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Show and Tell
Collaborative Web browsing gives customers much-needed human interaction in a point-and-click world.
For the rest of the March 2001 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Even though e-mail and Web-based self-help sites are a great way to support customers, sometimes people crave the human touch, especially in this increasingly electronic age.

But how can you put a real, live person behind every link on your Web site? It's easy with collaborative browsing, or co-browsing, a new technology that allows two people to meet, chat and explore a Web site together in real time.

Co-browsing enables you to make the Web an integral part of your contact center by letting online customers interact directly with service representatives. It gives your customers new options for getting information, communicating with your service representatives and doing business with your company. This powerful customer relationship management tool can be integrated easily with e-business Web solutions your company may already have.

Once contact is made with a client, the agent and the customer are literally "on the same page." A Web browser is all that is required on the client side. A number of Web site co-browsing solutions are available for either purchase or rental through a host service.

Getting Down to Specifics

Some co-browsing solutions are outstanding showcases of what's on offer in this space.

Aspect's Web Interaction offering is particularly strong when it comes to integrating other Web solutions.

"To have a complete CRM package, you must be able to aid customers via e-mail, fax, voice and the Web. A company can use Aspect's workforce management solution to manage Web agents, e-mail agents and voice agents, and can even train agents to handle all three types of communications. The key here is that they can view their entire contact center operation as one operation regardless of the media communication channel," says Lakshmi Bakshi, Aspect Communications' vice president of marketing.

"Web interaction alone will not provide a complete CRM solution, but the Aspect Portal software is able to blend e-mail, fax, voice and the Web into one solution providing a consistent customer interaction," Bakshi explains. "And companies can get a whole new insight into their customer interactions because Aspect provides solutions to capture and analyze all interaction information so that it can be used to determine ways to enhance the customer experience while increasing the operational efficiency of a contact center."

Expertcity provides human contact technologies through its Desktopstreaming.com ASP site. Companies can use Desktopstreaming.com to add a myriad of live support, help and collaboration tools to their own Web sites.

Using Desktopstreaming.com, once a customer service representative (CSR) is engaged by the customer, he or she can view the customer's computer screen and control the customer's mouse and keyboard. The effect is the same as if the CSR were sitting at the customer's computer, working directly with the customer.

"We call it a Virtual House Call," says Omid Rahmat, vice president of corporate planning and communications at Expertcity. "The CSR gets to see exactly what the customer sees and can work hand-in-hand with the customer, irrespective of the customer's computing abilities. This leads to a tremendous rise in first-time resolution of problems and a much higher customer satisfaction rating."

"And since the CSR and customer are working together visually to address problems, call handling times are reduced dramatically because the rep is not struggling to recreate the customer's problems, but can see the problem directly on the screen as the customer sees it," Rahmat adds. "Using the white boarding feature, rather than explaining where to click, a CSR can actually circle the item that should be clicked, right there on the customer's screen. And using the mutual mouse control, an agent also has the option of clicking the item for the customer, as if that CSR were reaching over the customer's shoulder."

San Carlos, Calif.-based Hipbone offers a Java-based proxy-server architecture that includes sophisticated support for advanced Web technologies now commonly used in personalized selling solutions. These technologies include cookies, dynamically generated pages, framesets, JavaScript, end-to-end SSL encryption and the ability to co-navigate through portions of a site requiring username and password authentication. These features have proven essential in delivering enhanced collaborative support for complex, high-value or high-touch products and service transactions such as configuring and ordering computers or enterprise software completing and submitting B2B exchange transactions or buying and selling securities online.

Hipbone's customers are predominantly engaged in B2B e-commerce in financial services, high-tech and trading exchanges, says Anne McVey, vice president of marketing at Hipbone.

Beyond Shopping

Co-browsing can be used for more than just solving purchasing problems. For example, Bakshi suggests that co-browsing has a place in human resources. "When hired, new employees must fill out several forms that are often confusing. And as the workplace heads more and more to a paperless office, these forms are being placed on company intranets. Now an employee could get help filling out these forms online quickly rather than having to leave a voicemail for someone in HR and waiting until an HR representative calls back."

Jeff Adams, an industry analyst for Gartner's e-Business Services group, agrees that "users' imaginations are the only limitation with co-browsing solutions."

"The customer and CSR effectively get to work on the same screen, and that means the level of service provided and the types of services on offer can range from simple e-commerce solutions and site navigation to highly complex and proprietary support of applications and online systems," Adams says.

Hipbone's McVey concurs that customization opens all sorts of interesting options for these tools. She suggests enterprises consider creating "customized, comprehensive advertising packages," noting that MSN Sales chose Hipbone to permit its advertising sales team to escort ad buyers visually directly to specific pages within a site to facilitate media placement discussions and help close business online.

Boosting the Bottom Line

According to Rodney Needham, a "new economy" economist who teaches at Rutgers University, a good customer interaction strategy can turn a contact center from a cost center to a profit center.

Needham says that a good strategy must include the Web, e-mail and phone support, live- and self-help options, the ability to develop business rules quickly for handling customer interactions and the ability to access various data residing all over the company.

Bakshi agrees, adding that with the right co-browsing workforce management tools, the overall efficiency of a contact center can increase. "Agents can 'transfer' customer interactions from phone to Web if the customer has a browser available--this saves money because Web interactions are less expensive than phone interactions. Of course, if a Web business continues to grow, it may have to add agents to handle all of the transactions bringing the company new business, but that is a good thing. Analysts estimate Web and e-mail communications will increase dramatically compared to phone interactions, so companies will have to provide this type of support in order to lead in their space."

According to Rahmat, Desktopstreaming.com's ROI model shows that first-time resolution rates on support calls are over 85 percent with its technology. "In addition, the average call-handling time using Desktopstreaming.com's technology can be cut by almost 50 percent," he says. "So, use of Desktopstreaming.com's technology provides immediate bottom-line savings from a productivity standpoint and from a customer satisfaction viewpoint. The technology also helps to keep CSRs motivated by reducing the time-consuming and repetitive processes involved in a traditional support call and by keeping the CSRs involved throughout the process. These benefits help to reduce the high turnover rates that are typical of traditional call centers."

Co-browsing tools also provide an increased ability to cross-sell and up-sell as telesales representatives escort prospects though a catalog or online order form, as well as an acceleration of the entire sales process due to the ease of delivering information or presentations online immediately upon a prospect's expression of interest. In this respect, a sales organization can be maximally reactive while simultaneously minimizing a competitor's window of opportunity.

Hipbone's McVey says that her company's internal studies have shown that less than one in five online retailers deploys advanced technologies to enhance Web shopping, yet according to a survey by Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting, 62 percent of Internet consumers say that if live online customer service were available, they would purchase more products via the Web.

McVey says that pilot studies by Hipbone customers selling in B2B environments have established a positive correlation between the frequency and value of purchases by new corporate customers given escorted tours of online buying and support capabilities. By ensuring that new customers (or existing customers that the business wants to shift to Web-based purchasing) are comfortable with the process, businesses remove reasons for customers to delay Web purchases or revert to more expensive channels, such as call centers.

McVey adds that by ensuring that a rep is part of every visit to an escorted area of a site, an organization can ensure prospect follow-on interest is always known, charted and managed.

"Research shows that a positive customer experience drives more e-loyalty than traditional attributes like product selection or price," McVey said. "By being immediately accessible to customers that are experiencing problems, a business can preserve or recover customer loyalty. One Hipbone customer has commented back to us that co-browsing is 'invaluable' in handling dispute situations online, since agents and customers are always sharing the exact same view of a document (or catalog or schedule and so on)."

On the Horizon

Collaborative browsing technology is moving ahead at accelerated speed.

Rahmat notes that Desktopstreaming.com is adding features so that one CSR can pass a customer's screen on to another CSR, in effect, allowing technicians to transfer a customer call. In addition, features are being added to allow CSRs to display screens and information from their own computers to customers for demonstration purposes. Basically, the browser becomes a window on to the computer desktop making it possible for CSRs and customers to exchange screens and collaborate as if they were both sitting at their computers, next to each other.

McVey believes that co-browsing will evolve on several fronts. "From a housekeeping standpoint, co-browse solution vendors must continuously and rapidly evolve to keep pace with the evolution of both Web programming and browser technologies," she says. "Being able to co-navigate the Web terrain of a complex site should not involve the customer rewriting or 'dumbing down' their site to accommodate co-browsing. Vendors must also be able to rapidly respond to change, enhancements and upgrades in new releases of mainstream browsers."

Gartner's Adams sees co-browsing tools moving toward greater compatibility and co-existence with also-evolving telephony technology.

"Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is another area where we will see greater usage over the coming year. This will expand customer support options greatly," says Adams. "Especially in the B2C space, where many customers are still connecting through a single phone line from their home."

Adams adds that getting the full value out of a Web site hinges on first providing that value to clients and customers.

"If you make it easy for them to do business with you, they'll be happy to give you their business. And that, in a nutshell, is what co-browsing is all about. It fuses the best aspects of a neighborhood mom and pop shop with the convenience of e-commerce. Throw in the remote control razzle-dazzle that awes the folks and makes their lives easier, and you can see why collaborative browsing is reshaping eCRM.

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Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationCRM.com/subscribe/.
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