A well thought out help desk can make or break an institution's mobile play. Schwab, Ameritrade and RBC are taking their support function seriously.
When a few Charles Schwab clients recently got a strange error code when trying to view the status of their orders using a wireless device, David Kim's team sprung into action.
Kim, director of product innovation and integration for the wireless group at the San Francisco-based company, is responsible for the department that trains the support staff to handle calls about wireless service at Schwab, which according to Schwab, now has more than 152,000 users signed up ( see related article).
After some investigation by the technical-support team, they discovered that the investors were actually using the device improperly and bad keystrokes were at fault. The information was relayed to the investors and Schwab's help center, which was able to tell other investors who experienced similar problems what they had to do to make the device work. Kim says that's the advantage of maintaining your own support systems internally, they can act as a sort of camera lens into your operation and you can see what problems the customers face.
"Oftentimes, we actually find the customer is simply doing something wrong. It gives us valuable information on what the customer is doing and how they are using our devices," says Kim. The challenge lies in setting up the proper mechanism to support the offering, experts say.
That's because a plethora of devices and competing carriers can add complexity to the wireless world, especially when consumers are factored into the equation.
John McLeod, chief executive officer of Sanchez Wealthware, formerly Spectra Securities Software, says, to properly support wireless, "It's critical that all channels are driven off the same data and applications." Otherwise, you have separate silos that could end up providing conflicting information to clients. He says the key to a good support program is to "make it part of the normal call center process and certify the process before you roll it out."
When it comes to building the support infrastructure, there are basically two options: do it yourself or use a third- party provider, says Ken Drachnik, senior wireless solutions manager at Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park, Calif. "Financial-services companies aren't good at the technology side of the business," he says, and many opt to use independent-software vendors to handle support functions for wireless. "It's a good thing to outsource," he says.
Firms like Aether Systems and 724 can provide such service, he notes. As well, telcos are looking to expand into the outsourcing field and get closer to their financial-services clients. Adam Zawel, an analyst at Yankee Group in Boston, says when it comes to providing support, "There is often "a difference between internal initiatives and customer-facing wireless."
In the case of customer care, the onus of providing support is "often split between the financial institution and the service providers, so if someone is trading with their wireless device and the thing breaks down, do they call the network provider or the financial institution? It's a question of who is responsible for overall uptime?"
The person responsible for support, says Zawel, needs to have "visibility into the full scope of the network (to be able to) identify where the problem is. Ideally, you shouldn't be redirecting the customer, but rather say, 'OK. Thank you. We'll take care of that.'"
That's where a financial institution's help center steps in. Many firms that have deployed wireless, such as Schwab, RBC Investments and Ameritrade have opted to make their own help center the focus of support. Think of support as being comparable to military lines of defense with first line, second line, third line or more as needed. The first line usually entails a do-it-yourself approach. The firm will post information about wireless on its Web site or Intranet site so that users who have questions can try to find the answers themselves. If that fails, then they move to the next line of support.
Here, it's usually the call center. "In our case, we tried to make it part of the overall help desk," explains Morteza Mahjour, director, information technology, Canadian and International Brokerage Group, RBC Investments. RBC supports a range of wireless phones and PDAs for staff. If investors have questions they can simply call the help desk.
The help desk is also front and center at Ameritrade, where consumers with questions about wireless trading can simply call a 1-800 number and speak to a client- service representative, says Spokesman Matthew Ord. "They are fully equipped to support the wireless offering." That's also the case at Schwab, where wireless support has been integrated into Schwab's five call centers. Kim says, "We have trained all of our reps on servicing wireless questions." That meant Schwab had to develop a training curriculum and "pretty comprehensive material" for reps to use. Kim says that the first line of internal defense solves the large majority of problems. He adds, "We're still in the early stage of wireless adoption and the first movers tend to be tech savvy," negating the need for a lot of technical support.
Ord, agrees, noting that, "Client feedback is very positive about the ease of use of the wireless-trading application." Ord says that if Ameritrade can't deal with an issue, then it will direct clients to the appropriate support service for carriers or device makers. Kim says there are inevitably questions of a technical nature and those get kicked to a second, smaller line of support. Here, the service reps have more extensive training in wireless and if they can't answer a question, then they seek the advice of another colleague who is an expert in wireless, generally negating the need for clients to run to a carrier or device makers for help.
Kim says it made sense for Schwab to "leverage its existing infrastructure" and provide its own wireless help support. Mahjour says that RBC uses the same support line type of assistance, kicking questions up the queue as they get more technical. As wireless expands and filters into the masses Kim predicts support will become critical. That's because less savvy tech types will start using devices that they don't understand and will need assistance.