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June 1999

Does Your Call Center Do the Web?


When customers or employees want help, what do they really need? They need information targeted to their specific question — they need knowledge. Knowledge is more than just information. Knowledge is information in the context of specific customer questions. How will you provide that knowledge? Support vehicles include the customer service representative in a call center, fax-on-demand, e-mail queries, and one of the fastest growing areas of support — the Web. Web-enabled support may be the "killer app" for service, enabling you to create an avenue for customers and internal help desk employees to get the knowledge they need.

However, as anyone who has been on the Web knows, how a company implements its Web support will determine if it is productive for customers or support staff. If your Web support is difficult to navigate or confusing to customers, it is as bad or worse than not having Web support at all. Customers may try your service and support area once, and if it doesn’t measure up, they may never try it again. That means wasted effort and money on a support tool that is not productive. But, if you implement your Web support correctly, internal help desk employees and external customers can get the knowledge they need, when they need it. And when this happens, these same users will tend to turn to that resource more often — and think more highly of the support team that helped them. The key to a successful Web support solution is getting the right information to users in a simple, familiar way. So how do you build the right Web support? Enter Web-enabled call centers that bring just-in-time knowledge right to the employee’s or the customer’s browser.

A Web-enabled call center is based on proven technologies: The Web and knowledge management software. The Internet — especially the Web — or an intranet offers users unparalleled access to information. You can find just about anything on the Web. The task for a Web-enabled call center is to provide useful information as quickly as possible. Web-enabled call centers might include technologies such as e-mail routing and tracking, real-time text chat, one-click access to a CSR, voice over IP, and so forth. But the key to a Web-enabled call center is a knowledge management tool.

A knowledgebase is a database containing either prepackaged content from companies such as ServiceWare, Inc., Novell, or others, or containing custom content that someone from your company has entered. The Web-enabled knowledge tool’s basic function is to receive a query, search the available knowledgebases, and return only knowledge that is relevant to the query. When you Web-enable your knowledgebase, you enter into a new era of access for both help desk employees and end users. By presenting these users with a simple format through a familiar browser, you can successfully have them enter a query and get their response.

So, is a Web-enabled knowledge tool all you need? Well, a Web-enabled call center is not a magic bullet. The success of Web support is directly tied to the competence of the user and the effort put into preparing the knowledge in your knowledgebase. Users may still not be able to find what they want. Can they enter the right query? Are they knowledgeable enough to ask the right question or answer the question they are being asked correctly? Will they refuse to even try Web support, preferring instead the reassurance of a human voice on the telephone? In addition, there is no guarantee that your number of support incidents will go down. In fact, the number may increase, particularly if word gets out that users can actually get quality support. Users who have avoided using the phone might start using the Web.

A quality knowledge management solution is not going to solve all of your support problems. Even the most savvy users sometimes need more help than a knowledgebase can provide. And even with the best products, new problems are always cropping up. Users are inherently curious, and their environments are dynamic. They are not sitting on the same machines with the same software today that they had yesterday. New versions of software, new operating systems, and new users trying new ways of doing things do not create a static environment where all of the answers can fit neatly into a single knowledgebase.

If a knowledge management tool isn’t going to solve all of your problems, why should you use one to put your knowledge on the Web? Why use a knowledge tool at all? You can use a knowledge tool as one more arrow in your quiver to give your users what they need now: Answers to their questions, and the ability to get back to work fast. With a little effort on your part and the right tool, you can improve your support and, possibly, reduce your costs.

Using the Web as a way to deliver knowledge to customers gives advantages to both users and to the support team. The main advantages for customers include worldwide, 24x7 availability and a familiar query tool — a Web browser. Users from around the world can now access your knowledge. If they can get on the Web, they can check your site. They will see this as a significant improvement over an international telephone call. Employees or users no longer have to wait on hold while someone else is being helped. The people you support can now support themselves, at least in part.

If you are offering support, you probably already have an Internet or intranet Web site, but is it really making your job easier? The adage goes that content is king. A knowledge management tool offers the ability to update content quickly. How frequently do you update your FAQs on your site? With a knowledge tool, updating a site is part of the process of building knowledge. As your representatives answer questions, they find new or better answers to the real questions being posed, and that knowledge can be rapidly updated in the knowledgebase.

Web support may also reduce the number of calls because customers can find answers themselves. It will also reduce training time if CSRs use a standard Web browser — one with which they are familiar — to enter their queries. If either employees or customers can find what they want, their satisfaction with not only support, but the entire company, will improve.

When a company chooses a Web-enabled knowledge tool, they can be confident that their CSRs are giving users the approved, correct answers. In addition, they gain other benefits of a standard knowledge tool: The ability to update knowledge quickly, a reduced number of escalations, less duplication of effort, and quicker training, which will make employees more productive, more quickly.


Tom Robinson is a technical writer from Salt Lake City, UT, who works with Knowlix Corporation, Inc. Knowlix builds powerful and affordable knowledge tools that seamlessly integrate with the existing workflow of internal help desks and customer support centers. With iKnow knowledge tools, you can reduce call duration, diminish first-time calls, and decrease expensive call escalation. For more information, visit Knowlix’s Web site at www.knowlix.com.

Adding The Web To Your Knowledge Solution

Now that you know what a knowledge management solution can do, you might wonder which knowledge tool you should choose. Each company’s needs are different, and there is no single tool that will fit everyone’s needs. In fact, the list of knowledge tools is growing, but four of the leading products are iKnowWeb from Knowlix (http://www.knowlix.com), Knowledge Kiosks from Molloy (http://www.molloy.com), SolutionExplorer from Primus (http://www.primus.com), and Web Advisor from ServiceSoft (http://www.servicesoft.com).

Each of these tools is only the Web component of the company’s complete knowledge management solution. They each have other products for authoring new knowledgebases, accessing the knowledgebases from a network server, measuring what support content is being used, or converting legacy information into a useable knowledgebase. And yet, each of these Web-focused knowledge tools is different.

iKnowWeb from Knowlix is the company’s Web component. The Knowlix tools offer natural language query (users type in their question in their own words), on-the-fly HTML conversion (content does not have to be converted to HTML manually because it is converted as it is called up or requested), and the ability to search across multiple knowledgebases at one time, regardless of where the content actually resides. Knowlix uses Folio Infobase technology to allow searching through a single flat file, and can include graphics, tables, and so on. Responses to a query are returned ranked by relevance. And relevance is based on a combination of eight algorithms. As users or help desk employees select a document as the correct answer, that particular document’s relevance is increased so that it will rank higher the next time a similar query is made.

Knowledge Kiosks is Molloy’s Web product. Molloy also offers natural language query. The company touts its Cognitive Processor (patent pending), which is incorporated in its TOP of MIND product, as one of the keys to its knowledge tools. As with Knowlix, many of the features are actually in the main products and not the Web tool itself. TOP of MIND offers call tracking, metrics, and other features. According to Molloy, their Cognitive Processor offers a combination of "fuzzy logic, neural networks, text parsing, and other techniques" to provide customers with a knowledgebase that "builds its knowledge on the fly."

Primus’ Web offering is SolutionPublisher, and it also offers natural language query. SolutionPublisher talks about logging on to a secure Web site and getting relevance ranked results. It is also part of a suite of applications, and offers the feature of wrapping up the data a customer has entered to be e-mailed to a customer service representative.

Web Advisor from ServiceSoft Technologies offers Expert Reasoning technology. This technology is like case-based reasoning, asking questions and requiring answers to get to the appropriate solution. It also offers on-the-fly HTML conversion and inclusion of multimedia content. Additionally, Web Advisor offers Activated Questions, which are Java or ActiveX applets that can search the user’s workstation or database to get answers to the questions if the user does not know the answer.

Although these products all offer some similar features, some include different offerings such as call tracking and management. Another key factor for your decision will be what kind of knowledge you want to include, and how you want to build that knowledgebase. Whether it is a system that "learns" by itself, a system you build, or one that incorporates prepackaged content, you need to find the solution that best fits your needs and will serve your customers or help desk employees best. You must consider what it will take to get the knowledge in a useable form and how you want to have your users or employees search for that knowledge. Each system has its own advantages and disadvantages, but because of the benefits a Web-enabled knowledge management tool offers, you should definitely find out what it can do for you.

Web-Based VoIP For Customer Service


As consumers are becoming more comfortable shopping online, everyone wants to know what to do to keep them there. Chances are they aren’t going to want to leave the Web if they have a service-related question or problem. Several software vendors have emerged over the past couple of years with products that offer Web-based customer service capabilities, but why stop there? What about the other consumers that we are still trying to reach — those who only have one phone line and are reluctant to make a purchase without a human element? Since everything on the Internet is automated, now we are investigating Voice over IP (VoIP), which offers a human element to an otherwise "less than personal" experience. When successfully implemented, VoIP will help businesses keep their customers and make the consumer’s online shopping experience better.

First and foremost, vendors must understand that consumers will need to embrace e-commerce and use advanced Web-based customer service applications in order to meet the predicted growth rates of both the e-commerce and call center markets. The number one reason people give for not shopping through the Web is low confidence in a system that they don’t really understand. When consumers are asked to fill out a form required for an online transaction, personal information is being sent out into cyberspace without the consumer knowing who is on the other end, and if they will ever get what they just paid for.

What’s the best way to calm their fears? Give them a human voice. What is the best way to integrate human and data interaction? Voice over IP. With this technology in place — and practice — electronic commerce will become easier and more efficient, and consumers will have the best of both worlds: Automated, real-time assistance through the Web with a human touch…and it only requires one phone line.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is critical to the success of businesses today, and in particular, for online businesses that compete fiercely every day. Using VoIP, a call center agent can speak to consumers and see what their problems are by viewing the same screens they are viewing. Ultimately, this enables agents to solve consumers’ problems faster and more efficiently.

As we expected, the terrain out on the frontier has its peaks and valleys, and there are some challenges that anyone implementing VoIP in their call center should consider:

  • Look at who your clients are — and what their needs are. How complex is the product or service they are selling? Can human assistance make a big difference in online sales and service?
  • Define your call center’s capabilities. What type of connections do you have? Will your hardware support VoIP software? How much will the upgrades cost? Whose software will you use? There are several vendors with VoIP-enabled CRM software in development, including eFusion, eGain, VocalTec, and Sitebridge.
  • Determine your need for other collaborative tools such as remote control of a consumer’s PC, online sales presentations, multipoint conferences, menu routing, and automated voice response (AVR).

Although VoIP is getting closer to becoming more consumer-friendly, it’s still not quite there yet. For instance, the consumer’s first-time experience with VoIP is currently driving some people away. Twenty-five percent of consumers who have tried to install the application didn’t succeed. A first-time user must download the program onto their computer in order to communicate with a call center agent; however, the current installation wizards are so confusing that it takes a consumer, on average, four times to successfully install and run the software. That’s a big problem, because not everyone will give it four tries. Of course, software vendors are working diligently to improve this, as it is a major reason why we have not yet seen a full implementation of the technology.

According to Forrester Research, 66 percent of people who fill up their shopping carts do not complete the sales process because they either make a mistake or think they made a mistake. Voice interaction with a call center agent is supposed to alleviate some of this anxiety, but in its current form, it just aggravates the situation. If customers are turned off to the whole process the first time they come into contact with it, they will never use it — and the benefits will never be realized. This is why there are still very few (if any) successful VoIP installations in call centers. Businesses are still testing the technology — and we are confident that a workable solution will be realized very soon.

Another challenge we have identified is that not all consumers’ computers have the necessary capability to support VoIP software. The download interface asks the consumer if they have "H.323 Internet phone capability," and most people just shrug their shoulders. In fact, if someone is using Windows 95 or higher, they do have this capability, but the average person doesn’t know that. In order to simplify their experience, we believe it is very important for the VoIP software to have a function that automatically detects whether the user’s computer has the necessary capability or not.

A third problem is the quality of the connection. Under perfect conditions, the sound quality of VoIP communication is about the same quality as a cellular phone. However, when conditions are not perfect, a caller experiences voice cut-outs, which are frustrating and confusing. The most common cause of this problem is crowded Internet traffic and lack of bandwidth. Data and voice both travel through the Internet, and when traffic is high, this problem frequently occurs.

Another issue that is separating us from widespread VoIP adoption is bandwidth (assuming that latency of the network elements has become a non-issue). With so many people on the Internet, the low quality of VoIP is a factor against its widespread adoption. As the Internet backbone is upgraded, or a new consumer access technology such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) becomes commonplace, this should become less of an obstacle.

Once the bugs are worked out, online businesses will see numerous benefits. Not only will your business build good relationships with consumers, but your call center will find its network connections simplified. Today, you have to integrate the PBX and telephony-enabled IP network. With a fully VoIP-enabled call center, however, you will only have to worry about a single network capable of supporting both data and voice communications.

Additionally, the call center agent who uses VoIP technology to communicate with the consumer is instantly more efficient. Most consumers only have one phone line to their home, which means that if they need to call a customer service agent for immediate assistance, they have to log off the Internet and pick up the phone to call the customer service representative. When they are connected to the agent, they have to try and remember exactly what their problem was, describe it to the agent, listen to instructions and then go back online to try again. With VoIP, they can talk to the agent while they are online, simply by pushing a button on their screen. The agent can pull up the same screen the customer is having trouble with and walk them through the process, all without ever losing their connection. It all goes back to CRM. Keep the customer happy, maintain the relationship, and revenues will rise.

The VoIP software developers only have a few hurdles left to clear. We need a first-time user experience that includes a fast, easy download, and an uncomplicated installation process. And the telephone companies are moving quickly to deploy high-speed access technologies for consumers, which should improve their ability to take advantage of a VoIP-enabled infrastructure. Once these steps are taken, consumers will be ready to shop online. It is our challenge, however, to keep them there.

Walker Angell is vice president of the technologies group for Eliance Corporation. Eliance has completed more than 30 million Internet commerce payment transactions for thousands of customers throughout the world. The company utilizes a "back-end commerce engine" for it’s complete end-to-end payment solution. For more information, visit Eliance’s Web site at www.eliancecorp.com.

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