Support the People

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When customers talk, a business better listen. Sounds simple, but today's e-business knows it isn't easy. Customers today have dozens of ways to interact with businesses. No matter which method they choose, be it e-mail, Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or thetelephone, customers expect the business to be accessible.

Typically, companies have three options when trying to meet customers' diverse needs: The business can purchase dozens of software packages and attempt to integrate them in-house; it can select a single vendor for all CRM touch points; or it can contract with an application service provider (ASP).

Los Angeles-based PeopleSupport offers another option to manage customer interactions. The PeopleSupport method combines infrastructure services with outsourcing capabilities to create a CRM solution tailored to an individual business' needs. Instead of performing a full-fledged software implementation for each new customer, companies can use PeopleSupport's already-configured solution, which can be individualized to each business.

"We've taken a technology platform that includes several different products we've integrated together and combined it with proprietary technologies we've developed that we then host," says PeopleSupport CEO and Chairman Lance Rosenzweig. "We then give agents access to that system and create a very powerful, complete eCRM offering to our customers."

Traditional eCRM applications are "very expensive, time consuming and fraught with difficulties, and many will fail," says Rosenzweig. "What PeopleSupport does is offer a completely hosted, pre-packaged, up-and-running service that provides whole eCRM integration for companies."

PeopleSupport can be offered in a software and infrastructure hosting model, out
sourcing or co-sourcing solution to meet the needs of any business--and the needs of any customer. Time to market is short, and virtually any mode of customer communication can be met using PeopleSupport. In the hosted model, clients use PeopleSupport's technology infrastructure, software, hardware and IT resources and provide their own customer service representatives. PeopleSupport also offers the hosted model in conjunction with highly trained customer care representatives called eReps. eReps are trained to interact with Internet customers via live online chat, e-mail and voice communications. The co-sourcing model allows both a company's customer service representatives and PeopleSupport's eReps to interface with clients on a single platform.

PeopleSupport offerings include live help solutions that can be delivered through e-mail management, voice communications and live online chat. In order to support these live help channels, PeopleSupport has developed several Operation Centers to provide best-of-breed live-help technologies for businesses. PeopleSupport's self help channel uses natural language automated response technology to allow customers to find answers to frequently asked questions.

PeopleSupport captures customer data across all integrated channels using the information to provide a powerful customer intelligence tool and develop analyses and integrated reports that assist in product and service development, marketing efforts and communications programs. And a Web-based Client Portal offers access to customer intelligence reports, as well as transcripts of e-mails and live online chats.

"PeopleSupport has developed a rapidly deployable, best-in-class, fully integrated technology solution that enables customers to communicate with companies through the contact channels of their choice," says Rosenzweig. "When we established this business, we envisioned an offering that would flexibly meet the ever-changing needs of the businesses and customers PeopleSupport serves."

Changing Expectations

Midwest Express Airlines has a reputation for providing its customers with superior care in the air and wants to extend that reputation across all its customer touch points. When the time came to relaunch its corporate Web site, Midwest Express knew it needed to upgrade several features.

While doing strategy work around the upgrade, Midwest business leaders recognized that their customers were beginning to do business differently than before, says Carol Reda, director of distribution and e-business for Midwest Express. "We needed to meet the expectations of our customers in order to do business," she says, "and allow them to interact with us through the medium of their choice," including e-mails, live online chat or dial-in. At the same time, says Reda, the organization realized that "servicing the online customers requires a great deal of resources and skills that are somewhat beyond our current means in-house."

After examining several offerings on the market, Midwest Express chose PeopleSupport to provide Web-based live online chat and e-mail response reservations, as well as travel support for its customers. "PeopleSupport was, from the start, an Internet service that understood the technology of the Internet," says Reda. "They understood e-mail and chat and had gone out and partnered with some of the products we were considering ourselves." Partnering with PeopleSupport gave Midwest the opportunity to use the technology without the expense of purchasing and installing it, another benefit to the Milwaukee-based airline.

"This technology is so new that you could spend a couple of million dollars on a solution that you don't necessarily know is the right one for you," says Reda. "In the long run, the ability to outsource it gives the technology some aging so you can see what type of releases are going to come out and what you're going to do in terms of long-term growth."

PeopleSupport also embraced some of the same customer-service philosophies that were important at Midwest, says Reda.

Midwest Express customers can use PeopleSupport's e-mail and live online chat technologies and eReps to make such requests as using frequent flyer mileage for flights, obtaining frequent flyer numbers, receiving assistance with creating their online personal profiles, retrieving discount information, changing pre-assigned seating and requesting special meals.

PeopleSupport now handles about 90 percent of Midwest Express' e-mail and chat, says Reda. "It has opened up a new channel for people to communicate with us. Because people today are more technologically savvy and more into customer service, we've just given them another window to talk to us more easily. It allows us an opportunity to serve our customers better."

For Midwest Express, the return on the PeopleSupport investment centers on the improved customer service the airline is able to provide. "We're able to service our customers in the medium of their choosing," Reda says, "and not force them to go through a channel that may not be one of their choice."

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