Palm to Boost Web Support Ahead of Call Centers

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Palm Computing, maker of the popular Palm organizers, is launching a state-of-the-art Web-based technical support system it hopes will surpass the company's call centers as its customers' favorite resource for answers to product questions.


"Over time we expect the system to improve in performance and usefulness to the customer, and we expect to offer incentives such as superior e-mail response to encourage customers to use this method. We think the trend will be for more and more customers to turn to the Web first and the call center last for support," said Tom Hoglund, manager of Web solutions for Palm Computing, a 3Com company.


The system, which will essentially be a customer-friendly knowledge base, is being created with problem resolution software from InFact Technologies. It will offer technical support to consumers who have purchased one of the versions of the Palm organizers currently being shipped - the Palm III, the Palm IV, and the new Palm VII, and is expected to be installed later this summer.


The system will take an interview approach to finding solutions for customers. Each answer a customer submits will narrow the possible fields of solutions provided by the system.


In addition, the solutions will be presented based on how useful they have been in the past.


"If one issue becomes more prevalent with a new product release, it will move up in the hierarchy of solutions," said Hoglund.


While the company has offered static pages of technical support information on its Web site before, this system was seen as an avenue for reaching a broader range of consumers.


"This is intended to help customers who are not as technically savvy," said Hoglund. "For example, we had a problem in the modem world where someone was looking for the piece to connect the lap top to the phone. They looked on the Web site and couldn't find it because they didn't know to use [the correct] term. This is the type of problem we have all the time."


The Web-based system will also provide the company's most in-depth 24- hour interactive support for customers who have problems or questions after the call center has closed.


"The call center is never going to go away," said Hoglund. "It is the right method for many customers and it is important to support customers through whichever method they feel most comfortable. But when faced with a call center that is open 60 hours a week and Web support that is available 24 hours a day, more people will prefer to go to the Web."


As 90 percent of Palm Computing's customer base surfs the Web regularly, the company expects many Internet-savvy customers to find the Web self-support system on their own. However, it will also be cross-referenced in hold queues and on after hours recordings at the company's call center.


The company hopes to "reward" customers who choose Web support over the call center, by putting an emphasis on fast, skilled e-mail support, Hoglund said.


"The e-mail support system will also capture information from the knowledge base that the customer has input to aid the agent in providing a response," said Hoglund. "When people send e-mail queries they often include incomplete information and then you have to e-mail back more questions. This should eliminate those situations."


E-mail support will most likely be handled by a dedicated team, rather than by call center agents.


Although the system initially will be set up only for technical support issues, the company will evaluate customer feedback and may consider offering other customer service information, if there appears to be an interest for it.


The company chose InFact Technologies as the vendor on the project because the solution was designed specifically for use with consumers.


"There are many other knowledge base products out there, but they are often call center-oriented. This is not something we intend to use directly in our call center," Hoglund said.


The system may be used to train call center agents, and call center agents will be able to access the system, though it is not intended to be agent's main customer support tool.
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