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Amazon's Mayday Comes to an End

Amazon this month will end Mayday, the groundbreaking customer service app it introduced in 2013. Mayday revolutionized customer service, especially in consumer electronics.

Mayday was a preinstalled app that offered customers high-touch customer service on low-cost tablets. Each Amazon Fire HD Kindle e-reader came equipped with a Mayday button that, when touched, caused a live support agent to appear right on the tablet.

Like many tablets appearing at the time, Amazon's Fire HD was a low-cost alternative to the Apple iPad launched just a few years earlier. The Fire HD was among the least-expensive alternatives, as Amazon subsidized it with its other services.

At the time, tablets appealed to many users as their first digital device because they weren't as complex to purchase and maintain as PCs; were simpler and more useful for content consumption than smartphones; and had a lower upfront price. However, purchasers still had to overcome some reticence to the new technology.

That was the brilliance of Mayday. When it launched, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos described Mayday as being "actually very similar to having someone standing next to you" offering tech support. The agent wasn't just a distant voice, but a live, human face that provided interactive support through screen share technology.

This type of customer service was rare in 2013 -- and still is. After about a year, Amazon revealed that three-quarters of its eligible customers had been using the Mayday button for IT support and other forms of customer service -- and got it with an average response time of 9.75 seconds. As a Forbes contributor wrote at the time, "tech support for tech companies is going to change thanks to Mayday and the new bar it is setting."

Although the service is still futuristic, Amazon slowly phased it out on newer models. Today Mayday only runs on "legacy devices" that are no longer available for purchase, Amazon said.

The Kindle tablets live on, and that's more than can be said about most non-iPad tablets. Consumers also better understand tablets now. As Bezos told Wired, thousands of tech support employees took those Mayday video calls, and Amazon logged each question to better understand tablets and necessary enhancements.

The tech to create a Mayday type customer experience is readily available. Services from Vidyo and Twilio, for example, enable developers to easily add video capabilities to devices and apps. It's the operational aspects that keep video-enabled customer service from becoming more popular.

Don Van Doren of UniComm Consulting advises his contact center customers to approach video with caution. "Video can be helpful, especially in situations where a personal touch makes a difference, such as connecting a customer in a bank branch to a loan specialist. However, I'm not a huge fan of video in general-purpose contact centers. The benefits seldom outweigh the challenges," he said.

Adding video means contact center staff must address lighting, backgrounds, dress codes, and potentially controversial personal areas such as jewelry, tattoos, and hairstyles. Performance measurements expand to topics such as facial expressions and other visual cues that impact customer experience.

On one hand, video-enabled customer service seems inevitable as video technologies continue to become more pervasive and accessible. Services such as Skype and FaceTime have made visual communications normal for many. On the other hand, television never managed to kill radio, and audio podcasts continue to gain popularity despite YouTube and Vimeo. Communications will never become all video.

In its 2018 Customer Service Trends report, Forrester predicts an increase in visual engagement. It cites many successful use cases in banking, which historically has been a face-to-face, relationship business. Visual communications were already a part of banking. Several banks are now using video to better interact with top clients as well as a means of expanding services into markets without branches.

Of course, the killer feature of video is screen share. This is true in the enterprise as well as with the Kindle HD e-reader. Amazon used screen share to troubleshoot and simultaneously instruct customers how to resolve their concerns. The benefit of enhancing voice with images is illustrated by U.K. company Endsleigh Insurance, which allows customers to send photos as part of its process for low-value claims.

Mayday illustrated how multimedia customer service can be useful and how it can impact a brand or product -- as well as when it may no longer be necessary. It can clearly increase engagement and offer a competitive edge but, like many good things, it comes at a cost.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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