Automate Your Site for Better Service

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As more companies realize the impact the Internet has on purchasing decisions online and offline, many are leveraging their Web sites with software that delivers a host of customer support functions.


The principle behind these smart systems is to automatically handle routine questions and requests, reserving high-cost, staff-operated services for more strategic and profitable uses. Indeed, the bulk of customer questions - often as high as 80 percent - covers the same basic material: product pricing and availability, options, order status and return policy. Because so much of the requested data is redundant, many e-commerce sites feature a frequently asked questions section to provide basic information.


New automated services take this self-help tool to the next level. Automated FAQ services use knowledge-based systems to continuously reorganize, update and refresh posted information based on actual customer requests.


For example, Dell Computer Corp., Round Rock, TX, has automated customer support functions to provide faster, more efficient service. In fact, the company maintains more than 27,000 intranet sites through its Dell Premier Pages so corporate customers can access pricing, use a paperless purchase-order system and get advanced support.


Automated e-mail management and response systems are designed to handle the majority of incoming messages without human intervention. Linked to the company's main data repositories, the e-mail systems access the requested information and compose personalized answers. After an internal auditing process, the system automatically dispatches the e-mail to the customer or routes it to a service agent for review.


Automated customer interaction systems allow for the judicious use of trained personnel. When a customer inquiry does not fit a set criteria or pattern, it is automatically flagged by the system and routed to an available support staff member. With these automated solutions, the live interactions between customer and company employees can take many forms, including real-time text conferencing, voice-over-IP and callback options.


Many software systems let sales representatives take control of the user's screen to guide them to a product or through a multistep procedure.


Quintus Corp., Fremont, CA, which acquired Acuity Corp. in November, offers an integrated approach to Web-based customer interaction services with the Quintus WebCenter solution. The software includes interactive Web self-service, e-mail response management and routing, and live customer interaction through multiple Web channels, such as Web-chat and Web-driven customer callback.


CosmoCom Inc., Hauppauge, NY, enables live multimedia interactive assistance via the Internet. Its CosmoCall Universe is a virtual call center that brings live customer service to Web-based self-service programs. By converting telephony calls into IP calls, CosmoCall Universe call centers can handle live and electronic calls. As a result, agents can queue and answer real-time inquiries, such as telephone calls, text-based chat and voice-over-IP calls in real time, while simultaneously queuing and answering voice mail, fax and e-mail inquiries.


People Support, Los Angeles, offers a range of customer services and technologies on an outsourced, insourced and co-sourced basis. It provides 24/7 customer service centers staffed by its own customer service personnel or makes them available to handle overflow calls on an as-needed basis. Among the services People Support offers are one-to-one interactive chat, personalized e-mail response and management, and telephone contact centers.


With these automated solutions, e-retailers can more quickly and cost-effectively provide shoppers with the assistance they need. As a result, the site's premium services - using trained personnel - are reserved for serious shoppers and situations requiring immediate attention.


As the Internet marketplace grows, the pressures on e-commerce sites to provide real-time services and personalized offerings increases. Since many e-retail sites have evolved over time, their e-commerce infrastructures are cobbled together from different products and solutions providers. One software program might oversee customer service functions, another the back-end transactions, while a third tracks visits generated by banner ads. And while each may do its job well, the data from these related activities tends to be segmented and difficult to cross-analyze.


New automated e-commerce solutions break down these barriers by providing a common infrastructure for all front- and back-office operations.


Total e-commerce software solutions manage and coordinate sales, customer service, advertising, production, financial and operational functions. Real-time access to this centralized system data, combined with advanced customer relationship management tools, enable online merchants to enrich and personalize the shopping experience. This customer-oriented approach increases browser-to-sale conversions rates and expands cross-sell and upsell opportunities.


Two automated e-commerce solutions in this category are Delray Beach, FL-based Smith-Gardner & Associates' WebOrder system and eContact Suite from Quintus Corp., Fremont, CA.


WebOrder offers a full complement of front-end features seamlessly integrated with its direct commerce engine. The Quintus eContact Suite is a comprehensive eCRM solution that delivers consistent customer service across multiple communication channels, including the Internet, e-mail and the telephone. The suite incorporates computer telephony integration technology, Web-based sales and service software, and business applications for sales and service, consumer relations, technical support and human resources.


Increasing competition is driving Web-connected businesses to provide an interactive shopping environment with real-time information and customized sales and support. One way to achieve this is by automating certain mission-critical functions, such as customer service or support, or taking the plunge and automating the entire e-commerce operation.
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