Customer Choice Drives New Product

The right combination of live customer support and Web-enabled self-service has always been a difficult balance. Web-based support may cut costs, but many customers feel alienated and frustrated with self-service. But a new product from customer support solutions provider Sento aims at decreasing live support without leaving some customers feeling left out in the cold. The product, called Customer Choice Platform, blends outsourced live support with the company's proprietary software solutions. Sento says its solutions let customers make their own informed choices from a range of Web-enabled self-service options, with live support available as an alternative at every critical point. "Online self-service, especially email-based support, is not the appropriate medium for customer service," says Ronnie Johansen, senior vice president of solutions development at Sento. "It can take a long time for companies to respond, and leads to customer dissatisfaction." Johansen says that most end users of the solution tend to select live chat options rather than choosing to contact a service representative via phone, which can allow for cost savings, as fewer representatives may be needed. "Chat is a popular feature, because users do not have to disconnect from the Web and can be talked through a solution by a service representative while still at their computer," Johansen says. Some companies are more apt to choose a solution like Sento's than others. According to Johansen, companies whose customers are already familiar with the Web will benefit more from the solution than a company whose customers are less 'Net-savvy. One example is Intuit, whose TurboTax software allows individuals to file their income tax instantly over the Web. Intuit installed the Customer Choice Platform for the busy 2002 tax season as part of a support outsourcing initiative. Erik Seoane, director of service delivery for the TurboTax division of Intuit, says that the solution has been so helpful that only 5 percent of service calls are now handled over the phone, compared to 100 percent prior to installing the product. "We used to be a phone based operation, and because of the overwhelming volume of service requests, had a lot of abandoned calls," Seoane says. "Now with the solution in place, our service levels remain as high as 95 percent, even during the busiest periods, since nearly every service request is handled via live chat or Web self-service." Seoane says that some reeducation was involved for existing customers who were used to using the telephone to receive support, but he adds that adoption of the self-service and chat options was rapid and trouble-free.
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