TMCnet - The World's Largest Communications and Technology Community
ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

TMC Labs
July 2001


Broadbase E-Service Suite

Broadbase Software, Inc.
Menlo Park, California
Ph: 650-614-8300; Fx: 650-614-8301
Web: www.broadbase.com

Price: The cost of a typical implementation (50 to 100 agents) resides between $300,000 and $500,000 for the Broadbase E-Service Suite.

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

Installation: N/A
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A-

(Editor's Note: Broadbase Software, Inc. and KANA Communications, Inc. merged after this product was reviewed to form KANA Software. The Broadbase E-Service Suite is now called KANA Service.)

People have come to expect a certain standard of customer service from enterprise-level companies. Although they've probably experienced "superior" customer service far less often than mediocre to fair treatment, comparatively it's only the best that matters. The degree of "pleasantness" associated with a customer service interaction depends almost exclusively on two things: a customer service representative's (CSR's) ability to obtain the most accurate and up-to-date information about you and your situation, and whether that same CSR is capable of providing a suitable solution to the question or problem at hand. Nothing sours a customer's attitude toward your organization more than having to explain the same problem more than once. Furthermore, each time an occurrence such as this takes place, it not only generates negative "word-of-mouth" publicity, but customers interpret this as blatant disregard for them and their business.

What if it was no longer necessary to speak to a CSR to find timely solutions to real problems or to answer questions because all of the company's knowledge was online? Of course, there will always be a need for CSRs, but what if all this "online information" answered a sizable percentage of potential questions destined for the ear of a CSR? Furthermore, should a customer not be able to find what he or she is looking for using this intelligent type of database, what if the customer could contact a CSR from any Web page, and a CSR would instantly have access to the customer's history with the company as well as his or her Web session history?

Broadbase Software Inc.'s E-Service Suite addresses all of these issues. It uses the Broadbase Knowledge Base to afford both customers and agents the information they seeks regardless of the medium: e-mail response or proactive or assisted services. These and various other features which comprise the E-Service Suite are designed to allow companies to better manage their workforce and help agents become more effective than they would be with a more traditional system. 

We chose to modify this section title from "Installation" to "Implementation" as it is a true reflection of what would be happening should a company decide to purchase the E-Service Suite. Broadbase provides more than just software. Its Professional Services division furnishes the consultancy companies need to make the transition to the E-Service Suite. It is the job of Broadbase Professional Services to work with company management to outline and attain customer service objectives. Professional Services is a compilation of Broadbase and/or vendor consulting teams tasked with understanding company goals and shaping and implementing the product to provide the most appropriate solution. This includes everything from system assessment to code authoring necessary for uniting legacy systems and enterprise data with the software to many other transitional tasks, which will obviously vary from company to company.

There are, however, some minimum hardware and software requirements for a Broadbase installation. The server requires an Athlon or Pentium III at 500MHz, with a minimum of 256 MB of RAM, although 512 MB of RAM is recommended. Three gigs of hard disk space are also required, which is enough room for the Broadbase software and supporting software requirements. The E-Service Suite runs on Windows NT 4.0 Server with Service Pack 6a. Other supporting software includes: MS IIS 4.0, MTS 2.0 and MS SQL Server 7.0 (Service Pack 2). MS SQL Server should use the following services: MSSQLServer, MSDTC, SQLServerAgent and MDAC 2.5. The client machines should be at least a 233MHz K6, or Pentium Pro with a minimum of 64 MB of RAM. Additionally, since the GUIs are Web-based, either Internet Explorer 5 or Java Virtual Machine 5 is required as well.

If a company determines that e-mail is a viable communications conduit as a means to retain and maintain customer relationships, a POP3 and SMTP-compliant mail server is necessary. This mail server should be capable of harboring at least one e-mail account for each of the company mailboxes.

Broadbase boasts a turnaround time of about 8 to 12 weeks from the initial "meeting" with prospective buyers until the data are compiled, the product installed and the training is complete. Broadbase has quite a few training facilities, but they are willing to work out an arrangement if you'd rather they travel to you. A large portion of the turnaround time consists of the "first phase of implementation," or defining the Knowledge Base structure to most efficiently achieve company goals.

We received eight books with the product, not including supplemental materials. E-Service Suite is a product built around custom data, or Knowledge Bases. It is therefore paramount to the effectiveness of this product to have existing company data linked, providing the best possible compilation of information. This process is done using Professional Services; "process" being the operative word, since it takes time to complete this operation to the degree of totality necessary to afford it adequate functionality. Since we were unable to test certain aspects of this product, we did not review every manual. However, we did perform many tests on the agent/user relationships, the Knowledge Base, etc., and, as a result, heavily referenced those manuals.

The documentation we used impressed us. Each book had both a table of contents and an index to facilitate referencing. All the manuals were created professionally, and we didn't have a problem finding answers to any of our questions. The design of the manuals was logical and intuitive. The online agent and user documentation were equally impressive. Overall, the documentation was of excellent quality.

The Broadbase E-Service Suite is a customer service tool integrated with a store of company information and designed to capture any new intellectual capital as it forges through the Web. Agents can add new cases, documents and files, which are stored for use in Knowledge Bases. The theory behind this system is to allow customers to expedite the acquisition of information on their own and avoid phone queues.

Scalable architecture allows the system to grow with the company, supporting multiple HTTP Gateways, request routing engines, e-mail request managers, knowledge servers and integration connectors. The platform also supports features such as Assisted Service, affording CSRs the most accurate information using various knowledge retrieval methods including natural language search, case-based reasoning, decision trees, expert systems and clarifying questions. Using these methods, lists of problems and their respective resolutions are displayed, which can help guide an agent to the correct answer. System administration is done through a Web-based interface. Administration also allows queue monitoring, reporting and the Single Thread Conversation feature, which allows an interaction to be tracked in a single thread even if the medium changes from, for example, self-service to live interaction. The Knowledge Server allows authoring from the Web interface, collaborative authoring and workflow. Workflow is a process that can be developed to ensure quality knowledge objects by authorizing a "team" of individuals to collectively inspect and ultimately publish each object.

Through a browser-based interface, agents can manage multiple sessions simultaneously while monitoring queues and using Assisted Service knowledge access. E-mail Response also includes Auto-Suggest Template Response, which incorporates suggested text into the reply message; Auto-Suggest Knowledge Base Response, which presents agents with possible solutions; Smart-E-mail, which contains a link to the knowledge base; and other features. Leading ACD products can be incorporated to distribute e-mail and live interaction requests. Agents can also collaborate live with multiple customers via chat while using collaborative browsing, page-pushing, and form-filling capabilities. Additionally, customers have access to myCSR, the E-Service portal through which they can view their recent interactions and a variety of additional personalized information.

Broadbase set us up with a demo computer: a laptop packed with all the software and data we would need to put their system to the test, including several knowledge bases. Accessible from the agent interface and customer access points (usually the customer doesn't have access to all the information the agent does), the knowledge base we worked with was entitled "Home Theatre." A knowledge base contains information about a certain subject matter, and ours was built on the premise that we were in the business of selling televisions, surround sound systems, DVD players and similar wares. The material that both a company's management team and Broadbase Professional Services initially deemed relevant was incorporated to create knowledge base objects, which have several forms. Knowledge base objects can be cases, problems, solutions and decision trees. A decision tree, for example, might be a speaker troubleshooting guide to solve a speaker problem to within a few key issues before contacting an agent. Different template sets are used to create knowledge bases that are then run by a Knowledge Server, which finally determines not only what information to display, but also how to display it.

Customer interface. Our mock Web site was fitted with a custom Home Theatre Knowledge Base that was quite simple in presentation -- which is good. This limits the potential for customer confusion while affording several different avenues of information to answer customers' queries, or help determine if they will find it necessary to pursue another method of information retrieval. Several popular subjects were listed which, when selected, would yield answers to many topical frequently asked questions (FAQs). Since a common troubleshooting problem in a home theater scenario is speaker problems (especially if the customers are installing the speakers themselves), a speaker troubleshooting guide (decision tree) was added to help arrest hundreds of quick-fix problems, which would otherwise waste a CSR's time unnecessarily, allowing them to focus their attention on more pressing and complex problems. If there is a an unusual issue that doesn't seem to fit into any of the other categories, a short description may be entered into the appropriate field and a search will initiate when the Next button is clicked. If too many possible solutions exist, the provided Clarifying Questions can help refine the search. Customers using the Web site are also able to start a Session Log to review past activity.

Our demo Web site was set up in a way that branded each page with two buttons to contact a CSR: a "connect with an agent now" button and a "request more information" button. These buttons provided functionality to interface with an agent via different channels: e-mail, text chat or callback request.

Agent interface. The agent interface is broken into several different sections, each with its own tabs and preview panes, allowing a representative to select a customer request assigned to his or her queue and toggle back and forth between knowledge bases and media (canned replies, directions, etc.) while not losing sight of the current e-mail message or chat session. How the requests are assigned to the queue depends on the administration, routing rules and an agent's area of expertise. Multiple requests can be handled at once by dragging a pertinent media item into the chat window (such as directions to the nearest store or an auto acknowledgment) while answering an e-mail or callback request. The important thing to note about the preview windows is they allow the agent a quick view of either the media content or, in some cases, pages a customer has already viewed before his or her request to contact a representative. This is an important feature both for expediting the right information to the customer, since the customer won't have to explain what avenues he or she has pursued to that point, and eliminating the risk that an agent will redirect customers to ground they have already covered on their own.

Customer interaction. Text chat has been given a promotion in the past several years, from hobbyist frippery to e-service communication staple. "Staple" is exactly the role it plays in the E-Service Suite. Via the Web, it is the main real-time conduit between customer and agent. Although VoIP was offered in the past and Broadbase says it may be offered again, it's currently not an option with the product. The Agent Libraries contain different media types, or "canned content" that will help an agent quickly acknowledge customers and provide them with material such as brochures if they need to wait while an agent wraps up another interaction. If the media files are named properly (which would be up to company administration of the Broadbase product), this feature works very well, allowing well-thought-out responses to be administered almost instantaneously. The History button on the text chat window allows the agent to see the customer's past contacts (live and self-service), purchases, agent notes and other details. We found this extremely helpful in almost all situations. The Collaboration feature also works well, allowing agents to "drive" a customer's browser to the desired location. E-mail response also allows for the expedition of media files for quick turnaround times in answering customer queries.

As the Web becomes a more and more conventional medium for doing business, so too should its users have the benefit of monitored interaction. We would like to see a little more in the way of features, such as real-time text chat monitoring and perhaps even some agent-assist capabilities, to aid in the training process. Although queues can be monitored, there doesn't seem to be a way for supervisors to get the individualized sense they would need to aid in evaluating and improving an agent's performance. It should be mentioned, though, that e-mail can be routed (without the agent's knowledge) to a supervisor's inbox for a "once over" before it is sent to the intended recipient.

Our test system was set up in a way that worked very well for its goals -- providing customers Web self-service by means of intuitive, usable tools to expedite the search for a solution to their problems and/or questions. Coupled with text chat for real-time collaboration with an agent or a callback request, it becomes an even more valuable tool. Integrated into the call center environment, it will provide customers with more avenues to solve problems or answer questions.

This is an enterprise-level tool that we feel has merit for both the customer and the company. The customer benefits from additional ways to get help faster, around-the-clock and, if they prefer, without having to talk to anyone. Agents can experience reduced traffic flow due to self-service Web pages, more tools to help them handle customer requests intelligently and quickly and the possibility of a less stressful work environment.

Some simple testing of both the agent and customer interface revealed the true power of "intellectual capital" and how it can better serve customers -- not only by delivering the type of information customers seek, but also by leaving the customer with a feeling that the company and the people representing it are "sharp." As we all know, superior customer service does wonders for repeat business, and it's one of the best ways to develop the kind of "word-of-mouth" marketing campaign most company's only dream about. We think Broadbase's E-Service Suite is a step in the right direction and is certainly worthy of an Editors' Choice Award.

[ Return To The July 2001 Table Of Contents ]

Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas

Subscribe FREE to all of TMC's monthly magazines. Click here now.