Customer service is an area ripe for the marriage of traditional business practices and modern, Web-enabled capabilities. Organizations need to adapt their customer service process to combine their current approach -- primarily focused around the use of experts -- with the ability to tap into the “wisdom of crowds” enabled by the Web. Organizations that make this transition the fastest will be the first to reap the benefits of delivering a superior user experience, increasing customer satisfaction and decreasing support costs.
There is a lot of talk in the industry about the SaaS model being the future of business software, but Web 2.0 is a lot more than simple SaaS. It is characterized by the social computing movement, where people interact with other likeminded individuals to get things done. What is often taken for granted, however, is the use of SaaS as a platform to deliver new Web capabilities. For example, before the Web and SaaS, it was difficult for an on-premise software solution to easily form -- and take advantage of -- a user community. It is this social computing context at the heart of Web 2.0 that makes SaaS applications take off and spread like wildfire.
The use of the Web as a platform and the emergence of Web 2.0 trends like social networking and user-generated content have changed the mindset of users by providing them the ability to interact with one another. So where does that leave the corporation when it comes to providing customer self-service? Does it mean that customers will abandon corporate branded sites in favor of third-party sites such as FixYa.com and GetSatisfaction.com? The Web is all about getting it now, and it’s open for business 24 x 7 x 365. So post the question, get the answer and move on -- it’s fast, easy and inexpensive. What’s the down side? None really, at least not for the customer. But for the company, plenty: There is the risk of losing the customer franchise, the risk of losing brand loyalty, and the risk of losing the chance for the up-sell or getting the drop on the competition.
Historically, customer service processes have been dependent on the use of experts, whether they were answering phone calls and email inquiries as agents, or developing knowledge base articles for self-service purposes. The old paradigm was to have departments of subject matter experts (SMEs) feverishly trying to publish enough content to keep pace with user demand. But they could never scale in pace with the Web no matter how hard they tried. Add to that the friction caused by mandated compliance reviews and publishing release processes, and you see why SMEs are doomed to be behind the proverbial eight ball forever.
Providing great service for Web savvy customers requires publishing at Web speed, and communities and forums are a great way to get this done. The point is to get the community to participate in the development of the very content they want and need; the best way to do this is for corporate sponsors to provide engaging community authoring and collaboration tools as an integral part of their Web self-service portals.
Crowdsourcing gets coverage at Web speed like nothing ever before. Most of the time, if a problem exists, it’s been had -- and has probably been solved -- in the user community. The new value in self-service is harvesting this vast community to keep self-service content evergreen, up to speed with the problem du jour and readily available as part of the self-service help stream.
Then again, being a mile wide and an inch deep may not work well in all situations. There are times when going deep is important -- and what about the customer that tries to self-serve but can’t? Do third party sites provide any means of escalation other than iterative complaining? Probably not; that’s why it’s so important to have community and subject matter expertise combined on a corporate branded site. It means that customers can come home to somebody who really cares if their problems get solved. That’s why combining traditional SME-based content and knowledge sources together with community generated content and a means of escalation is the new best practice for Web self-service.
About the author
Anthony Nemelka is president and CEO of HelpStream. His extensive experience with a large variety of enterprise, workgroup, and personal productivity solutions is the driving force behind HelpStream’s emergence as a leader in collaborative, next-generation customer service and help desk solutions.
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