Magazine Article | August 1, 2002

Empower Customers With Self-Help

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Not only can a self-help solution reduce your call center costs, it can also let your customers know that you are committed to doing business their way.

Integrated Solutions, August 2002

It's often been said that God helps those who help themselves. I think my bank must have had this concept in mind when it installed an automated bank line. I dial a 1-800 number, press my account number and a few other buttons, and within 30 seconds I know exactly how much money is in my account. I don't have to wait until the bank opens at 9 a.m. to speak with an operator - I can help myself. This self-help feature not only saves me time and gives me the answers I'm looking for quicker, it saves the bank teller from having to look up my information on a computer. This scenario serves as a prime example of how enterprises of all sizes in just about any vertical market can use self-help solutions to cut costs and improve customer satisfaction simultaneously. By understanding the basic self-help solutions that are available to your enterprise, you will be more knowledgeable about the benefits your enterprise and customers could be reaping, and you'll be better equipped to shop for the solution that's right for your business.

The "Always Open" Online Knowledge Base
One of the most common types of self-help solutions is a Web service center, also known as an online knowledge base. This repository is used by many enterprises, including software vendors, healthcare providers, and banking institutions. One example of an online knowledge base is seen in a software services provider. An enterprise may purchase a special HR (human resources) software package to help it keep accurate and detailed records of employee performances and various workforce-related statistics. If, for instance, the HR manager needs help with setting up a particular type of report, he could go online and search the software company's knowledge base, which may comprise a bulletin board, online chat rooms, and an online help desk that are designed to address his specific questions. By using the various online self-help features and keying in questions using natural language, the HR manager can get his question answered. This is especially important when one considers that call centers have to field a high number of redundant calls. With an online self-service solution, the answer is fielded only once. And, because it is fielded by a database instead of a person, enterprises can significantly reduce their customer service costs.

"An important goal of self-help is to have customers identify themselves and share their personal experiences with the products or services they've purchased," says Greg Horton, director of marketing for The Clientele Group of Epicor Software (Portland, OR), a CRM solutions provider. "This knowledge empowers enterprises to make timely improvements to their products or services." For example, if a software company notices that a high percentage of customers are seeking how to create a particular type of report, it can modify its product to address this problem and make the specially formatted report available via a download at the company's site.

A Timely Message: Automatic Notification
A second common self-help feature that enterprises use is messaging. "This feature is beneficial to virtually every type of organization to help improve responsiveness to customer-centric issues," says Tom Crafton, VP of strategic sales for ACCPAC (Pleasanton, CA), a CRM and e-business solutions vendor. "For example, day-traders would use it to check the value of key stocks online and automatically send a message when the value of a stock climbs or falls to a specified level." A purchasing manager can use the same type of solution to search online auctions and receive a page when an auction is within an hour of closing, or if a specific part has been found that falls within a predefined price range. By having these automated search and notify capabilities available, enterprises can enable their employees to leave their desktop PCs and handle additional job duties. Besides the time saved by not having to manually search for stocks or parts, stockholders and parts makers don't have to spend time answering calls about these questions.

Banking On IVR
A third kind of self-help solution is the automated call system. Using a combination of IVR (interactive voice response) and touch-tone technologies, automated call systems can be used to help customers get 24/7 access to information at a fraction of the cost of hiring additional CSRs (customer service representatives). Banks and cell phone providers, for instance, use this technology to allow customers to check account balances or to find out how many free long distance minutes are available for the month. Additionally, other self-help services, such as fax-on-demand may be incorporated with this technology. By pressing a certain key, for instance, a bank line customer can access various loan applications or open a Christmas fund account via the fax-on-demand - all without the aid of a live bank teller. Like the other two kinds of self-help solutions, automated call systems save customers and enterprises time while providing customers with an alternative touch point to the business.

Before Deploying Self-Help, Remember This ...
No matter what type of self-help solution you may choose, there are three points to keep in mind before implementation. By recalling these three points you will give yourself a better chance of having a self-help solution that provides a quicker ROI and offers long-term help to customers, suppliers, and strategic partners.

Self-help is not a one-time event. "A self-help solution should not be viewed as a project, but rather as a process," says Gary Lemke, president of RealMarket (Carmel, IN), an online CRM resource provider. "To be effective, a self-help solution needs to be constantly updated with new information and easier ways to navigate through the system." Effective self-help solutions require dedicated resources to maintain them. If people find your online knowledge base difficult to navigate or lacking up-to-date content, they are not going to use it. By making relevant content available through your self-help solution and removing outdated information, customers will feel that they can trust this touch point as much as any other, and they will be more inclined to use it.

Self-help requires data from multiple systems. Another point to keep in mind is that the self-help system will not just be integrated with your CRM solution, but will also tie into other enterprise solutions such as WMS (warehouse management system) and ERP (enterprise resource planning). "Customers use self-help solutions for more than product descriptions and superficial answers to basic questions," says Mark Woollen, director of Web service products for CRM vendor Siebel Systems, Inc. (San Mateo, CA). "People are looking for personalized information such as the status of their order or other products or services that are directly related to their specific interests." is a good example of this level of self-help. When you buy a book at its site, you can check the status of your order every step of the way. You can also follow the buying trend of other people who have purchased the book you most recently bought.

Bite off one chunk at a time. A self-help solution can be a huge undertaking. The best way to ensure a successful rollout is to start small and grow your solution incrementally. "As a general rule of thumb, a self-help solution should take no more than 90 days to implement," advises Lemke. "If, prior to implementing the solution, it appears that the deployment will take more than 90 days, you're better off to break the rollout into two parts." By starting small, enterprises can see a quicker ROI - Lemke says no longer than six months - and, they are in a better position to monitor and change their solution in a way that will positively affect future expansions to the solution.

Many people want to be self-sufficient, especially when it comes to saving time and money. By deploying a self-help solution, enterprises can help customers realize these goals and accomplish the company's goals in the process.