When a frustrated customer calls an 800 number for help, the Help Desk Institute says that call costs the company $33. SafeHarbor.com has devised a way to use technology to cut that cost.
The Satsop, Washington company describes itself as a technical customer support services provider. SafeHarbor.com uses the Web to host self-help solutions so customers of emerging technology companies can seamlessly segue to its site for the information they need to figure out how to fix it themselves.
The company, which currently has 24 customers, believes it’s riding the crest of a sea of change. Forrester Research is forecasting that Web-based support will represent about 60 percent of all support interaction in 2003, drowning out the telephone, today’s leader, which will drop to just 15 percent.
The Web is the reason. “Many technology firms leave the issue of support until the last possible moment,” says Bo Wandell, SafeHarbor.com CEO. “Most technology firms put all the wood behind the arrow just to get the next product release out the door. They don’t think about support from a strategic standpoint.” Wandell pauses and then adds, “In the world of the Web, that’s a big mistake.”
Before the emergence of the new economy, most technology companies sold their products through resellers, distributors, systems integrators or consultants. If a customer experienced a problem, s/he would call the company that sold the software, who was then expected to resolve the issue.
Getting Rid of the Middlemen
Today, the Internet has taken the middlemen out with the tide. Now users are building direct relationships with the providers of their goods and services. These companies that never had to worry about customer support all of a sudden are responsible for quieting these queries. And the end users, used to a high level of personalized service, expect no less from the manufacturer.
Moreover, these customers are turning to the Web because they hate being put on interminable hold. They want clear sailing. “If you drive the end users to the telephone, there’s a huge inconsistency and inefficiency there,” Wandell says.
SafeHarbor.com becomes a port in the storm for these Web-based providers. “We have figured out how to weave the development and delivery of knowledge into a support environment,” explains the CEO.
The company serves emerging technology customers like ImageX.com, an on-line printing center. Wandell says the executives at ImageX.com understood the crucial importance of customer support from the beginning, which is the key to a successful outsourcing relationship.
After SafeHarbor.com signs a contract with a buyer, its staff meets with the new customer to gather as much information about its products and technology as possible. SafeHarbor.com meets with the existing support people and peruses the data they have accumulated, looking for trends of things that cause trouble. They’ll meet with the product marketing staff to learn what the product is purported to do. Then they’ll sit down “with the guy with the green hair in the corner who really knows how the technology works.”
Finally, the SafeHarbor.com researchers interview the executive staff to uncover where they see “the points of pain” for their end users. After amalgamating these differing viewpoints in what it calls its “knowledge assembly line,” the company builds a customized Web site for the on-line support.
Interacting With End Users
Then the rubber meets the road. When an ImageX.com user has a problem, the person clicks on the “support” button, which immediately interfaces with SafeHarbor.com’s servers. When the ImageX.com support site when live a year ago, SafeHarbor.com’s staff had written 100 knowledge based-articles that address end-user issues it had identified. A year later, its site has 250 articles. “As we start to interact with end users on a one-to-one basis, our knowledge continues to grow. It’s a dynamic process,” says Wandell.
SafeHarbor.com only needs one plea for help to pen a new article. “An unknown issue is only unknown once,” he explains. If a second person calls with the same question, the cost of those calls justify the cost of developing a new knowledge-based solution.
In addition, technology companies change their product offerings on a fairly frequent basis. (Remember the hoopla about Windows95?) Wandell says its his firm’s job “to ensure the knowledge base has been updated so there is no inconsistency between the self-help solutions and what the end user is seeing on the screen.”
The company also maintains a contact center for people who want the comfort of human interaction. Those needing help can contact the company through email, chat or even the telephone.
SafeHarbor.com has formed a strategic partnership with Kana, a Web-based customer management system, to provide additional services to its buyers. The company’s customers can access the Kana system through their Web browsers. “That means they can avoid the cost of purchasing and managing a Customer Resource Management (CRM) system,” says Wandell. He estimates a top CRM system can cost between $500,000 and $1 million.
Delivering Higher Levels of Service
Wandell maintains customer support will migrate to the Web for two reason. First is cost. But, more important, the Web can deliver a higher level of service to the end user. And top customer service is the key to any businesses success. Without customers there is no business.
“Corporations have begun to understand the Web is a wonderful way to sell things. Now they are learning it is also a wonderful way to manage relationships with end users,” he concludes.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- Many technology companies ignore customer support until the last minute. This is a strategic mistake.
- The Web has squeezed out the middlemen, who had answered customers’ questions. Now providers of goods and services have to do this themselves.
- Customer support is more cost effective on the Web.
- On-line customer support is crucial if a company changes its products often.