Recent FCC statistics indicate that Americans spend about 73 billion hours communicating using traditional phones and cell phones. While phone communication is an essential part of every business, customer support centers become exponentially more profitable by making a minimal contribution to the FCC's statistic. For software development companies this challenge becomes even more difficult because traditional CSRs (customer service representatives) do not have the technical expertise to troubleshoot customers' technical issues, which means these companies have to put their software developers and technicians on the phones to field customer questions and incidents. With salaries averaging about $75,000 each, software development companies not only take their programmers and technicians away from developing and debugging software, they also relegate themselves to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to support their customers. So what can these companies do to avoid the customer support snare?
Fujitsu Software (FS), a software development company and subsidiary of Fujitsu Limited (Japan), comprises mainly software developers and a technical support staff, which service FS's thousands of customers. Prior to changing its business strategy, FS's technical support staff primarily addressed customers' questions and technical problems over the phone. "Our support engineers were spending hours on the telephone helping customers with software issues, only to have to repeat the same conversation with other customers several more times during the course of the week," says Jim Battaglieri, director of services and support. "When you consider that we have thousands of customers and 50 support engineers, it's easy to see how handling redundant calls was unnecessarily taxing our staff and keeping them from working on higher revenue-producing projects such as pre-sales and consulting." As business increased, it became even more apparent that there must be a more efficient way to handle customer concerns.
Help Me To Help You...To Help Me
Even though Fujitsu Software had an idea of what kind of solution it needed, finding the right provider wasn't easy. "I started by contacting many of the CRM (customer relationship management) industry leaders to get a better feel for which one would be the best fit for us," recalls Battaglieri. "Many of the top CRM vendors were engaged in mergers and acquisitions when we began looking for a solution and, as a result, they were all struggling to integrate their newly acquired software into a usable CRM product. Most of the time technical support was an afterthought to their solutions, compared to sales, marketing, and e-mail communications."
Battaglieri also found that CRM pricing policies fluctuated significantly during this period. "I received a bid from a top-five CRM vendor that was 360% higher than the 'updated' bid I was given two weeks later." According to Battaglieri, most of the vendors didn't listen to what he was saying, and they insisted he needed a much more robust solution than he was seeking. Most of these same vendors offered a one-size-fits-all solution as opposed to a modular solution that could start small and build as the business's needs grew.
Show Me The Money!
Battaglieri's research eventually led him to a company called TechExcel (Lafayette, CA). "TechExcel had what we were looking for: a scalable, support center solution that gave us the option to add more CRM functionality down the road," says Battaglieri. "Not only did their product make more sense than any of the other products I had seen, but it cost less than half of what the other vendors were charging for their products."
Fujitsu Software installed TechExcel's ServiceWise product, a module from the vendor's FrontOffice CRM solution. ServiceWise enabled FS to give its customers access to its knowledge database via a pass code and an Internet browser. "One of the major selling points for this support center solution was that it was easily customizable and didn't require any programming to make it interface with our Oracle database and Outlook e-mail system," says Battaglieri. "The software incorporates a series of logic controls that are activated or deactivated by a designated administrator with the click of a mouse." FS uses these logic controls to determine which parts of the database each customer has access to, who at FS will be responsible for handling specific customer inquiries, and how long an incident will remain open before a manager or backup person is notified.
"The solution has helped us twofold," says Battaglieri. "First, it has significantly reduced our technical representatives' time spent on the telephone and second, it has enabled our customers to be able to get immediate answers 24/7 via our support site." FS's customers create their own login name and password, which they use to access the online database. If they cannot find the answer to their technical problem on the database, they can send an instant message to their designated support engineer at FS who will begin working on the problem upon receipt of the message. If the designated FS rep. is out of the office, the message is automatically rerouted to the most appropriate engineer on duty at that time.
Additionally, the online support solution features an e-mail reply function which confirms receipt of the question/incident to the customer sending the message. As an added optional feature, FS customers can purchase after-hours support. Using the aforementioned scenario, when a customer sends an immediate message to FS, ServiceWise forwards the message to an on-call support engineer via a wireless pager.
E-mail functions such as automatic message reply and automatic message rerouting have helped FS to cut down on manual e-mails by more than 60%. By being able to move several techs out of support and into other jobs, FS cut its pure support costs by at least $500,000.
One Good CRM Module Leads To Another...And Another
Because of FS's success with ServiceWise, the company is now in the testing phase and close to the rollout for TechExcel's MarketingWise and SalesWise. "By adding these two modules we will offer our marketing, sales, and support teams access to the same database with customized front ends," says Battaglieri. "Data entered by the marketing team will be available to the support team if the prospect ever becomes a customer. And the sales manager will now know when one of their customers submits an incident report, if desired."
In the future, Fujitsu Software has plans to expand its enterprise solution package by adding more wireless mobile computing functionality to its repertoire. "Right now there isn't enough reliable coverage in Silicon Valley to support such an endeavor," says Battaglieri. "Because of our geography and also because we have such a high concentration of people with cellular devices, it is difficult to get a signal - especially during certain peak times of the day." Battaglieri looks at wireless technology the same way he now sees traditional telephone technology: with an accountant's skepticism. Because of its experience gained in hindsight, FS will do everything in its power to avoid the pitfalls of tying its software developers to the telephone. Next year when the FCC releases its phone usage statistics for 2001 I predict we will see two things. First, just like the past few years, there will be a 9% to 10% increase in overall calls made for the year on traditional phones and cell phones, jacking the total up to 80 billion hours. Second, Fujitsu Software won't be taking credit for any of those increased calling hours.
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at JayM@corrypub.com.