Customer Service for the Web 2.0 World

Frankly, customer service representatives need all the help they can get their hands on these days. With heavier workloads, more complex problems to tackle, and an increasingly impatient and Web-savvy consumer, finding solutions to problems has never been tougher. Despite the contention made earlier this year by an analyst for industry research firm Gartner -- "It's going to be quite some time until [contact centers] are Web 2.0-ready" -- Helpstream, an on-demand customer service solutions provider, believes it has found the right mix of traditional support methods and Web 2.0 capabilities with its Summer 2008 release, now generally available.

Richard Nieset, Helpstream's executive vice president of marketing and sales, explains that his company combined what he calls the "focal points of 'Web 2.0-ness' " over the course of the last two years--wikis, crowdsourcing, forums, and blogs--in an attempt to bring the contact center onto the same playing field as Internet-savvy consumers. "We've made this a customer service application designed for the way Web 2.0 works, in that we're providing the really super-rich community-building capability as part-and-parcel of your overall customer service capability," he says. "Helpstream converges the service side of CRM as we've known it, taking knowledge bases and content management capabilities and combining these with other Web collaboration styles. That's how we're positioning ourselves as a leader in this space."

According to Nieset, the highlights of the Summer 2008 release revolve around integration, authoring, and productivity--most specifically:

  • a new "iframe" design layout for the customer self-service portal, which Nieset says has already received great feedback and was designed to have a look and feel to similar layouts found on the Web;
  • the ability to author knowledge base articles in any format, including the capability to convert Microsoft Word documents into knowledge base articles and being able to create these in the Web-friendly Rich Text Format; and
  • integration with Microsoft Outlook, which allows email-based case creation and the ability to synchronize between an agent's office productivity tools and the Helpstream platform. (Nieset stresses that this can be done without logging into Helpstream.)

John Ragsdale, vice president of research for the Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA), says he's impressed with the new functionality Helpstream is bringing to the contact center agent desk, but what really stands out to him is the new ability to search Google. "We need to start incorporating multiple avenues to find content, and some companies are starting to realize Google is a very valuable tool for problem diagnostics and self-service," he says. Ragsdale goes on to explain that the companies that have been slow to come to this realization will have to keep up with customer preferences. "When we surveyed 1,500 consumers on how satisfied they were with self-service channels--the top satisfied channel was Google," he recalls.

Primarily successful with small-to-midsize businesses so far, Ragsdale says Helpstream has tackled one of that segment's core needs. "Their early success has been more on the midmarket side, because if you look at the cost of implementing a platform from some of the leading vendors doing self-service or forums, it's a very expensive purchase," he says. "Midmarket companies don't have that kind of budget, but they have the very same business problem the large companies do. The Helpstream approach is [at] a lower price point, but also lower complexity and an on-demand [delivery model] which is very appealing to smaller companies who don't have in-house expertise on this technology."

That said, Ragsdale adds that there's plenty of opportunity for upward mobility. "Helpstream has proven that it knows what its doing, and has some early success stories," he says. "Once Helpstream is able to publicize those case studies, it can start getting a lot more visibility on the higher end."  It certainly doesn't hurt that the company's upper-level management has a track record at such industry powerhouses as Adobe Systems, IBM, Knova Software, Callidus Software, Oracle, Kana Software, and Remedy. "The executive team and employees have so much credibility, because they all have a lot of years of experience in this industry," Ragsdale says. "That will help them an awful lot."

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