• February 2, 2004

Hot Seat: Self-Help Alters the Service Landscape

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Bill Mayer, vice president of customer and technical support, Visioneer: By bringing [customer support] back in house we can train instantaneously, because agents sit right next to the engineering department and can get a faster resolution to customer issues, especially when engineering is sitting next to you. Suzy Weaver, vice president and COO, Telvista: There are a couple of products that have been successful in pushing support to the Web. But the predominant ones are just today accepting the fact that they can't push large numbers of customers to the Web. That realization has set in. We find the person-to-person approach has always been more effective. Customer service reps can offset a lot of costs for support by simply selling something.
Daniel Hong, analyst, Datamonitor: The answer is no. Essentially, Web-based self-service is a vehicle for a company to reduce costs, improve customer service, and deflect complex customer inquiries and problematic issues to live call center agents. Although Web-based self-service improves the overall customer experience, it will never eliminate the need for call centers and the need for live agents. This is primarily attributed to Web-based self-service's linear construction. For example, Web sites typically have troubleshooting measures that are linear, if-A-then-B type answers. You see this in Web sites' FAQs; you also usually will encounter "for further assistance please call 555-5555" or "if problems persist please call." Moreover, speech is one of the most natural forms of communication. Humans prefer to voice concerns through speech in a real-time responsive environment with a live agent, rather than sending an email to complain and waiting for a response. Until artificial intelligence evolves into a commercially viable, multifaceted human-interaction tool, supporting voice recognition and voice response intuitively to be able to address all possible customer service scenarios, call centers will remain a pillar of customer relationship management. I don't foresee artificial intelligence evolving to that level in this lifetime. Thus, call centers and live agents are here to stay. Elizabeth Herrell, analyst, Forrester Research: Today 85 percent of customer communication is still done via telephone, which includes both IVR and live-agent interaction. People simply prefer using the phone. [Cell phone use has skyrocketed], so call centers need to communicate with people the way they want to communicate. Phone support won't go away. Brian Kelly, executive vice president of products, KANA: Online self-service solutions allow customers to easily find the answers to many common questions online. This enables enterprises to maximize the efficiency of their contact centers. No longer needing to respond to simple questions, call center representatives--in internal contact centers or outsourced ones--are still valuable in that they can focus on more complex inquiries and upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Ian Davis, senior manager, product marketing, ATG: We view online self-service applications as solutions that help organizations achieve greater sales and profits through the delivering of improved customer and partner relationships. That said, organizations with large call centers obviously have high customer management costs and a much higher proportion of customer service could occur online, thereby reducing call center costs. We believe, however, that self-service solutions require the functionality to seamlessly transition an interaction to assisted service (i.e., the call center) when needed, and integrate with those back-end customer care systems. After all, there are highly complex instances that require a combination of online and call center interaction. As long as highly complex scenarios exist, call centers will be an important component in building meaningful customer experiences.
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