Optimizing Support Interaction: Closing the Loop in Contact Center Automation

Roop K. Lakkaraju, EVP, CFO, and COO, Support.com

If you were to draw a diagram of the lifecycle of a tech support episode in a reasonably sophisticated contact center, you'd see a process steeped in carefully thought-out automation.

In today’s modern contact center, everything is pretty much automated until, at the most crucial point of the whole process, all of that programmed intelligence drops away and it's just two people talking. And no matter how well everything else worked, if the live conversation goes poorly, you’re going to have an unhappy customer.

Speaking as the head of a 1600-agent contact center focused on tech support, I believe that we're still babes in the woods when it comes to managing, quantifying, analyzing and optimizing that part of the process during which the actual interaction between an agent and a customer occurs.

The reason is simple: it’s the only aspect of the support process relatively untouched by automation.

Happily, it doesn’t have to be that way. SIO—Support Interaction Optimization—has the potential to address this gap and claim the holy grail of the industry: delivering service efficiently while dramatically boosting customer satisfaction.

The Elements of SIO

1- Systematizing the best approaches

There are many ways to solve a customer's problem but there's only one best way. However that's determined, the best approaches need to be packaged up as stored procedures and made available to every agent. This applies primarily to complex Tier 1 & 2 issues, the kind that could easily get an agent marching down a series of dead-ends.

2- Consistent application across all agents

The quality of service shouldn't depend on which agent a customer happens to connect to. If we're confident that our stored procedure is the best approach to getting the issue resolved, then every customer deserves the benefit of it.

3- Providing the right tools

The most effective tool in the agent's arsenal is full remote control, where she can, with the customer's consent, take over the mouse and keyboard and operate the device herself. Ideally, she will also have the ability to push diagnostic and "fix-it" modules to the remote device and monitor them as they run.

4- Continual fine-tuning

Part of the obligation of a robust SIO system is to check its own work. It does this by gathering data about what occurred during every interaction, checking it against the outcome and providing insights that allow contact center managers to continue refining the stored procedures.

How is SIO implemented?

There are three primary elements required to realize the promise of SIO:

1- Guided problem resolution

Also known as guided process workflow or (misleadingly) just workflow, guided problem resolution is at the heart of SIO automation. It consists of stored procedures that embody best practices for each type of problem. The best commercial offerings let customers create and modify these procedures without any IT support.

2- Remote control

This was discussed in a previous section. The ability to directly access a customer's device is a critical component in any tech support environment.

3- SIO Analytics

There are two sub-parts to Analytics. The first is built into the guided procedure processor and gathers data about what occurred during the support interaction, not just with the customer but with his devices, in order to provide valuable feedback to the OEM. The second is an intelligent connection to a reporting tool sophisticated enough to allow both programmed and ad hoc analyses.

Additional benefits of SIO

Contact center training has traditionally been about getting agents to memorize complex support procedures and teaching them how to find the right resources. Steps within a stored procedure provide the appropriate resources at the exact time they're needed. Clearly, this kind of capability provides significant reductions in the time and cost of training new agents, as well in refresher training for existing agents.

Changes to existing procedures can be propagated nearly instantaneously to every agent, once again only at the time they’re actually needed. This completely eliminates the task of communicating revisions.

A robust SIO system can have a powerful effect on both the stress and tedium of providing support and thereby reduce turnover. Guided resolution and remote control tools make it easier to solve problems, and solving them faster makes the process less tedious. It also reduces the likelihood that the agent is going to have to deal with an irritated customer.

While not technically an optimization consideration, there is one other benefit to an SIO system that bears mentioning, and that is the ability to insert revenue-generating steps into a stored procedure. That “art” of finding the proper moment and approach can be systematized using guided processes, greatly increasing an agent’s ability to ring up a sale.

Trends enabling SIO implementation

Cloud-based service: There is virtually no aspect of SIO that can't be delivered in the cloud. One of the great advantages of Software-as-a-Service is the ability to start off slowly because there is no capital expenditure involved and pricing is generally on a per-seat basis.

Ease-of-use: There is a concerted effort to reduce the lag between perceiving a need for a new or revised procedure and getting it implemented. More and more vendor offerings eliminate the need for IT involvement altogether by providing drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG editors that require no technical skill.

Ad hoc analytics: Many SIO vendors have incorporated powerful third-party reporting capabilities into their services. These allow contact center managers to quickly identify problems and opportunities, and to honor requests from executive management for one-off analyses.

Third-party integrations: There is a high demand for integration in two specific areas: CRM and knowledge management. Most vendors in the SIO space have made a great deal of progress in linking to the major CRM products. Knowledge base integration is lagging in comparison, but increasing demand will drive development there as well.


Support Interaction Optimization is the natural last step in using automation to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the contact center. Continual progress is being made in enriching guided procedure capabilities, deriving insights from increasingly sophisticated analytics and integrating with both third-party products and other corporate systems. In coming years we'll see SIO expand into contact centers unrelated to tech support but which still tackle complex interaction issues.

Panel: Elements of SIO for tech support

Best practices stored as procedures

Ensuring compliance

Remote control

Ongoing fine-tuning