Help Desk calls are costly, but what's the alternative? Having users solve their own problems might seem farfetched, but that's just what BlackBerry management company BoxTone is offering. BoxTone's new module--called User Self-Service--allows users to quickly, easily troubleshoot their own problems without training and without the Help Desk, reducing Help Desk calls by 30-50 percent, according to the vendor.

But wait a minute--users have to solve their own problems? That sounds kind of like those never-ending phone trees when you call the toll-free line of one of your utility or insurance companies. After listening to 10,000 pointless options, bouncing back through the same crud a few times, and confirming that it's not a life-threatening call and you don't need to dial 911, maybe, just maybe, you'll get to a real person (45 minutes later) that could've solved your problem within 20 seconds.

Fortunately, we're not talking about that kind of self-service with BoxTone's new solution. Rather, BlackBerry users can log into a simple web interface that will show any error flags. (For instance, if your email isn't working, you might log into the system and find that your inbox is full). Additionally, there are basic self-service options to handle the most common tasks, such as activating/deactivating your account (which make up approx. 40 percent of Help Desk calls, according to BoxTone's data) or password change requests (which make up approx. 15 percent of calls).

"A company that deploys BoxTone’s modules needs one third the resources that they would otherwise need to manage their mobile users, and we will cut their costs--their overall mobility cost--by a third," said Brian Reed, chief marketing officer of BoxTone. "So our average customer who might have a thousand BlackBerry smartphones and it normally costs them on the order of $1,000 or $1,500 a year to provision, manage, and support users, we'll take $300-400 out of that run rate."

If the problem isn't easily identified or solved, the user can call the Help Desk. (They can also choose to bypass the self service system altogether.)

Building a Tiered Support Model
One of the more interesting points that I discussed with Reed was the concept of a tiered support model, and how User Self-Service--plus other BoxTone solutions--lets you implement this model. In this case, you are not only looking at maximizing cost/efficiency, but also at maximizing customer satisfaction.

"The idea of a tiered support model is: if I put up a User Self-Service, and I make my users go there first, then I don't need as many support people because my users will be able to solve a lot of their problems using User Self-Service. And then if they do have to call in, or they want to open up a trouble ticket online using User Self-Service, then I want to have a service desk organization that can be efficient in handling those escalations. And then if, for some reason the service desk can't handle it, or if something's about to happen and you want an early warning, then you need the incident management to happen at the higher-level service desk and IT operations. So what these guys are trying to do is set up this tiered model that's basically User Self-Service first, advanced techniques for the service desk, and advanced early warning 'fix it before it breaks' for the IT back office. That's a tiered support model. What we're doing with BoxTone User Self-Service is filling in that last piece," Reed said.

Will Anyone Use it?
Obviously, if users don't use the self service, then it's hardly worth having, right? I presented this concern to Reed, who noted that informal data from early usage of the User Self-Service module shows a high rate of employees opting for self service.

And this makes sense when you think about it. The type of employees who use BlackBerry devices are mostly Type A personalities who (A) have little patience and (B) have the drive, motivation, and incentive to get things done themselves. Especially in the case of sales personnel and other field staff, who are driven and very time conscious. You can expect to have executives that aren't techno-savvy and don't want to deal with it, but these individuals will likely be the minority.

Limitations
Probably the most unfortunate limitation to this product is that users need to be able to access the web in order to troubleshoot their device. While many issues with the phones might not restrict web access, some certainly will, and staff that are on the go won't likely have another device handy unless they own a netbook.

Pricing
BoxTone's solution is sold in modules, meaning you can point and pick the services that you want, pay for what you order, and then upgrade or alter it later if you need to. For most earlier deployments for mid-sized organizations, you'll likely purchase 1-2 modules at a one-time cost of about $35/user (special starter programs are available for under $10,000 for the company). As you add additional modules, the price goes up accordingly, so another two modules or so would ramp that up to $70/user. The self service is one such module.

Great Candidate for Large-Scale Deployment
If your company is a small to medium-sized business (SMB), the BoxTone solution may seem like overkill, and the price would be hard to justify. (Exceptions might exist for SMBs filled with mostly VIPs with mission-critical needs, such as a law firm.) However, if your organization tops a few thousand and you use hundreds or thousands of BlackBerry smartphones in your organization, the BoxTone suite is a pretty impressive product line. User Self-Service should be able to pay for itself in reduced Help Desk calls, plus offer peace of mind and reduce frustration for the VIPs in your organization.

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