The Web-Enabled Call Center: It's All About Information
BY DAVID TARRANT
It doesn't take a genius to realize that giving bad advice is a bad idea. And it
doesn't have to take a genius to change the way corporations provide information to
customers. What it does take is an understanding of how technology and the World Wide Web
can help an organization better manage and distribute information to both its customers
and call center employees.
Call center managers are faced with the daunting task of providing high-quality
service, while reducing support costs and increasing customer satisfaction. Web enabling
the call center provides one of the most effective solutions for achieving these goals.
The Web is the only forum that offers a high level of global accessibility, low cost, and
exceptional ease of maintenance. By integrating the advantages of the Web into the call
center, organizations can reap the benefits of reduced call center costs, heightened
customer satisfaction, and increased agent productivity.
So the question becomes, how do you quickly integrate your call center with the Web
while addressing your business and customer needs?
The two primary ways to Web-enable your call center include creating a self-service
application that allows your customers to answer their own question on your Web site and
creating an intranet-based application that allows your call center agents to answer calls
more effectively. Depending upon your company's specific requirements, you may determine
that one way works better for your call center or that combining the two approaches will
allow you to create the most innovative and cost-effective solution.
A SELF-SERVICE MODEL
Early attempts at customer self-service usually consisted of a FAQ list posted on the
corporate Web site or a search engine linked to the corporation's support database. While
offering some benefit, these solutions were clearly insufficient for full-fledged customer
support. Both solutions underestimated the customer's need for guidance and personalized
service. For instance, FAQ's usually address only a limited set of questions and often
lead to end user frustration because of their limited scope. In addition, as an
organization tries to capture more information in a FAQ format and the number of FAQ's
proliferate, it becomes more difficult for end users to find the information they need.
By the same token, allowing direct access to your existing support information by
placing a search engine on your Web site presents its own set of problems. First and
foremost, this approach makes it extremely difficult for a non-expert to locate the
correct solution, because an improperly formatted search will return either no matches or
too many solutions. Secondly, the quality of information in many support databases is too
technical or full of jargon for an end user to understand, and some databases may even
contain information you do not want a customer to see.
The inescapable conclusion is that your Web site needs to provide an experience that is
similar to working with a support professional. It is vital to have a site that helps
customers refine and solve their problem. To this end, organizations need to create a
Web-based self-service application that intelligently guides end users to the right
solution for their needs. Because this online session closely mimics the interaction of a
customer with a live agent, it presents a comfortable and positive experience for the end
The right self-service solution must have a few key features:
The ability to intelligently lead users to the correct solution by prompting them with
questions and providing rank ordered solutions and intelligent navigation. This feature
interacts with the individual customer, gathers information about their situation,
personalizes the problem solving session, and quickly guides each end user to the solution
that best matches their particular situation.
Flexible Problem Resolution
Each of the four traditional problem resolution methodologies - natural language search,
case-based reasoning, decision trees, and expert modeling - offer their own strengths and
weaknesses. While natural language search is a quick way for experienced users to find a
solution, each of the other methods provide unique benefits that help guide less
experienced end users to the correct solution. Because end users possess various amounts
of knowledge, they require different levels of guidance to effectively solve their
problems. Thus an optimal software solution must be flexible enough to utilize the
methodology best suited to each individual customer in a way that is transparent to the
Clearly, every question an end user answers on the Web results in one less call to the
call center -- an indisputable benefit in terms of reducing call center costs and
increasing customer satisfaction. But an effective solution should also provide the
ability to easily escalate an unresolved issue to the call center. And, it should track
and report everything that occurred in the self-service session, so that the call center
representative has the benefit of knowing everything that has transpired during the online
session. This enables the call center representative to quickly resolve the escalated
issue without having to repeat questions that the end user has already answered.
HELPING THE HELP DESK
The second way to Web-enable the call center occurs within the call center itself. The
same software that provides an intuitive self-service interface for end users can also be
an indispensable tool for support professionals -- if you choose the right solution. By
selecting an Internet-based knowledge management system that is appropriate for both end
user and call center support, the call center can dramatically improve the way its agents
capture and deliver information to its customers.
When located on the corporate intranet, a Web-enabled knowledge base ensures that all
support agents are delivering consistent, up-to-date information. It also allows novice
support professionals to benefit from the accumulated expertise of their colleagues,
without slowing down the call center by stopping to ask them questions. In addition, the
right call center solution can dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to train new
agents, the number of calls they need to escalate to more senior colleagues and the amount
of time they need to spend on the phone servicing each customer.
As with the self-service model, features such as flexible problem resolution are
critical components for the call center support staff, enabling them to quickly and easily
find the right information. In fact, a comprehensive solution will let support
professionals locate information in the knowledge base in the way that makes the most
sense for them; an interactive, guided approach to solving customer problems for novice
agents, and a more direct route to the information for seasoned call center
representatives. The optimal software solution will be able to utilize the methodology
best suited to each individual call center representative in a way that is transparent to
At the core of the Web-enabled call center is, of course, the knowledge base that call
center agents and end users depend on. But simply creating a knowledge base isn't enough
if you can't easily keep it up-to-date and inclusive. You need the ability to easily
maintain, expand, and modify the knowledge base with new product information, newly
reported problems, and new solutions.
To create an effective knowledge base, you must have global accessibility, allowing
support experts to contribute knowledge from anywhere in the world. Global accessibility
enables the knowledge base to leverage expert knowledge from throughout the call center,
the larger organization, and even the organization's customers, where appropriate. Only a
Web-enabled solution can provide these key advantages, which should include:
Web authoring allows organizations to capture knowledge from their call center
representatives and other experts through a standard Web browser. As new problems are
reported, new solutions can be published, and thus the entire call center can immediately
benefit from this timely information. This feature helps maintain an active, living
knowledge base that delivers up-to-date solutions for both customer self-service and call
Workflow control ensures quality control through a pre-determined channel of approvals.
The channel can be modified for different authors, allowing a more stringent process for
novice support professionals, and fewer approvals for expert staff. This feature sends new
information through the approval process that best suits your particular business
The company in search of a truly Web-enabled customer service organization should look
for a solution capable of benefiting both customers in the self-service model and support
professionals in an assisted help desk environment. The truly versatile solution will
enable an organization to build and maintain a comprehensive knowledge base, while
providing different levels of information to the appropriate audience.
NOW IS THE TIME
The technology, tools, and time have arrived. Solutions for harnessing global customer
service expertise and instantly guiding end users and support professionals to the right
solutions via the Web are available today. Armed with the knowledge of what to look for,
any call center manager can implement a Web-enabled customer-service application that will
reduce costs, promote call center efficiency and increase customer satisfaction.
David Tarrant, president and CEO of ServiceSoft Corporation, has more than 15 years
of experience in the software industry. ServiceSoft is the pioneer of Web-based knowledge
management for customer service. For more information, contact the company at www.servicesoft.com or 781-449-0049.