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Google Helpouts May Turn Customer Support On Its Ear

November 21, 2013

While the customer support world marvels over – or freaks out over, depending on your perspective –Amazon’s “Mayday” button, a free video conferencing session with a live agent available 24 hours a day for Amazon Kindle users who run into trouble, Google is stirring up some customer support revolution of its own in the form of Google Helpouts.

The new concept is a fusion of Google+ Hangouts, the company’s online social media virtual gathering place; Google Wallet, its online payment functionality and some of its identity tools. The goal of Helpouts is to create a paid online advice and informational service that will allow individuals to connect with an expert in a dedicated video chat. The tagline that Google has come up with for Helpouts reads, “Real help from real people in real time.”

Google Helpouts users will be able to ask a variety of questions across multiple subject areas. So far, says Google, experts are available in eight broad topics: art and music, computers and electronics, cooking, education and careers, fashion and beauty, fitness and nutrition, health, and home and garden.

Learning to play the violin and need some tips on technique? Trying to fix your computer without much success? Cooking a Thanksgiving turkey for the first time? Can’t get the hang of pronunciation of a phrase in a foreign language you are learning? On all these topics and more, Google Helpouts will allow you to tap an expert for a fee (unless that expert elects to do it for free).  

The idea of customer support via video conferencing is brand new (it’s what is behind the Amazon “Mayday” button), but a dedicated peer-to-peer session brokered by a third party (Google, in this case) is unique. The tricky part, of course, is going to be finding all the experts required. In order to participate, Google Helpout experts must be available within five minutes of being alerted. As of right now, Google is pre-approving, and one has to wonder if that model will be sustainable going forward, particularly if the service becomes popular.

According to Internet Evolution’s Alan Reiter, it may not be just individuals that Helpouts will appeal to.

“Helpouts could be especially useful for independent contractors and small businesses that don't already have video platforms,” he wrote. “But even midsized businesses and enterprise departments could be interested in developing a video assistance service for their customers. Also, they could offer a special service to their business customers.”

For the moment, Helpouts is available via both a PC and an Android device…so you can take the device to that leaky pipe you’re looking for help in fixing.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker