Did Amazon Just Solve the Two Eternal Problems With Tech Support?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 25 2013 4:53 PM

Did Amazon Just Solve the Two Eternal Problems With Tech Support?

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Amazon announced a new tablet today, the Kindle Fire HDX. It comes in two sizes and boasts a largely typical array of upgrades from the previous Kindle Fire, including a faster processor, better speakers, and a spiffed-up screen.

It also comes with one feature you won’t find on any other tablet—or just about any other piece of consumer electronics, for that matter. It’s called Mayday, and it could be the future of tech support. Or it could be a terrible misstep.

Advertisement

The idea: nearly instant, on-demand tech support via live video chat with a real person, available anytime. Press the Mayday button on the Quick Settings menu, and a human tech-support agent will pop up on your screen, ready to offer whatever assistance you might need. The agents can’t actually see your face, but they can see your tablet screen and have full access to your device, which might unnerve the particularly privacy-conscious. On the plus side, that means Amazon’s agents can do things like draw on your screen to show you what they’re doing—or, in the worst case, go ahead and fix the problem themselves, rather than just attempting to talk you through it.

If so, that would solve the second-biggest problem with tech support today: the frustrating back-and-forth that ensues when either the customer or the agent doesn’t get what the other is talking about.

As for the biggest problem with tech-support—the interminable wait time to get a human on the line—Amazon is aiming to solve that too. In its announcement, the company says its goal is to connect every customer with an agent within 15 seconds or less, no matter the time of day, week, or year.

Our goal is to revolutionize tech support,” Bezos said in a statement. Indeed, plenty of companies now offer virtual, computerized assistants—which tend to be pretty dense—while others offer human tech support by phone or text chat. Some, like Apple, offer free face-to-face support for anyone willing to make the trek to a local store. But at a time when most companies force you to jump through hoops to reach a real person, Amazon is lowering the bar to direct human contact.

It sounds wonderful. But can Amazon really pull it off? In an interview with AllThingsD, CEO Jeff Bezos insists it can. The company has thousands of employees ready, he said, even in case of an initial rush. “Initially, a lot of people will use it just to show it off,” Bezos told Ina Fried. “We want to encourage that. It’s a ‘wow’ feature.”

It’s even more of a “wow” feature when you consider that hiring passably intelligent humans is expensive, and yet Amazon’s tablets are among the cheapest in their category. Once again, the company seems to be banking on a strategy of building market share first and making money later. The Kindle Fire was never supposed to be much of a money-maker itself. Rather, its goal is to seamlessly connect users with Amazon's online offerings, encouraging them to buy Amazon products, stream Amazon movies, and store their data in the Amazon cloud. The company's shareholders have proven remarkably patient so far. I suspect that if Mayday succeeds in drawing new customers to the Kindle Fire—which so far has captured only a fraction of the market share that Apple’s iPad and Samsung devices command—they’ll be willing to bear with Bezos yet again.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company

Sports Nut

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 18 2014 1:34 PM Americans Fault Obama for Giving Them Exactly the Anti-ISIS Strategy They Want
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 18 2014 12:47 PM How One of the Most Prolific Known Forgers in Modern History Faked Great Works of Art
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Everyday That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 1:47 PM The Only 15 Netflix Hacks You’ll Ever Need
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 1:24 PM Can the Celebrities Whose Photos Were Stolen Really Sue Apple? It may be harder to prove “harm” than it seems.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.