In some cases, the customers with the highest level of coverage (Platinum, Titanium, Premier, etc.) have priority when it comes to response and support and all their requests are immediately routed to a remote support channel. They pay more for this level of support when purchasing a higher level of contract. As more contracts move towards a guarantee of uptime or output, the inclusion of remote support will be the norm. In other cases, customers can add remote support to their contracts for a certain fee to guarantee a faster level of response. And finally, we’ve seen some organizations offer their customers a discount on field-based work or parts if that service request was first routed through a remote triage channel. This combines the benefit of the first and third monetization options.

3. Pay-per-Session

This form is the most Helpout-esque where the customer pays for a block of time with a remote technical expert. It is a good option for those concerned about the cannibalization of revenue streams from reduced field visits. It is also desirable in those industries where customers are taking on a greater instance of self-repair and self-service and need the service organization’s support on highly technical matters or to validate the quality of work done. This also allows for the expansion of the remote channel into areas such as installation (hardware and software), training, inspections, and ongoing maintenance. Several organizations are even looking into this as a means to support remote preventive maintenance.

It is likely that most organizations will follow a mix of these monetization strategies for different customers. Some customers will always want onsite support and are willing to pay for it. Others might see an opportunity to leverage a blended approach that involves self-service, remote support, and onsite support, that reduces the cost and disruption of service and maintenance. As more customers become familiar with the experience of remote support during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that they will expect it in their future interactions. As suggested earlier, service leaders must be proactive in injecting remote support into their service delivery process. With further progress in remote monitoring technology, service leaders should also look the added uses of remote tools in delivering incremental value to customers and in supporting a more proactive service strategy.

As for my prediction of Helpouts. Google shuttered the service in 2015.

Other blogs on the topic of remote customer support.

ABOUT Sumair Dutta

Sumair Dutta is the director of digital transformation at ServiceMax. In his role, he works closely with ServiceMax customers to maximize the results from their business and digital transformation journeys. He works closely with leaders of service businesses to define and shape their service vision while working hand in hand with implementation teams to execute on established service plans. Sumair is a thought leader in the field service and service management spaces and has conducted numerous research projects in the areas of field service, customer support and business strategy. He brings more than 15 years of experience in studying, analyzing and guiding field service organizations, first at the Aberdeen Group and most recently as the chief customer officer at The Service Council.