Right now, getting help when something unusual goes wrong is a frustrating experience for customers. They've come to stereotype the experience as waiting endlessly on hold, deciphering strangely cheerful foreign accents, humoring technicians who are incapable of understanding, let alone answering, their questions, and taking time off to wait for a tech who doesn't show.

Tech support pros are just as frustrated, experiencing the same issues from their vendors' tech support and dealing with users who start the interaction expecting nothing, despite their own cluelessness. But even with these drags on their morale, many sally forward and poke around cryptic forums, hunting for answers among the rants to find an answer for their frustrated users and reaching out to fellow support pros through social networks and the like.

Will it always be like this? Can it get any worse? Or are there technologies in the works that can make the customer experience much better for both tech support staff and the users? Fortunately, the answer appears to be "yes." Here are the technology heroes coming to help.

Tech support hero #1: Augmented reality

You park your electric hover-car in the garage, head down to the office, and pop open a server that needs a memory upgrade. The mass of miniature guts staring back at you gives you a bit of vertigo, just where is that memory hiding? But instead of heading online to hunt up a schematic for this particular machine, you instead grab your smartphone. You launch an augmented reality app on your smartphone, scan the bar codes on both the computer and the new part, and point the camera at the slithery mess in front of you. Gazing at it all through your smartphone brings everything into focus. Each tiny chip and connector is now labeled, and a big arrow points to the old part you are replacing. You click a link to launch a video that demonstrates exactly what to do next. Voilà! You've installed the upgrade in a few minutes rather than a few hours.

"People originally thought augmented reality would involve a head's-up display," says Horst Haussecker, director of interactions and experiences technology at Intel Labs. A head's-up type of application requires a lot of technology, more than most people would be willing to have on hand, so Haussecker doesn't see it as all that viable.

But when Internet and GPS became commonly integrated in smartphones, it opened up a new world for augmented reality. "If you align a smartphone screen with what you are seeing," says Haussecker, "it gives you a peephole version of augmented reality." (You can try this right now if you have an Android smartphone running Version 1.6 or later of the OS. Search for Google Goggles in the Android Market.) It turns out, he says, "that people find the feeling of immersion pretty good."

Add bar code scanning to the augmented reality display, making it quick and easy to locate the object you want to work with, and this concept could become a viable method of delivering targeted information in an easy-to-digest format. Making technical specs on a large number of machines a scan or two away is perfect for technical support. This is still in the idea stage, though, so it is a few years away. But a geek can hope.

Find your next job with techworld jobs