Canon Speeds, Broadens Troubleshooting

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Using an information retrieval system that remembers and stores solutions to problems, Canon Information Technology Services is capturing more solutions to the questions that come in on its technical support lines, while simultaneously shortening call lengths and agent training times.


Canon ITS, Chesapeake, VA, which provides technical support for products from Canon USA and some of its sister companies, is using Knowledge Bridge version 1.3 from Molloy Group, Parsippany, NJ, to help agents retrieve solutions to customers' questions about the approximately 200 products for which the company provides support.


"What I like most about the product is that nothing gets lost," said Tom Tobin, business applications manager for Canon ITS. "It doesn't let anything get away and it gets smarter over time."


In a pilot program using the software, Canon ITS agents reduced their average talk time by more than one minute and captured 250 solutions to questions, compared to 75 captured without the program, Tobin said.


The software works by recognizing patterns in customer questions.


"When it finds material, it remembers the context of the information request, including who the person is, who made the request, what products they're using, what environment they're working in," said Peter Dorfman, director of corporate communications for Molloy Group.


By saving solutions along with the circumstances in which they were needed, the system is able to bring the same problem to quicker resolution the next time it arises, making the system "smarter" with use.


For companies that don't want all solutions automatically incorporated into the system, there are safeguards that allow managers to vary the levels of access to their staff.


"Sometimes call centers have level-one customer service representatives that have excellent phone manner but not the technical background to be able to help all customers. Their access to data may be restricted," said Dorfman. "They also might have level-two and level-three agents that have access to all data, but have restrictions on how much they can contribute. Or, level- two or level-three agents might be able to contribute, but the system might be structured that all contributions are reviewed by quality control staff for accuracy before the rest of the system has access to it."


Canon ITS has included safeguards on how information is added into the system. The system of checks has not only guaranteed the accuracy of information put into the Canon ITS database, but has helped add more information by creating an automatic procedure technicians must follow when they run across new questions.


"The main benefit to me is that it gives a methodology for troubleshooting and adding questions to the system," Tobin said. "If technicians get questions that don't have answers to them already programmed into the system, they have to save it as 'needs knowledge.' That means our engineers will review the problem and the solution and check it for accuracy before adding it to the system."


The company's previous system included a notes field, in which technicians could add details on how they solved a particular problem. There were no guarantees, however, that the notes would be added as solutions.


The Knowledge Bridge screen structure has also helped Canon ITS agents retrieve data more easily. Knowledge Bridge is used with a Vantive database and an Intranet that contains 100,000 pages of data. Knowledge Bridge lists information more prominently if it is used more frequently, so the first answers the agent sees are the ones that usually work.


"It's like when you do a Web search and the top listing matches your search 90 percent and it goes down from there. It's the same: The more often a solution is used, the higher it is on a list," Tobin said.


The screen lists symptoms, causes and actions for each product. When a symptom is entered, the amount of possibilities in the other two fields is automatically narrowed.


The system has helped the company trim training time for new representatives from six to five days.


"We have to train people to be accustomed to working with so many different products; and even if you do train people, some of them will leave," Tobin said. "It's hard, particularly in this industry where every three to six months you could be dealing with a whole new line of products."


The company, which handles troubleshooting for products from Canon USA, Canon Computer Systems and Canon Software Publishing, began using Knowledge Bridge in its 200-seat Chesapeake call center in March. Tobin hopes to expand use of the product to the company's other two centers, which have 100 seats between them. Sometime this summer, the company may test a Web site version of the product that helps customers do their own troubleshooting.
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