The savvy e-business person knows it's all about the service. The customer service, that is. An organization can have the slickest site on the Web, but if a customer pushes his shopping cart into a dead-end, there had better be a friendly, knowledgeable agent no more than a click away who can help him navigate back into the shopping aisle. Otherwise, there may be no sale--or worse, the customer might move on to a competitors' more navigable site.
But customer service doesn't begin and end with the sale. There are questions about the product, price, site security and methods of payment. Then, once the sale is made, there are questions about order status, the return policy, shipping terms and myriad other items that must be addressed. Maybe the queries will arrive via e-mail or the Web, maybe they'll come through the call center. Either way, the organization must have the knowledge and the tools to answer to its customers, or it risks losing them.
That, at least, is one of the thoughts behind the eService Suite from ServiceWare, a software and content solution that allows organizations to provide automated, personalized e-service geared toward the needs of the end user. The suite offers tools to meet customer needs wherever they may arise: on the Web, in the field or through the call center.
The needs of employees and business partners aren't neglected, either. The eService Suite is aligned with how key user groups engage the system. This "role-based design" enables each audience to access the information they desire.
The suite consists of four products: eService Site, which gives customers, employees and partners self-help tools; eService Professional, which delivers appropriate knowledge to service agents and field representatives; eService Architect, which gives administrators the tools to build and maintain knowledge within the system; and RightAnswers.com, an Internet-based knowledge portal that offers users access to more than 350,000 problem-solution pairs.
The entire suite is supported by ServiceWare's patented Cognitive Processor, which ServiceWare describes as a self-learning, self-maintaining technology that accumulates new knowledge with each interaction.
ServiceWare CEO Mark Tapling calls the Cognitive Processor "a statistical engine that mimics human thinking." This Cognitive Processor gives the eService Suite an edge over competitors, he says.
"Since it thinks, it has the capability of handling complex questions, or considering multiple variables concurrently," he says. "Second, we answer questions based on experience, not simple word matches. The system actually learns…If you think about what we're doing here, any time anyone hits this site for a service request, we save their experience. So we're smarter every time somebody uses it. The breakthrough here is that for the first time, through the capability of the cognitive processor, we can deliver answers to complex questions in an unassisted fashion."
Service begins at the eService Site, which end-users can access through an Internet or corporate intranet connection. The site can easily be customized to the look of the customer's Web site and offers self-help users access to the knowledge base through an intuitive interface.
Customer support agents and others who interact with customers can use eService Professional through a Web-based interface to view existing data and capture and revise additional knowledge. The added knowledge eService Professional brings to the agent--even an agent who's new to the job--can sometimes make the difference between a successful customer interaction and one that gets escalated to the next level.
eService Architect provides knowledge tools that allow system administrators to design, manage and maintain knowledge bases. Authoring and editing capabilities, as well as administrative tools for all necessary product suite functions, are included in Architect.
RightAnswers.com gives organizations and end users direct access to solutions to commonly asked technology-related questions. Customers visit the ServiceWare Web site, type in a natural language query and receive a list of probable answers from a database of more than 350,000 problem/solution pairs. Multivendor support technology from Microsoft, Apple, Novell and 3Com, as well as technology content ServiceWare produces for desktop, network and SAP R/3 applications, is available via RightAnswers.com. Although RightAnswers.com is primarily distributed on a subscription basis, a version is also available on CD-ROM.
The challenge of creating a robust, reusable knowledge base that could be leveraged to increase customer support led stream International to ServiceWare. Stream's 6,000-plus employees provide technical support to corporations in a variety of industries. With 12 support centers around the world, stream resolves more than 2 million technical support issues each month in 13 languages.
Business leaders at stream knew that improving customer support meant increasing the support agents' knowledge base. But meeting that challenge over such a large enterprise was difficult.
"One of the challenges is getting agents on the phone quickly, getting them well-trained in the least amount of time, and making them as efficient as possible," says Jim Fererrato, stream vice president of Information Technology.
Accomplishing those tasks "came down to how knowledge is created, how it's authored and reused," he says. "The ease of that is dependent on technology. ServiceWare enabled us to build a very robust knowledge methodology."
The eService Suite's ability to integrate with other IT systems also became a strong selling point for stream.
Using the eService Suite, stream can gather, document and refine knowledge, making it available to employees. Information from every customer interaction--either through the call center, e-mail or chat--is entered into the suite and becomes available within the enterprise. Customers can also access this information via a self-service option on the Web.
Fererrato says the suite makes it easy for agents to reuse captured knowledge internally and share it with clients. "If you've ever done a search out on the Internet, you know you get thousands of hits," he says. "(But) the eService Architect and Professional allows you to create an environment and very quickly drive down to the appropriate answer. From an efficiency perspective, it's way above most search engines out there."
Using eService Suite, stream has become more effective in solving and reporting customer problems. Support reps have decreased call escalations by 30 percent, and training time for new agents has decreased by 15 percent.
The consistency and quality of answers have also improved. "Agents that use the tool typically score higher in the quality department," Fererrato says. "We have some very structured quality tests, and the quality of the technical support supplied has been better when agents are using the tool."
Fererrato says the system has created more of a team atmosphere among the agents. "In the past, the mentality was that if you're an agent, you're indispensable if you keep everything in your head." But as stream creates incentive programs for reps to use the system, "Their perspective becomes more of a team perspective as they create knowledge," he says. "They get a sense that wasn't there before that they're changing from agents into knowledge authors or knowledge engineers. It's a general sense that they're contributing to a body of data."