Amazon Faces High-Stakes Challenge In Scaling Mayday On-Demand Support

What happens when it’s easier to call tech support than to Google your problem? Amazon might discover the costly answer to that question depending on how much the owners of its new Kindle Fire HDX tablets use its Mayday on-demand video customer support feature. And whether they behave themselves.

Mayday is available at the tap of a button in the Kindle HDX’s Quick Settings menu. 24 hours a day, year round, it pops up a little video window on-screen showing a support agent. They can’t see you but can hear you, talk to you, draw on your screen to guide you, and even take control of your screen to help you out.

As Farhad Manjoo notes,¬†Mayday might not be able to solve one of the most common types of tech problems: broken Internet. That won’t stop it from answering plenty¬†of other queries from the old, young, and frequently confused. You can watch videos of Mayday in action here.

If Amazon can scale Mayday it would be amazing. Both in the sense that it would make many people’s lives with technology easier, and it would be a remarkable logistics feat. It could become an industry benchmark for premier service. I’d love to see this succeed.

Kindle Mayday

No Barrier To Berating Support

Today, most companies put lots of support info online, but if you want handholding from a human, you have to work for it.

Look at Apple’s Genius Bars. You have to make an appointment, trek out to a retail store, and show up on time. That erects a barrier to use while giving people an option when they really need assistance.

With phone based customer support, you have to look up the number, wade through phone menus, wait on hold, and then explain what you’re looking at to a support agent that is essentially flying blind.

All this friction sucks. So why does it exist? It’s cost-effective.

Having tons of support people available on-demand straight from your device would be awesome…and could be very expensive for Amazon. Mayday could become a big selling point for the device and save the company from losing money to returns, thereby paying for itself. But it’s a gamble on whether people will bash that button too often.

Mayday ButtonThe question is how much Amazon will have to compromise on its vision. The company has told reporters it wants Mayday to let you get support within 15 seconds at any time, even on a busy Christmas morning, and have no limit on how often you can call for help. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos went to bat for Mayday, telling TechCrunch that it functions similar to the company’s other call centers. He seemed confident Amazon could pull it off. After all, it’s managed quite a few miracles in ecommerce scaling.

Still, it may need to include fine print that it can suspend Mayday service for abuse. If you Mayday because you’re lonely, or want to show someone your cat photos, it might need to cut you off. If you try to show the representative porn through the screenshare or verbally terrorize them, it might need to ban you for life. But what if you’re just really lazy and call in every day with semi-legitimate questions? Amazon will need to determine where to draw the line.

Maybe the fundamental challenges of scaling Mayday signals Amazon doesn’t have a massive amount of active Kindle users today, as Benedict Evans wonders. Amazon is notoriously secretive about Kindle sales and engagement numbers, so we don’t know what level of HDX devices it might sell and have to support.

But if anyone can figure out how to make this all work and save us from support call menu hell, it’s probably Bezos. Turning cost-prohibitive fantasies into margin-less realities is his specialty. And if the problem isn’t the volume of Mayday requests per customer but the total thanks to high Kindle HDX sales, things could be worse. Just ask the Microsoft Surface.

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