Leadership

Connecting with clients: Is it possible to provide personal support from afar?

William Jones has moved a time zone away from the rest of his office and that has forced him to think about the effect distance has on customer service. Is proximity the difference between being a colleague and a being a commodity?

I have moved a time zone away from the rest of my office and that has forced me to think about the effect distance has on customer service. Is proximity the difference between being a colleague and a being a commodity?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I have always thought that what most set me apart from other IT support pros was my aptitude for customer service. Certainly, I work hard to make sure that my technical knowledge remains up to snuff, but my philosophy has always been that clients are won and kept with the soft skills. That belief has served me well up to this point, but now I have placed myself outside the range of my usual methodology. My fiancée and I have undertaken a move to the East Coast of the United States, far from our Midwestern roots. Now I am faced with supporting my Chicago clients from several states away. I am finding the transition difficult, because I have come to realize that my customer service style is rooted in the desk-side visit; I am a face-to-face tech.

I am grateful the technology exists to facilitate remote support and troubleshooting. With solutions in place like VNC, Remote Desktop, and VPN access, it is trivial to log in to any machine on the network that needs troubleshooting or service. The difficulty for me right now does not stem from any limitations of the remote access tools that I have to use. The challenge I am facing is that I have to rebuild my service style from the ground up. How do I stay personally connected to my clients from 700 miles away?

When I was in the same office as my users, desk-side visits were my bread and butter, even when the issue might have been solved an alternate way. That was the key to my customer-service methodology: accessibility. By putting myself in situations where I was interacting with my clients on a face-to-face basis, we were able to build a strong relationship. The fact that I knew the organization's staff and their work so well allowed me to move from a help desk position into an IT management role.

Since I can't hang out in the coffee room anymore, I am trying to think of new ways to personalize my service. I think it's going to be necessary, because my clients and I are already beginning to drift apart. It isn't that I'm no longer getting called on to provide help; I am. I'm just being called for run-of-the-mill support issues. There's a spark that's missing. I haven't been contacted with a pie-in-the-sky hypothetical question that might lead to an interesting IT project. There's a subjective barrier to communication that's keeping my users from approaching me as a member of their community. It is as if the distinctions between my services and those of a faceless call center agent are in danger of disappearing.

I am trying to adapt my soft skills to this situation. I have been using follow-up e-mails and video chat to supplement desktop sharing sessions, in order to provide a more personal touch. Fundamentally, though, there's no way for me to continue to do my job exactly the same way. We'll see how my support style evolves.

15 comments
Selltekk
Selltekk

We have used several applications to accomplish this. First, we started with Citrix Online's application GoToAssist. It works well, but it is expensive for the feature set you get from it. We have recently transitioned to NTR Global's support product which is about half the price and has a much richer feature set that includes the ability to remotely seize control of the remote computer while the application runs as a service so you can log them out and log in as ana administrator. There are also logging and reporting tools as well as a helpdesk application. NTR Support also features a Video window for video conferenceing within the helpdesk support call, so if your customers want to see you, you can smile at them while you fix their issues which I feel adds a large measure of personalization to the call. We do not use the helpdesk application because we have a Helpdesk CMDB app in place already that is far more robust. However, without NTRSupport we would be having a hard time of it. It is quite possibly the best investment we have yet made. If your company can afford a couple grand for a top notch support application, give them a shot. They will demo it for you too. The nice thing about this application is that it is all web based. You do not need to install anything on your PC, and all your end users need on their PCs is to have an active X control pushed to them, and you can do that VIA group policy as NTR will give you an MSI package for it. It should also be mentioned that you do not need to have the remote control licenses to run the application as a service. We use it because we have 25 or so users who are completely useless and can't even figure out how to type a URL into a browser. we would have saved about $2500 on the application if they would take some basic computer classes. the IRC licenses are about a hundred bucks each. Hope this helps!

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...and have never looked back. When I originally moved 2000 miles from most of my clients, I pretty much assumed that I'd quickly lose most of my business except for the custom software development/support end. However, that's not how it worked out. In fact, I've managed to pick up even more remote work. Since I was already trying to do most of my work without getting in the car to see people via Terminal Services, PCAnywhere, and later GoToMyPC, when I moved away there really wasn't all that much of a difference between 10 miles or 2k. Of course, it's reliable hardware on site and accessible broadband that makes it possible. I do make regular trips to have face time with people, and to oversee major hardware swap/upgrade issues. Fortunately, hardware is so reliable today compared to 15+ years ago that I rarely have to worry about physically being anywhere. When something happens that requires on-site attention now, I do I have surrogates I can call who can immediately be on-site and swap hardware for me.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

Interesting. I have never had any of these issues. I have supported people both in the office and at remote sales offices and office locations, as well as home offices. They remember things I mentioned in our last conversation, and I do the same. I must be doing something right because they will call me directly instead of going through the Help Desk system. Based on all of that, I'd say it's pretty simple: Be personable, at least act like you care, and most importantly FIX THE PROBLEM. That's why they called in the first place. See it through to the end and make sure they are satisfied. Do THAT, and they will remember you.

netconsult
netconsult

You are on the right track. I had to change my style a few years ago when we re-organized and I began to support distant clients. I call to chat from time to time and see if there is anything going on that I need to know. I e-mail frequently and I make sure that not only my office number but my cell number is available to my customers. They are comfortable enough to call me about plans for projects that do not involve me but are with other areas to get my opinion and input. Trust your instincts about when to contact them and you will find that you still have a relationship with them.

williamjones
williamjones

I'm having to shift from an on-site role to providing remote support, and it's proving to be quite an adjustment for me. An off-site help desk is something new to my little organization, but I know it's common in larger enterprises. What wisdom do you have to offer me in this situation? Anyone who has to provide remote support on a daily basis have any thoughts on building constructive relationships with their clients?

PanamaPat
PanamaPat

I have worked remotely for years. I have to build the relationship from scratch every time because I am not there. I spend some time asking about the client's other interests, hobbies and share mine. It is more personal and builds the relationship. Be careful not to chit chat too much though! If they feel you care about them; not just want their money - it will serve you well in a remote position.

davist@childrensfactory.
davist@childrensfactory.

Have you ever looked into products that allow you to take control of a users machine while doing a video conference so they can see you. I just took a tour of Epop Video Conferencing for our company (we were looking into it rather than conference calling during our between site meetings) and while looking through it I noticed that I can take control of the clients machine. It is web based so I don't have to install it on the client first and it would give you that personal touch of being able to solve their problems and let them see that IT does have a face. I haven't looked into pricing or details, but maybe a product similar to this would be useful for you.

mitchbryant
mitchbryant

We take about 10,000 calls a month and I would say 500-700 are remote callers and it is growing... We use a device by Bomgar and we love it... (No I am not with Bomgar - LOL)... We did our homework and tested 6 differant things and it really is very good and we get lots of great features..

mitchbryant
mitchbryant

We take about 10,000 calls a month and I would say 500-700 are remote callers and it is growing... We use a device by Bomgar and we love it... (No I am not with Bomgar - LOL)... We did our homework and tested 6 differant things and it really is very good and we get lots of great features.. Feel free to contact me and I will be happy to let you know of other things we do for remote support..

JerryM MCSE+I / A+
JerryM MCSE+I / A+

Remote Assistance tools are built in and mostly under utilized. I'm primarily speaking of Microsoft clients here. Hit technet for how to use Remote assistance. The biggest part usually is creating an easy to use link on the desktop for users so they aren't required to crawl 5 layers of menu.

Tenagra71
Tenagra71

My company is comfortable using the webex remote support tool. Check in to that one. Some guys used to use Dameware, but that has some holes and sessions sometimes hang on exit, leaving ports open. No longer allowed to be used here.

Bee Jay
Bee Jay

I've found logmein.com's remote desktop connection solution a wonderful tool when supporting remote users. I've also found it rewarding to have the client on the phone during the "visit". It's no substitute for being face to face, but it still allows you to chat while resolving their issue. I've often discovered additional items need attention based on the conversation that occurs during the support visit.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

Logmein and GotomyPC are huge security holes to an organization. You are subjecting propriatary information to 3rd party servers. No way would I allow that to continue in my company.

Tenagra71
Tenagra71

In my 12 years at my current location, we've had issues twice. The second one was a self proclaimed power user who had "a home network and a server and everything covered". He remoted in to his home network and brought in a new variant and took the company down for half a day. That hole is plugged, needless to say.

Editor's Picks