The FT Word – July 2004

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the July 2004 issue of the FT Word.  Please share the FT Word with colleagues.

In this month’s issue:

  • pushing web support: techniques that work
  • ACD alternatives for small support centers

Pushing Web Support

Thanks to Lucy Owen for suggesting this topic.

We all know that web support is cheaper than phone support and that customers actually like well-designed support sites. But how do we get customers to change their habits and to use the web more than the phone? Here’s a list of ideas to get you started.

1. Spruce up your support site

Carrots work better than sticks. If your support site is easy to use and full of good information, many customers will choose to use it. See the article in last month’s newsletter for inspiration on how to do it right.

At a minimum, make the support site easy to navigate (easy for your customers, that is, not just for the webmaster), put answers to frequently-asked questions in a prominent location, and allow customers to log issues online.

2. Respond to electronic requests promptly

Here’s an interesting question to ponder: why would customers log issues electronically if it takes 24 hours to get an answer, versus a couple of minutes on the phone? Certainly, one of the reasons why electronic support is cheaper than phone support is the ability to sequence work more easily, but you should not need 24 hours to sequence work.

Get into the habit of responding to electronic requests quickly — within the hour whenever possible.

3. Make sure customers know about electronic options

Building a great site is not enough. You’ve got to make sure that customers know about it and try it. Mention the web site URL with all product shipments. If you have a large installed base, consider a mailing (electronic or otherwise) to publicize the site. Don’t hesitate to do a mailing after a major upgrade of the site so existing customers can give it another try.

Mention the site on the welcome message for the hotline. I feel it’s counter-productive to subject customers, especially paying customers, to a lengthy info-mercial on the hotline welcome message, but if your support is free you may decide otherwise. Certainly mention the web site in the so-called comfort messages you play while customers wait.

4. Deliver case updates on the web

If your case-tracking system still lacks a full customer portal through which your customers can see and add case updates, go shopping for another one. Pulling customers to the web to check for case updates is a powerful way to demonstrate the benefits of the web site, thereby drawing customers away from the phones.

5. Push the knowledge base while solving cases

With a good knowledge base, there should be some proportion of cases that are solved thanks to knowledge base articles. Ask the support reps to make that clear to customers (without rubbing it in). Customers who realize that the answer they needed was in the knowledge base all along will give it a try next time around.

6. Let their wallet decide

If you use a per-incident pricing scheme, it’s easy enough to price phone incidents higher than electronic ones. Just be sure that the numbers add up behind the scenes. For instance, allowing unlimited, free electronic incidents while charging for phone incidents can backfire if your reps have to spend copious amounts of time getting accurate descriptions and troubleshooting answers from customers. If it’s more expensive for you to resolve electronic incidents, don’t pretend otherwise.

If you sell support contracts, you can price electronic contracts lower than phone contracts as long as there are indeed savings on your side.

7. Mandate web use

Moving on to the sticks end of the spectrum, many vendors require electronic logging of requests contractually. Simply have a clause added to your support contract that states that any non-emergency case must be logged electronically, reserving the phone for emergencies. You will still have to police policy-skirters, but it’s a start.

8. Don’t be silly

I thought I would end with some bad strategies for pushing customers to the web. Stay away from these ideas.

· getting rid of your phone hotline entirely: there will always be some problems that are bad enough to require a direct conversation

· implementing really long wait times on the phone: customers who do get through will be hopping mad

· discontinuing long-standing policies for free support: you would expose yourself to a lawsuit. Check with your legal team before making drastic changes and always give plenty of notice to customers

ACD Alternatives for Small Support Centers

Thanks to Lisa Murphy for suggesting this topic.

If you only have a handful of people in a support center, purchasing a full-blown, dedicated ACD doesn’t make sense. Here are four options to consider.

Option 1: Sharing

Is there another team who would share an ACD with you? (Even better, is there a team who already has an ACD and could share it?) A nearby Inside Sales team is always a good bet.

You may even be able to leverage a system at another location, if it has the right bells and whistles. This is handy if you have a few people located outside a main support center.

Option 2: Using the receptionist

If your call volume is small and the receptionist is not overly busy, you can have him or her dispatch the calls. This option provides a human touch and requires no investment in the phone system. On the negative side, some customers will perceive having to talk to a receptionist as a bothersome delay, and once the receptionist gets too busy you will need to find another method.

Option 3: Using the routing logic in the PBX

Most modern PBX systems (the ubiquitous, multi-line business phone systems) have basic routing functions that are often sufficient for a small support team. If the system in place has a routing function, then simply create a “group” for support, which customers can select through an IVR (Interactive Voice Response, the system that asks to “press 1 for Sales, 2 for …”). All support staff belong to the group and the system automatically routes calls to the first available agent.

If your current phone system doesn’t support routing, look for basic routing functions the next time the phone system is upgraded. Even inexpensive systems have basic routing functions these days, so you don’t need to spend much.

Option 4: Using a dedicated support hotline number with shared extensions

If you cannot use PBX routing, you can do fine with shared extensions, at least if the call volume is low. First, obtain a dedicated phone number for support. Make that line appear on all support staff’s phones, in addition to their personal line. This requires multi-line phones, of course, but many businesses have them. When the support line rings, it rings on all the phones and the first person who picks up gets the call. It requires a bit of discipline on the part of the support staff to always monitor the line, but it works well with a small group.

Problem arise when the group grows. With 3 people, it’s likely that there would be only 1 or 2 incoming support calls at any one time, so they can be managed through one extension and 2 so-called “line appearances” (main line and backup, rolling automatically to backup if the main line is busy). With 5 or 6 people, you would need at least 3 line appearances and most multi-line phones cannot manage that and the personal lines as well. By that time you really need to move to a more robust option.

FT Works in the News

SSPA News published an article I wrote entitled Smart Locations Pay in Offshore Outsourcing. SSPA News 6/22/04. See The same principles apply to locating international support centers. [ask me for a copy if you are not an SSPA member.]

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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