Market Watch: Improving Self-Service Results With Search Capabilities

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When it comes to self-service, search is starting to take over. In the past self-service often meant clicking through static Web pages to find the desired information. But with searching becoming the preferred method of finding information on the Web, many companies are including search capabilities on their sites. Often this means using knowledge-base software to give customers access to the same information that companies provide to their service reps and other staff. Organizations can use one source of information to assist customer support and help desk representatives with solving incoming customer questions, to support sales and marketing teams, and to allow customers to get answers via online self-service. Chris Selland, managing director at Reservoir Partners, says that in a time when Google has become a verb, search is a natural for knowledge bases and self-service. "Most people are very comfortable with search," Selland says. "And search engines make knowledge bases even more powerful. But the most important thing about search is that nearly everybody knows how to use it." David Daniels, a Jupiter Research analyst, applauds the power of search in self-service, but warns that companies need to monitor its effectiveness. He notes that users often get frustrated if basic keyword searching does not give them specific results, and suggests that natural-language searching is more intuitive. Jupiter's research indicates that customer dissatisfaction with self-service search jumped to 49 percent in 2003, from 31 percent in 2002. Still, Selland claims that although knowledge bases with search capabilities are complex and not without kinks, the value they deliver is "worth their weight in gold." The leaders in providing knowledge-base solutions include Kana, Kanisa, Primus, RightNow Technologies, ServiceWare, and SkyWire. Selland credits RightNow, which offers a hosted knowledge-base service, as helping to spark interest in hosted knowledge solutions. "They are the Salesforce.com of the customer service industry," Selland says. "They offer high value at low risk, and for most customers it's very cost effective." Two Service Reps, Hundreds of Thousands of Customers Of the more than 8,000 users who visit Vindigo's Web site each week for self-service, only 180 on average contact the company, according to Andrew Grosso, director of customer service. The reason? Using RightNow Technologies, 98 percent of those who seek help find it on their own. Vindigo provides more than 13 mobile applications and services, including maps, weather, and listings for restaurants, movies, nightlife, and museums, to hundreds of thousands of users. In 2001 the company moved from an advertising model to its current subscription-based business model. Vindigo officials believed that, as a result, users would expect a higher level of service and support. The company wanted to meet those expectations without building an expensive call center, according to Grosso. Vindigo tried several solutions before settling on RightNow, a hosted service that gives Vindigo a searchable knowledge base, email management tools, reporting tools, and a mechanism for customers to give feedback on the effectiveness of the support they received. The combination of tech-savvy customers and RightNow means that Vindigo needs just two customer service representatives to handle all its service needs. All emails are answered within 24 hours. Grosso says surveys of its members show that more than 50 percent are extremely satisfied with their service experience. The company is now moving to provide support over the phone via text messaging. The text messages are linked through the support queue and can be tailored to deliver messages of just 100 characters. "Using text messaging means that when users contact us we immediately know what device they are using, and can automatically link to a segment in the knowledge base that can respond with an appropriate message that works for that device," Grosso says. Overall, Grosso says, the benefits of using RightNow include a boost in customer support staff morale, greater insight into customer service issues, no strain on internal IT resources, the ability to deliver 24x7 customer support, and the ability to optimize service offerings via customer feedback. --L.P.
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