Help Yourself

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Internet Software Sciences offers a simple solution for even the smallest organization's customer support needs. Web+Center is an all Web-based suite of products that offers applications for both external customers and internal employees, as well as a Web application for support staff. It's a system that ISS President Scott Vanderlip says exceeds the limited and problematic method of e-mail, phone or even paper support that many smaller organizations have come to rely on.

"Web-based support is far superior," Vanderlip says. "With e-mail, all of the knowledge that gets transferred back and forth between the tech and the customers is typically lost in somebody's e-mail unless it's very carefully extracted and placed into the case record. With a Web-based system, all that knowledge gets put into a centralized database that's searchable by text and customers."

Another drawback to the e-mail system, he says, is the "blank palette" it offers customers. Without targeted questions, it's often difficult for tech support to narrow the focus of the problem and offer proper suggestions. Web+Center offers the tools to correct that problem and others faced by businesses that want the means to offer a sophisticated support system without the expense.

Support Solution
The Web+Center suite is two customer support/Help Desk applications: Customer+Center and Tech+Center. Customer+Center allows "customers"-internal employees or external customers-to register, search, submit and update problem reports. Tech+Center is a more advanced application that allows technical support staff to create, track and manage support cases.

Customer+Center features include self-registration, which allows customers to define their own username and password for secure access; automated e-mail response, which automatically sends e-mail notification when support cases are updated or resolved; and a help database that allows users to search for related problems or questions. The feature automatically creates a product-specific help desk as support cases are solved.

The Tech+Center component is slightly more comprehensive and allows support staff to input, search, track and manage support cases. Some Tech+Center features include customer and support staff databases, which allow workers to manage both customer and staff records, as well as a case-record database where records can be created, updated, and searched. The component's multi-criteria case search feature lets users perform case record searches and create reports without SQL queries, and a dispatcher screen offers information on tech staff availability for large telephone-based support organizations.

Web+Center also offers an Asset Management Component that allows customers or tech staff to assign support cases for a particular asset. When the Asset Management option is turned on, Web+Center can be used for internal help desk applications; when the option is off, Web+Center can be used for external customer support organizations.

The system is easy to use and easy to install. Vanderlip says Web+Center can be downloaded, installed and configured in a matter of hours. "One of our themes is simplicity," he says. "We have a fairly turn-key, simple system. It's not designed to be the end-all, be-all, complete worldwide enterprise system. We're targeting the much smaller internal help desk or customer support company. We purposely have not thrown in too many bells and whistles so that the customer can get up and running and it can be used by support staff with minimal training."

For most users, a major return on investment is seen in the creation of a company-wide knowledge base, Vanderlip says. "All the important case information is put into a centralized database that becomes searchable by both customers and technicians," he says. "A problem that maybe took two days to solve six months ago can now be looked up in 30 seconds." Through time saved alone, the system should begin to pay for itself, according to Vanderlip.

International Support
Web+Center's simplicity was the right fit for Infosquare, which produces software that helps organizations manage Web-site content. With 35 employees in offices in California and Italy, Infosquare was drawn to Web+Center's functionality and ease of use.

"We were looking for something that was customizable," says Tech Support Engineer David Smelser. "Price was another big factor. We didn't have a huge tech support infrastructure so we didn't need super-complicated tech support software. We do a little telephone support, but we do a lot on the Web.

Infosquare leverages Web+Center in two Web applications. One allows the technical support engineer to manage and track new clients and cases, as well as research the history of prior cases. The second is a client component that is integrated with Infosquare's public Web site. Users can register themselves in the system and submit problems, Smelser says. The system also goes a step further by letting users view the history of their specific case, as well as search a database for a summary and resolution history of other cases.

"Having tech support that's always available is a very big plus for our clients," Smelser says. "Several have commented they enjoy the fact that any problem they've ever had solved by us gets logged into the database and they can at anytime type into it."

In addition, the highly customizable Web+Center has been configured to the same "look and feel" of the Infosquare site, Smelser says. "When people are at our Web site and move to support, it looks like they're all on the same site. It's very, very integrated with the rest of the Web site."

Besides keeping customers happy, the system has also helped Infosquare improve its sales force, Smelser says. "The answer to solved problems become searchable on the Web site, so we're automatically building a list of frequently asked questions," he says. Salespeople can add new questions, which are answered by tech support and posted on the Web. Such a system keeps sales agents and customers more knowledgeable about the product.

Web+Center also makes it easy to transfer a problem to the office that can best solve it. "It allows our tech support to solve problems from virtually anywhere," Smelser says. "When someone has a problem in the U.S. and it deals with part of the code that was developed in Italy, it becomes easy to re-route the problems to a rep in Italy."

Prior to implementing Web+Center in February, Infosquare relied mostly on e-mail to handle support. It was an inefficient and unwieldy system for a business with offices on two continents. "What happened was each tech support rep would build a list of solutions that worked for him, and it was difficult to share with other offices," Smelser says. "Putting it on the Web is more useful. Everything is put in a database, so a problem I've solved today becomes a solution I can refer to in Italy."

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