If there's one thing the Internet has given the consumer, it's instant anytime gratification.
While this ease of use is great for the customer, it creates a suite of challenges for the e-business. Perhaps one of the most persistent of those challenges is the need to provide consistent, accurate and easily accessible help and information. When a customer has a burning question at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, being able to find the right answer can mean the difference between a loyal follower and a click for the competition.
Broad Daylight President and CEO Louise Kirkbride understands this challenge. As founder of Answer Systems, in 1988 Kirkbride secured the first patent for problem-resolution technology. Kirkbride's current Silicon Valley-based start-up is an outgrowth of this early business, but with a twist. "I saw this whole idea of question and answer emerging on the Web a little bit differently," she says.
Broad Daylight's flagship product, Broad Mind, lets organizations answer questions instantly on their Web sites, reducing the number of customer escalations, such as e-mails and telephone calls, and ultimately increasing customer satisfaction while saving money.
"When you go to a Web site with a question, we believe your goal is to get an answer right then, not to send an e-mail, not to pick up the phone," Kirkbride says. "Our goal is not to force you to escalate your search."
Broad Mind, which is available in hosted or licensed versions, meets that need by giving e-businesses a means through which customer queries can be answered automatically, and the responses are saved for future reference by new customers, prospects, members, sales representatives and business partners.
Kirkbride says Broad Mind is more effective than typical Q&A solutions that rely on static, voluminous lists of previously asked questions users must scroll through in search of the right answer. Broad Mind allows users to search for answers by a variety of means, including keyword, topic and even the date a question was asked. The most common questions are automatically placed at the beginning of the list, Kirkbride says. The system even identifies "hot topics" and automatically puts those issues at the top of the list. The application encourages users to ask new and follow-up questions, and offers a list of questions that have been asked by others. There's also a feature that lets users sign up for automatic updates on FAQs that are of particular interest.
"It works because it's simple," Kirkbride says. "If you're the customer and you have a question, we say, 'By gosh, if that question's been answered before, we're going to make sure you find it.'"
The pay-off for the e-business is high, she says. Forrester Research estimates the cost of responding to a customer query by phone totals $33. By e-mail, it's $9.99. Web self-service, on the other hand, is estimated to cost $1.17.
Broad Mind features include a Web interface that gives users self-service access to the company knowledge base, integration with any site's search engine, reporting capabilities to track visitors, as well as internal activity levels and the ability to accommodate an unlimited number of system "experts" who can answer user questions.
Here's how it works: A customer logs in and asks a question on the company site. If the question has been answered before, the answer pops up on the screen. If an answer doesn't yet exist, Broad Mind routes the question to the person or department that can best reply, and the question can be answered via e-mail or the Web. Next, the answer is e-mailed to the customer and published on the Web page. In addition, the new answer is automatically indexed in the search engine and filed under the correct topic.
And it's as easy to answer a question as it is to ask one, Kirkbride says. Questions to experts "come in the same old e-mail in the basket," she says. "If you can hit the reply button and type in an answer, you're done." Broad Mind manages all the back-end routing of e-mails, editorial approval, HTML publishing and workflow. It's a stand-alone application that can be up and running in as little as two weeks. Broad Mind applications can also be networked to share content from multiple Q&A channels via a software plug-in module called Broad Network.
According to Kirkbride, the benefits of Broad Mind become apparent very quickly. As the Broad Mind knowledge base grows, the volume of questions that get escalated to e-mail or the telephone decreases, while the savings to the organization increase. "A big percentage [of Web site visitors] actually get their answer right then," Kirkbride says. "That means zero response time at that dollar price line."
San Francisco-based E-Color has been using Broad Mind for a little over a year and has been pleased with the results. E-Color offers color correction for vendors that sell color-sensitive products on the Internet, such as clothing and décor. E-Color's solutions offer highly accurate color renderings of items shown on the screen, so customers know what they see on the screen will look the same as what appears in the mail. E-Color also offers a licensed product that goes along with monitors and video cameras.
E-Color fields something like 700 to 1,000 queries each month, estimates Quality Assurance Manager Akien MacIaian. With Broad Mind, 98 percent of those queries are answered automatically.
"To have staff around to answer all those queries would certainly chew up a couple of people's time," says MacIaian.
Broad Mind's capabilities are especially helpful during E-Color's peak times in the evening. "Unless we have someone on call 24 hours a day, we wouldn't be able to provide assistance to all those people. The automated system gives us the opportunity to address most users' concerns any time of the day or night."
At the same time, MacIaian says Broad Mind "is just nicely engineered." E-Color staff can easily update information or add new answers. And for the customer, "Getting the information people want is fast...It's a better user experience, and also the fact that we're not having to hire extra staff has saved us a lot of money."
MacIaian admits, however, the customer response wasn't really something he was prepared for. "Quite frankly," he says, "I didn't expect to see any feedback on the quality of the automated system, but we've got quite a few comments on it. One that sticks in my head is from somebody who came in [to the Web site] in the middle of the night looking for something and managed to get it. The comment was something like he didn't really expect to see anything on the topic at all, but he got the answer he needed."