The FT Word – December 2006

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the December 2006 issue of the FT Word. Please forward it to your colleagues who are interested in support issues.

Topics for this month:

  • Online support checkup
  • Support and business books to enjoy and learn from

The Online Support Checkup

Online support is the Holy Grail for many support organizations since it can deliver both customer satisfaction and low cost in one neat little package. So how do you know that your support site is up to snuff? Here are 9 key questions to test yourself.

1. Is it convenient?

The Support web site won’t work if customers cannot find it at all, or cannot find what they want from it. is it just one tab off the main site? Avoid having separate tabs for Tech Support and Customer Service, for instance: it just confuses customers Do you provide one stop shopping? Put everything a customer may want together. Customers do not care that documentation is produced by another department entirely: put the documentation right there on the support web site.

2. Does it look decent?

Looks aren’t everything: a pretty support site can be confusing, anemic, and frustrating to the user, as we will see below. But the site should (1) look like the rest of the company’s site, not like a deprived third cousin and (2) not cause epilepsy or withdrawal after one viewing – within the constraints of (1). Bottom line: go for functionality and ease of use above good looks.

3. Does it deliver information?

Most customers who visit a support site don’t want to browse; they are looking for a specific item, hence a powerful search mechanism on top of a solid knowledge base is the most important item to work on. Don’t obsess on the search engine: a mediocre search engine on top of a great knowledge base yields better results than the reverse (which just exposes the failings of your knowledge management process).

Invest in the search engine to match your volume: very large knowledge bases (tens of thousands of entries) require a high-end tool for best results. Another wonderful investment is universal search. The ability to search knowledge base articles, documentations, forums, etc. at one go is most powerful.

4. Is it personal?

Here again, volume matters: if you support just one product with a well-defined set of consistent customers, your web site will feel personal without much effort. If you support multiple product lines and different audiences, you have work to do. A good approach is to create product pages that are automatically fed relevant information from the knowledge base and other repositories. Gate the access to the product pages through a user-friendly product selection process.

  • If your customers log into the web site, their profile can automatically guide them to the right page, and naturally you can do more than product pages: you can present information specific to each customer.
  • Try an automatic detection mechanism if practical for the products you support. For instance, the site should be able to detect a peripheral on the computer being used to access the site.
  • Allow customers to select their products with a minimum of fuss and without having to navigate obscure product trees. What about letting them enter the first few letters of their product names and then proposing appropriate matches?
  • Make product selection persistent (so there’s no need to enter it again as the customer navigates through the support site) but allow customers to override it (so they can search about other products than the first one they entered.)

5. Is it linked to assisted support?

Sometimes the best search engine is not enough and customers will need to get to a human being. Make it reasonably easy: no hiding the phone number in an out of the way page, please!

And did you know that one of the best ways to promote self-service is to let customers browse their past and current support issues online? It’s the sticky secret for support sites. Customers will go back to look at case updates and pretty soon they will explore self-service options.

6. Is it easy to maintain?

Enough about customers: what about you? The best web sites are friendly to the online staff. Don’t try to code everything by hand (unless you’re maintaining a tiny site for which it’s just right.) With just a handful of all-purpose pages (search, downloads, cases, registration, etc.) you should be able to create a multitude of personalized pages for each product or each customer by loading relevant information to the product or the customer. Easy maintenance means that the site can always present the most up to date information.

7. Are you getting the right metrics?

Just like any other aspect of support, you need to collect three types of metrics about online support: customer satisfaction, cost, and voice of the customer.

  • To gauge customer satisfaction, try either measuring it on the spot (beware of low response rates!) or, better yet, measure escalations from self-service to assisted support.
  • For cost, the cost of an individual visit matters little (it should be measured in cents, in any case). Instead, measure the cost per customer and compare it to the cost of assisted support. The overall cost (online + assisted) should go down over time, and the cost of assisted should also go down (per customer, not overall).
  • See what you can do to use online support as a voice of the customer channel. An easy item to try is to ask customers for input on missing documents.

8. Is it multilingual?

If all your customers speak one language, you may skip this point. Otherwise, the web site may need to be translated. You can translate the site with or without translating the knowledge base. Certainly customers prefer a translated knowledge base but if your means are limited you can consider providing a machine-translation option on documents and leave it at that (noting that it does not solve the problem of querying in another language – and that machine translations can provide unscripted comical moments.) Are you passing the test? If you’re not happy with your performance, take a hard look at #3, delivering information. It’s awfully difficult to have an effective support site without it.

The Reading 2.0 List

Thank you to Iain Gray for suggesting this topic.

If you anticipate having a little time to yourself at the end of the year to read – or you just want some gift suggestions (for others or yourself) here are some suggestions for interesting and inspiring books, all around the “web 2.0” theme: bringing customers into our business rather than keeping them at arm’s length.

  • Outside Innovation by Patricia Seybold – an ambitious and stimulating view of how to bring customers into the circle of innovation. Very applicable to support initiatives.
  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell – how human beings can make good decisions almost instantaneously (very useful to us in Support!).
  • If you like this book also read The Tipping Point by the same author: you’ll finally know who “connectors” are and how they can help spread ideas.
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki – following the web 2.0 theme of this list, this book explains how individual decisions can be aggregated to make great decisions.
  • Collective Wisdom by Francoise Tourniaire and David Kay – because we wanted to call it the Wisdom of Crowds until we found out that we could not, and because it may be the most practical and comprehensive book you’ve ever read about knowledge management in support centers. More info at transforming-support-with-knowledge.html

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

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1 Comment

  • Fariz

    Wim,Thanks for bringing the casrevnotion over here. I also thank for putting the time to give me your thoughts, I am going to love this casrevnotion!First, yes you are right. It does feel like human interaction for now. I am basing this on previous experiences, but as we continue to grow the use of Twitter we are bound to start making it more automated (it is part of the automation), and then we can have the casrevnotion. When email and chat, even SMS, first started they were all personalized channels and 1:1 communication. I don’t have all the details, but I am working a model for pricing Twitter interactions (shocking, I know, that there is a cost associated with it) on a similar manner that we used for email and chat and SMS. Remember, in those channels we were not able to lower the costs per transactions until we automated and I am close to saying that the same applies to this. Don’t have all the details yet but will soon. So, as we begin to automate (which is bound to be easier with Twitter due to the interfaces and APIs that exist) then we can have this casrevnotion again.Even then, I was not trying to compare them at that level (interface and look-and-feel) but at the channel-to-channel level. But you do make a good point.Second, you make an excellent point and I have not much more to add. It is about the company engaging and that is a great point. I could make the comparison that with IVR the company had to make the choice of what they wanted to do a good job or an easy one (another coming post), and they almost always chose the easy one. However, even if things were better in IVR world, it is the choice of the customer versus the choice of the company. Thanks for that. I a going to have to think more about that as I work my engagement model (third post of the future).Third, yes. That was kinda the core of the post we are not there yet, but we should prepare so we can make better use of the tools as they become available.Lastly (I will call it fourth since I have a couple more things to comment on your later paragraphs), here i am going to differ a little bit from what you said. I see the value of Twitter mostly as collecting feedback and marketing at this time. The posts I put on this blog go into more details, but solving problems 140-chars at the time comes in very, very hard to do over time. There is totally a possibility for Twitter to become similar to IVR for the web. Same as chat-bots could’ve done, but never grabbed the opp. I did some research some time back and concluded that 40-50% of web interactions and chat interaction could have been solved via a chat-bot interface without much problem. Can you calculate the savings? The total saved would have been amazing for most organizations. Chat-bots did not manage to deliver on that (some good implementations are claiming close to 30% FCR), but twitter totally can if they make it part of a large enterprise-wide multi-channel management. I still see Twitter becoming sophisticated and integrated enough to do in a short- to mid-term. And I would totally welcome it.Imagine if you can an automated Twitter reader system that differentiates between feedback, complaints, and questions and handles each per business rules that we use for other channels today (of course, call center comes to mind). that is what I envision for Twitter in the mid-term as close as 2 years from now.I totally agree with your conclusions and questions, excellent points you make. I don’t think, however, that the progress of Twitterservice is tied to innovation and progress in customer service. Remember that Twitter was never designed or thought to be used for customer service. What we are doing now is like babies that found a battery-operated talking doll. Once we figured what we can do with it, we will push the tummy (or hand, or whatever) a million times until we eventually get tired of seeing nothing more come of it. Then we will leave it behind, drooled-on, mangled, and in bad shape to move to the next shiny, noisy thing we find. Which, more than likely, will be an iteration of Twitter of sorts that will be more closely related to service (like chat-bots are an innovation of KM and Chat mostly related to customer service, or IVR is an adaption of other technologies mostly geared to customer service).As to the answer to your question two parts to that. first, the people who are going to be using twitter for service today are leaders and advanced users of technology. they are the ones that don’t expect an amazing experience and know it is in its infancy. it is always the same with any technology leaders and advanced users don’t care much about the initial state. By the time my mom comes to twitter to get customer service (many, many, many years in the future) or my wife (a few years less) the experience is going to be so different from today’s that your question will not matter much. However, Twitter must be part of a strategy to be deployed even now or it has not change of succeeding.Second, I always endorse Twitter for Feedback and Marketing over any other functions. I think I started this answer along those lines. Therefore, I am going to answer your question with the following statement: As long as twitter fits in your customer service strategy, and you understand what you can get and provide to it right now, then go ahead and do it now. Else, use it for feedback only and wait for the right opportunity to engage in service transactions .My emphasis will continue to be on feedback and marketing

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