For iRobot Corp., maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, confusing customer interactions about “the yellow thingy” led the company to turn to video for help in its customer service operations.
That ultimately turned into a contact center strategy that increasingly relies on video technology to deliver high-quality and low-cost service to customers.
iRobot is not alone. Companies are adopting or evaluating customer service videos, particularly prerecorded video, as a way to solve customer problems and increase customer satisfaction in a more efficient and cost-effective way. While video-enabled customer service is not new, there is renewed interest because video technology is now so accessible and customers are increasingly expecting it.
For iRobot it began a few years ago when customers would call the home products customer service group of the Bedford, Mass.-based company and struggle to explain the problem with their robot vacuum cleaner. The Roomba’s innards are complex, and it wasn’t unusual to hear a customer grasping for words and resorting to such descriptions as “the yellow thingy,” said Maryellen Abreu, director of global customer care of the home robots division.
Because these verbal exchanges were frustrating on both sides of the service transaction, customers began sending photos of problem components to help agents identify the service issue, Abreu said.
“We decided really by watching what the customers were doing that we would put our content up in video and design training to share those links,” she added.
Customers can now send iRobot customer service representatives (CSR) a video of the problem they're confronting in an email attachment. The CSR, in turn, can provide a link to a video, such as a demonstration on removing the Roomba’s battery, to help solve the problem.
Prerecorded customer service video will outpace live video chat in contact center adoption because the latter can be more time-consuming and therefore more expensive, analysts predict. Once a prerecorded video is complete, it is available to many and reusable, whereas a live video exchange is potentially a longtime commitment for both the agent and customer.
When it comes to video, “most people think of a live video connection between an agent and a customer,” said Drew Kraus, a research vice president with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “That’s been around for 20 years and there’s little practical use. It’s expensive and the value is limited.”
Kraus expects prerecorded video to have widespread appeal while live video chat will likely be applied to more focused situations, such as high-end customers or highly complex problem resolution.
Hotel chain reports boost from FaceTime live video chat
That's the approach Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., has taken. It, introduced a customer service option earlier this year for members of its Starwood Preferred Guests group based on FaceTime, an iPhone app that enables live chat.
A Preferred Guests member contacts Starwood through FaceTime on her iPhone and is routed to an agent with FaceTime support. The agent handles the call as a face-to-face chat, providing assistance on any number of topics.
The FaceTime channel is receiving the highest customer satisfaction ratings of all Starwood’s contact center channels, said Michael English, vice president of the hotel chain’s customer contact centers.
English said that he has also observed FaceTime guests returning to use this channel, another indicator that it is working.
“It’s in the spirit of letting them do it in their preferred method,” English said. “We started it with our [preferred guests], our top customers and those who had stayed with us the most. It was to just give them one more option.”
iRobot reports big payoff from video
As iRobot can attest, the payoff from a prerecorded video can be substantial. Abreu said the company received 20,000 hits on one product video in a six-month stretch. She estimated 30% of those hits deflected a call, resulting in a $50,000 savings during that six-month period. The cost of creating the video, with man-hours and equipment factored in, was “significantly less” than $50,000, Abreu added.
“We are now translating these videos [into different languages], so our call deflection should double,” Abreu added. “The savings is exponential over the next three years.”
In addition to dollars saved, video can boost customer service by giving agents another channel to deliver information, industry analysts said. “You could start an interaction, say, a live chat, and then say, ‘Here’s this great video; take a look and if it doesn’t help, get back to me,’ ” said Denis Pombriant, president of Beagle Research Group LLC, in Stoughton, Mass.
Additionally, companies like iRobot are finding that videos greatly decrease the annoyance factor for customers because customers can control the service experience. They can download a video and watch it when they choose and as often as they choose.
Basic video skills will do the trick
Organizations do not need to make sweeping changes to adopt video technology or become mini movie studios to get videos out to customers. Customers do not expect perfection in a video, Abreu said. Consumers have grown accustomed to a range of video quality on online communities, and as a result, are able to tolerate video that is not Oscar-worthy as long as it effectively demonstrates the solution, she said.
Others agree. “You don’t have to have a fancy strategy to make video successful for your organization,” said Robert Frost, senior director of global client relations at Acronis Inc., a backup software company based in Woburn, Mass. “You could use YouTube.”
Frost said Acronis provides customers with how-to videos for product upgrades on its website. “This is driving down the repetitive, easily preventable [call] volume,” Frost said.
Analysts said companies need to understand that their customers are beginning to assume video will be available from customer service because they so frequently interact with video in their personal lives by downloading YouTube videos or video chatting with friends.
“It could be one of those things that becomes an expected norm,” said Dan Salter, director of customer care operations for VSP Vision Care in Rancho Cordova, Calif. Salter said he is evaluating video and thinks live chat may have potential as a “concierge-level of service.”