Amazon’s “Mayday” Video Customer Service – Where’s UC?

Amazon’s “Mayday” Video Customer Service – Where’s UC?

By Art Rosenberg October 28, 2013 3 Comments
Amazon’s “Mayday” Video Customer Service – Where’s UC? by Art Rosenberg

Video has become an increasingly important option in business communications and eCommerce, not only because the technology and costs have gotten better, but also because consumers/customers can exploit its use from their mobile smartphones and tablets. However, it is necessary to look at video conferencing in several ways, including:

  1. Information delivery of video content

  2. Real-time “you see what I see” information through a video camera (If a “picture is worth a thousand words,” is a video ”worth a thousand pictures?”)

  3. Video conversational chat or conferencing, where participants may or may not see the other parties “on camera,” but may still converse with voice and see video, data and documents

  4. Any combination of the above

In light of the value of “collaborative” video conferencing as a replacement for physical face-to-face meetings, especially in vertical markets like health care and education, it is interesting to see Amazon’s use of video for its ambitious “Mayday” click-for-assistance button on its new Kindle HDX Android tablet offering. Because, like all other tablets, the Kindle HDX has gotten more complex than its original role of an e-reader in terms of functional capabilities and user interfaces; end users now need more live assistance when first using the device’s features.

Although the problem is similar to that faced by Apple iPhone and iPad customers, Amazon is avoiding the problem that Apple has for customers to make an appointment at a nearby Apple store for a Genius Bar meeting with customer assistance experts. While the Genius staff is very good in helping in-store customers, especially if they can fix a technical problem or provide device add-ons, it is not a practical solution for most customers who are not able to come to the store. I happen to live within walking distance of the first Apple store established in Santa Monica, but it requires scheduling one-on-one assistance time, not on demand.

Amazon’s “Click-for-Assistance” Video Solution – The Mayday Button

You can read one review about the Mayday user experience here. Note that it is not a full-blown videoconference, where both parties can see each other; only the agent is “on-camera.” However, the agent can have control access to the customer’s device and can perform any necessary actions directly for the customer. The main differences between Mayday and traditional contact center telephone interactions are:

  • Customer can initiate contact immediately, without a phone call

  • Requires Wi-Fi connectivity

  • With this free, 24/7 service, response time is immediate, less than 30 seconds (Not sure if that kind of response will last forever)

  • Agent can be seen and talked with on the Mayday box on the device screen 

  • Agent has option, with customer permission, to more easily take control of the customer’s device, after seeing the problem

The main differential benefit seems to be that the customer can see the Mayday agent, instead of just talking them. While this is certainly a nice feature, it doesn’t solve the basic problems involved with live assistance. Since talking is easier and faster than exchanging text messages, Mayday service is definitely a plus for the customer.

The big problem, however, is having enough staff available to handle the on-demand traffic, in real time. That has always been an issue with legacy call centers, but the fact that the agents must now be “on camera” will add to the staffing problem. Years ago, a major call center technology provider started promoting the idea of having agents “on camera,” but the need for such agents to be attractive, well groomed, well spoken, well skilled technically, with proper video camera lighting, meant that they would be very expensive and trained “actresses.” Coupled with the fact that video was then both difficult and expensive for consumer access, the idea didn’t go anywhere.

Now that user video devices and connections are more becoming more universal and cost efficient, video can be very useful for information exchange and “showing” someone what you are seeing, while also having a voice conversation. For the mobile and online “customer help desk,” it can be an escalation “click-for assistance” option to the “virtual agent” approach in simple, online self-service applications.

Where’s Customer Mobile UC?

As more and more consumers become computer application (mobile app) users with smartphones and tablets, the need for both self-services and live assistance will continue to grow. The modes of interactions with live assistance have also increased, but should be UC-enabled for control by the individual customer, based on their personal situational needs. Multimodal smartphones and tablets can now provide such flexibility for contextual mobile customer services, as I described in an earlier post this year.  

With Mayday, Amazon is showing that it can even “out-innovate” Apple’s dominant position in the industry when it comes to consumer needs. That may be one of the reasons that Apple has just shaken up its management team in this area, so the battle will continue.

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3 Responses to "Amazon’s “Mayday” Video Customer Service – Where’s UC?" - Add Yours

Lawrence Byrd 10/29/2013 1:16:05 PM

Hi Art - nice article! A further good perspective on Amazon Mayday is that has a direct interview with Jeff Bezos, plus there is a good "see it" video here: I think Amazon has clearly spent a lot of time designing the whole support experience with Mayday - they don't do random. I don't think we, as commentators, can simply theorize against the practical hands-on beta and now live experience that Amazon is building on. I am sure they tried a lot of things that ended up not working. Having voice but no video from the user is all about privacy, comfort, focusing the user on the screen not the agent, plus not using unnecessary bandwidth. Screen annotations are very important - the agent needs to be able to show the user what to do as much as possible so they learn it as opposed to doing it for them. I imagine they may have debated the need for video from the agent, but I suspect that creating greater comfort with someone helping and potentially changing things was a factor along with the "wow" - somewhere they call this "like having someone next to you to help". The agent being able to see the screen is obviously key, but having a visible way of showing that the agent has turned this off is obviously a further comfort and security-as-needed design. All-in-all a lot of very careful customer experience design has gone into this to ensure "customer delight".

One more point I saw on the webs that I found amusing and probably true - with Mayday, Kindles are now a device that young people can buy (for Christmas) for their older family members without worrying about getting lots of personal support calls from then through into the New Year! Plus the good feeling that the family recipient is actually likely to use it properly and get good value. So start shopping now...
Art Rosenberg 10/30/2013 9:58:56 AM


Thanks for the comments and the other reference posts. (I just noted the first one I found that looked adequate. Their Mayday service is very strategically aimed at their new device users, not for just any customer service. That's a focus on a particular context around their mobile devices mobile interface flexibility .

I think you are also right about making the customer more comfortable with showing the agent on video, its just that it could be a difficult and expensive option. Maybe, they will opt to simply show the agent's picture to accompany the voice conversation; that might be less of a distraction to the customer.
Lawrence Byrd 10/31/2013 11:28:34 AM

Thanks Art. I agree with you that they are obviously targeting new device users (no video or even a phone number on their store pages :)) so I think we need to look into their goal of expanding the use of Kindles to all kinds of probably-previously-nontechnical users who happen to be be book readers and movie goers. All of us in the technical world have already bought our iPads or other tablets and are comfortable with how they work, so to get to the next piece of the not-yet-using market you have to make the experience very simple and non-threatening. Having someone see your screen, talk about it, write on it, and even press buttons and fill things in for you is quite weird and threatening for technical-novices. I think seeing who's doing this can really make the experience much better and less-threatening, versus just hearing a disembodied voice and perhaps seeing a picture. The expense is largely the agent, who is already engaged regardless of the technology although has to be trained for video. Today, such agents can also be home agents to increase the skill-pool available for this. I also don't think this is that difficult anymore (with WebRTC or whatever equivalent technologies Amazon is using) and a company like Amazon (who power much of the cloud) is well capable of delivering this. Amazon wants to differentiate and delight - and everyone else has been answering voice calls for decades so that wouldn't be exciting :)!

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