e-Questions? No Problem.

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Customers, inevitably, have questions. Giving them answers can be tricky--and expensive. Research has shown that questions escalated to a telephone agent are the most expensive for companies, with e-mail coming in second. The cheapest way to satisfy customer inquiries is with self-service, Web-delivered offerings. But the problem many organizations face is finding a suitable means to answer customer questions online. Static, "frequently asked question" (FAQ) lists can be a pain for the customer and, "e-mail your question" buttons can mean a backlog for staff.

e-FAQ, from Interactive Intelligence, is a knowledge management system designed to help businesses solve the self-service dilemma. e-FAQ includes a variety of features designed to answer customer queries and keep costs down. At the same time, the solution can be used as an in-house management and reporting tool to keep internal and remote employees, traveling sales staff and others informed of the happenings across the entire enterprise.

Using e-FAQ, companies can quickly and easily build FAQ lists to automatically answer common queries. When new questions are posed, e-FAQ uses artificial intelligence and linguistic techniques to scan the database for matches, thereby reducing the number of unrelated answers that pop up on the typical FAQ list. Although targeted at self-service, the solution also makes it easy to escalate queries to live e-mail response and Web chat services.

"We're trying to break down the barriers of knowledge management," says David Fuller, director of marketing for call center applications at Interactive Intelligence.

Fuller calls e-FAQ "a new approach to online response management" since it eliminates the need for knowledge engineering found in other systems that require construction of a huge knowledge base. e-FAQ allows any subject-matter expert to be a system author. The authors only need to submit questions and their answers, which are automatically stored in the system, and keywords can then be assigned to the question to help customers, or others, find the correct answer. e-FAQ reporting tools include usage, ranking and no-match reports so FAQ authors can increase the effectiveness of the lists.

"This really breaks down those barriers [and] allows frequently asked questions to be answered in a rapid fashion, without a lot of the headaches you see in more traditional approaches," Fuller says.

E-mail and Web Features
When integrated with other Interactive Intelligence products, e-FAQ can allow inquiries to be escalated to interactive responses and live service modes, and the solution comes with a competent object model (COM) authoring interface that allows for imbededness into any Microsoft COM-compliant application. With this feature, e-FAQ can be used as a knowledge engine within the entire organization.

For e-mail applications, e-FAQ works within a configured e-mail system to automatically respond to inquiries. The system can examine all incoming queries sent to a particular mailbox and sends an e-mail containing relevant matches to the questioner. The system also can set a response mode, so that matching results will be sent to a pre-determined mailbox for further review. In cases where e-FAQ does not respond adequately, the questioner can send subsequent e-mails back to e-FAQ, which will then forward the new question to a designated box. The system includes auto acknowledgement and response templates that allow personalized messages to be sent to the message originator, and each FAQ includes XML response templates.

e-FAQ Web features include a self-service interface and the ability to support XML. The system also features e-FAQ Knowledge Manager, a Web application that administers FAQs and offers analyzing, reporting and entry authoring functions.

e-FAQ in Action
Interactive Portal, an application service provider that specializes in Web-delivered communication services, has been using e-FAQ for almost a year.

"With e-FAQ, the thinking is that we wanted to approach it two ways: the first was to try it as a benefit to people going to our Web site, but the second was to try to use it with the idea that some day down the road, we could incorporate it into our own offerings," says marketing director Craig Palmer.

Launched last year as a subsidiary of Interactive Intelligence, Interactive Portal offers a way for users to access all their communications from one phone number. "We're doing a lot more than just unified communications," Palmer says. "We're getting into Web seminars, as well as presentation-type delivery, and e-FAQ as a knowledge management tool fits into that list of virtual office type things."

still, as a new offering in the marketplace, Interactive Portal is fielding lots of questions, Palmer says. "It's very common to receive a lot of questions on Web sites, especially with a product like ours that's a little bit new and requires people to change their habits," he says.

Palmer used e-FAQ to build a Web-based list of more than 60 commonly asked questions. The system makes it easy to refine questions or add new ones when the need arises. "Whenever [a staff member] hears a question from a customer, they can funnel it over to me, and I can add that to the list," he says.

At the same time e-FAQ increases customer satisfaction, it reduces the impact on employees. "With such a small staff--we've got two people in client services--there's a little bit of a bottleneck when people have questions," he says. "Sometimes, people just have to wait, but e-FAQ makes it very simple for someone to try that first. I can see the convenience already."

Palmer also gives e-FAQ high marks for its ease of use. "I'm the marketing guy. I'm not into building the Web site or writing code or HTML," he says.

"e-FAQ was very easy to use. Once I have the questions already defined, I just copy and paste the answer into the right field, then I click on a tab that takes you to a box where you define keywords to key off of to make [the answer] easy to retrieve. It's very easy. You just build one question-and-answer pair at a time and populate the database."

The real pay-off, he says, is customer satisfaction. "In this kind of business, the customer service end is very critical. It's service we're selling, and we want to be sure [the customer's] always getting the answer they need when they need it. e-FAQ gives us a way to ensure the answer is always there."

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