People, Prcesses And Technology:
Eight Tips For Web-Enabling Your Call Center
BY SCOTT MACPHEE, HEWLETT-PACKARD
These days, it seems almost anything can be done on the Internet. From
buying groceries to purchasing a new car, from selecting health insurance
or getting medical advice to listening to the latest music, it's all
available at the click of a mouse. Companies across all fields now offer
their products or services online. But what happens when something goes
wrong and the user (customer) cannot "connect" to the electronic
If you have ever spent an afternoon mystified by your computer's
stubborn refusal to upload a certain file or if you have been suddenly
greeted with the unfriendly phrase "ACCESS DENIED" after an
attempted network log-in, you know the frustrated feeling many network
users regularly experience. Relatively few people have the technological
know-how required to easily resolve a thorny computer problem. When such
problems arise, the user needs somewhere to turn.
That somewhere is the call center. Whether the problem involves
hardware, software, network access or operations, the ISPs', e-businesses'
or vendors' friendly call center is the place to turn for any type of
end-user computing problem. But today, users are demanding more than just
traditional phone support -- they want choices.
Customers want to decide for themselves how they will receive support
-- by phone, e-mail or the Web. Some customers prefer the option of
self-help, while other users would rather submit a trouble ticket
electronically and receive an answer the same way. Still other customers
want to pick up the telephone and receive support in the traditional
As businesses across all industries turn to electronic support to
enhance customer service, it's important to guard against the temptation
to eliminate traditional phone support and replace it with Web-based
services. At first, Web-support seems like the perfect replacement for the
costly call center -- build a Web site, post an e-mail feedback form,
dismantle the call center and watch the savings roll in, right?
Wrong! Although Web-enabled support offers a number of benefits to
customers as well as to the companies that employ it, it is an addition
to, not a replacement for, telephone support. It's all about giving the
The following are a few tips to help you through the initial phases.
Tip #1: Don't underestimate planning time.
Designing a smoothly working, professional and efficient integrated
electronic and telephone support call center is not an easy task. A
successful planning project must tackle some tricky issues, such as
telephony and Web tool set integration, personnel retraining, call center
objectives and goals, future growth and technology advancement. These
issues take time to address. Extensive planning time is a necessary first
step to achieving a first-rate operation.
The project's team members must gauge current call center needs and
predict the near-term challenges. There is a fine line between being
pragmatic and forward-thinking. It takes time to plan where you want to be
in three years, what applications will be supported and what technologies
will get you there. Don't short-change the planning phase.
However, it is also important to note that the world is moving at
Internet speed, and customers' expectations increase while their patience
decreases. Don't get so bogged down in the planning cycle that you never
get to execution. To be effective, you may find that a maverick style will
work best for you.
Tip #2: Technologies are important, but so are people and processes.
When adding new electronic services, a lot of time is focused on the
technologies that make it possible. However, while technology does play a
key role as an enabler in the integrated Web-phone support project, it is
the people and processes that must be put into place that will determine
the success or failure of the Web-based offering. Find the technologies
that push your experts and their knowledge as close to the customer as
possible, while maximizing the efficiencies of your people and processes.
Tip #3: Focus on the customer.
A successful Web-enabled call center focuses on the customer, not the
technology. Customers usually want the option of using traditional
telephone (dial-in) support or using their computers to get help. By
giving customers a choice of obtaining assistance from a support
specialist, browsing a knowledge base in self-help mode, scanning
preloaded FAQs to get answers, corresponding via e-mail with the call
center or asking to be called back with a problem resolution, the customer
has choices. With these options available, and the ability to switch back
and forth between them, telephone support is joined on an equal footing
with e-mail and Web-based support services. The customer can contact the
call center at any time by whichever channel he or she chooses.
Now, with all of these components in place, the call center must be
made easy for the customer to access and use. Customers want one thing:
answers. They want these answers quickly and without hassles. Pay
particular attention to interfaces, procedures and application tool sets.
Remember that when dealing with customers electronically, you also lose
some of the personal touch that comes with telephone interactions.
Reassure the electronic user by over-communicating. Get the electronic
call to an engineer immediately and have that engineer show ownership by
confirming receipt to the customer via e-mail. Follow-up after a solution
is provided to ensure that both the solution and the electronic experience
met the customer's expectations.
Tip #4: Ensure a pleasant customer experience.
Customers have different preferences, which may change depending on
circumstances. Some will prefer electronic contact (Web, chat or e-mail),
others prefer the telephone. Integrate the two. If it's a burning issue,
even the Web-oriented user will probably pick up the telephone as it
provides a sense of immediacy ("I know someone is working on my
problem"). Or, a typical phone user may submit a non-urgent trouble
call via the Web and follow-up later with a phone call to the support
specialist. Focus on providing the customer a pleasant experience by
offering contact choices that meet their criteria.
To wean customers off of the telephone, ensure that first-time Web
users find interface tools to keyword search engines within a knowledge
base, the case reasoning database, the FAQ listing, etc., readily
available and simple to use.
To further reduce telephone reliance, consider implementing "fire
fighting" Web options, such as integrating into the call center a Web
collaboration environment. Options include chat, voice over IP and
real-time, Web-based communications. By adding routers and switches onto a
PC, it is possible to obtain the same level of functionality as the
Ideally, a customer should be able to submit an initial trouble call
through the Web or by phone and follow it up later via either medium and,
using an assigned case number, always be routed to the same responsible
support specialist working on the case.
Tip #5: Retraining support personnel.
Making the new Web-enabled support system work requires more than just
the integration of Web and call center technology tools. People are a key
element in the success of e-support. First, the technical staff must learn
to share knowledge and not hoard it. The creation of a knowledge-sharing
culture must become a priority to replace the "pockets" of
knowledge that usually exist among engineers and other technical experts.
It should be made clear that, in this new environment, the engineer who
shares the most knowledge, not necessarily the one who is the recognized
expert, is the most valuable. Having the biggest, fastest search engine
doesn't mean much unless your people have shared their knowledge. Managing
this basic culture change may be the most challenging of all of the
Retraining of call center personnel will be required to improve upon
and gain new skills needed for electronic services. With Internet-based
support added to phone services, more than good telephone techniques are
necessary. Call center personnel must also skillfully interface with
customers via e-mail, Web documentation and online chat sessions. This
requires good writing, typing and documentation skills.
A Web-based support system deals with text and pictures, makes it
easier to gather large files and is visual compared to its telephone
counterpart. It delivers much of its findings electronically and focuses
on not only solving the problem and answering customer questions, but also
on clearly documenting the answer and placing it on the Web for self-help
users. Call center support staff must learn how to develop written content
and learn how to clearly and concisely answer e-mail from customers.
Basic troubleshooting skills must be relearned when supporting
customers electronically. Without the real-time feedback the telephone
provides, support specialists must learn to think ahead as they exchange
troubleshooting information with the customer. The specialists must learn
to document scenarios that take the customer through a decision tree,
allowing the customer to execute multiple steps in the troubleshooting
process. Without this, the interaction becomes bogged down and the
time-to-solution will increase to the point of severe customer
Tip #6: Integrate and use existing tools before inventing new ones.
As many "off-the-shelf" and existing solutions as possible
should be incorporated into the Web-enabled call center before resorting
to "home-grown" solutions with their added lead times and
Ideally, you want to work toward a set of integrated tools to replace
the dozens of tools commonly used today. CTI/multimedia integration of all
customer touch points (phone, fax, Web, e-mail and chat) is a must for
simplicity in call center operations and will provide an improved customer
contact experience. The employees of a typical Web-enabled call center
need about 10 applications active on their desktop to manage these
functions. Consider implementing software that will act as a possible tool
integration point solution to manage the workflow of all call center
activities. The goal is to loosely integrate telephone and Web so a
support specialist sees all requests for his or her services integrated in
the same tool set.
Also, look at Web-based diagnostic tools that can be integrated into
your workflow systems. With the implementation of these tools, customers
can self-diagnose problems and the computers can fix some "soft"
faults themselves (such as drivers, BIOS, etc.) without major user
intervention or the need for direct support personnel interaction.
New e-support call centers should purchase tools that can be easily
integrated into in-place systems without mass customization. Otherwise,
future upgrades will require continual investing in major development
hours and ongoing infusions of working capital.
Tip #7: Quickly Web-enable problem resolution documentation.
New solutions should be placed on the Web as quickly as possible to
increase customers' self-solve rates, thereby avoiding repetitive calls
for the same problem. With a successfully implemented plan, about 80
percent of previously undocumented solutions can be placed on the Web
within 24 hours, making the information available to customers using the
knowledge base keyword searching tool.
This reactive creation of knowledge, based on customer incidents, is
important. Also critical is the proactive creation of knowledge: finding
areas that lack sufficient content and creating that content before a
customer need arises. The most obvious of these would be when a new
product is introduced; FAQs might be made available on the Web at the same
time the product ships.
The remaining 20 percent of Web documents may go through a longer
process, which requires a turnaround time of approximately two weeks. This
is likely because these solutions are more complex and are placed in the
case-based (tree) reasoning tool. This requires the services of
professional writers who know how to precisely "fit" the
information into the tree structure and very clearly document it.
Tip #8: Reward your Web users.
If the customer has tried self-help and wasn't successful, treat that
call as a higher priority than one coming in over the toll-free phone
number. By rewarding Web users with high-priority treatment, you will
encourage them to use the Web again in the future.
In addition, take opportunities such as this one to not only solve your
customers' problems, but to teach them how to better use your Web-based
offerings. This will increase the likelihood of successful self-service in
True integrated support call centers allow the customer to combine
electronic and phone support: for example, submitting the trouble
"call" electronically and walking through it with a support
specialist over the telephone. With total integration of workflow, call
management, Web and voice tools, the customer can easily switch back and
forth between them. Whether the customer contacts the call center via Web,
e-mail or telephone, the same support specialist is reached for follow-up.
On the vendor's side, the benefits are equally impressive. The
traditional approach of adding more people to meet increased demand does
not work in today's tight labor, high-priced environment. E-support
provides improved support delivery on a personalized or self-help basis
while holding support costs in check.
Web-enabled support is popular with customers if it is perceived as an
added bonus and not as a forced alternative to voice (telephone) support.
When interfaces and tools are easy to use and understand, many customers
enjoy solving their own problems and collaborating with a specialist
electronically. Others like to switch between electronic and phone support
as desired. It all comes down to giving your customers a choice!
Scott MacPhee is manager of HP's Electronic Support Operations.
Hewlett-Packard Company, a global provider of computing and imaging
solutions and services for business and home, is focused on capitalizing
on the opportunities of the Internet and the proliferation of electronic
to the July 2000 table of contents ]