Ziptone Provides 'Best of Breed' ASP and CRM Solutions
Customer service is a term that rolls easily off the tongue of almost every corporate mogul you hear interviewed or quoted these days. They talk about the fierce competition they face in their chosen industry and that the distinguishing factor that separates the leaders in their field from the also-rans is how they service their customers after the sale. In the remote environment of eCommerce, it can be particularly difficult to maintain a satisfying relationship between the buyer and seller, whether it's B2C or B2B. This has spawned a whole new generation of companies that specialize in helping other companies manage interaction with their customers over the Internet. Ziptone is such a company.
Touting a tagline of "live support for e-commerce," Ziptone is a "next generation" provider of customer support solutions for eBusiness. Founded in August of 1999, Ziptone's online support services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to meet the service needs of its clients. It offers customized, fully integrated applications of traditional phone, voice, chat, email and FAQs, all in a browser-sharing environment.
Outsourcer or ASP
For those companies that want to outsource their entire customer service operation, Ziptone offers a state-of-the-art Internet contact center that is staffed by highly-tained, college-educated, eCommerce Support Associates. Ziptone also offers an ASP solution, managing, monitoring and maintaining the technology while the client manages the call center staff and interfaces with its customers.
"We began our business largely focused on pure outsourcing, with a large percentage of businesses using Ziptone's personnel and contact center," recalls Jim Schacht, Ziptone's CEO. That was about 12 months ago, when dot-coms with no physical presence littered the business landscape. Schacht says things are different now. "The pure Internet-based companies or the dot-com segment of the economy has dramatically changed. Imploded, if you want to get more specific. The people now seeking these services are the brick-and-mortar companies. They often have their own agents and their own call centers. For those customers, an ASP solution is the requested solution. Our business has shifted so that now, the majority of our business is with the ASP model." In the case of one large telecommunications client, Ziptone's multi-channel platform and customer relationship management (CRM) approach to upgrading call centers to the new contact center model resulted in a 63 percent increase in the purchasing of services online.
Sometimes, a company's need for an ASP solution may evolve into a need to outsource its call center operations; but due to requirements for a highly trained staff with subject-matter expertise, it cannot relinquish total control. This would enlist a solution that, in the lexicon of the outsourcing industry, is called co-sourcing. In the case of a financial institution, for example, where its call center is staffed with subject-matter experts (Series 7 reps or other licensed agents), it may initially just need expertise around the application and assistance in upgrading the call center. Schacht says typically what happens is the encroachment of the 80/20 rule. Companies realize that 80 percent of the incoming volume could be handled by individuals that don't necessarily require the licenses, the Series 7 testing, etc., and they can split it up into a tier one- and tier two-type arrangement so as to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of the call center operations.
With Ziptone's Tier 1/Tier 2 support model, their agents (Tier 1) will field the questions that don't require subject-matter expertise - roughly 80 percent of all interactions - and transfer the more in-depth ones to the client's call center representatives (Tier 2). Even if clients opt for a co-sourcing arrangement, Ziptone provides its services as an ASP, housing the eCRM application in its data center, handling scripting as well as overflow and off-hours support.
According to Schacht, another part of Ziptone's service mix is gathering data about customer interactions that help Ziptone clients to better meet the needs of their customers. "We can, for example, provide companies with information on how many customers visit an online location, how many ultimately make a purchase, and what the impact is of offering alternative options of contacting and interacting with the company, such as via phone, email, chat, etc. And we can provide all of that in customized solutions."
Investing in Human Capital
One of the areas in which Ziptone has been particularly effective is its investment in human capital. In an era of high-tech drunkenness and e-euphoria, Ziptone realizes a company's customer service can be only as good as the people it has interacting with the customer. In addition to being college educated, its eCommerce Support Agents (ESAs) are highly trained in Ziptone's platform and application. They all have extensive sales and service experience and, by design, are not experts in any specific industry. Schacht's philosophy is that the outsourced CRM segment today is very horizontal, and Ziptone adds better value by providing customized solutions and generalist-level support to many different industries.
Schacht believes that as the economy slows, companies will look to outsource some of their technological services because it lowers the risks, improves their time to market, leverages other peoples knowledge and has better economics in terms of spreading the costs through multiple customers. "Staying ahead of the curve," he says, "is probably the biggest challenge for service providers in this space. Constantly evolving our knowledge of the new technologies and how to apply them within a service mix is how we're going to stay ahead." With its unique blend of cutting-edge technology and high-quality personnel at the point of contact, Ziptone is strategically positioned to offer excellent "live support for eCommerce."
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- Companies are discovering they must outsource to meet the technological challenges of providing good online customer service.
- Co-sourcing, which is a combination of the ASP and CRM model, is the solution for many companies looking to upgrade their eCustomer Service.
- An effective CRM model requires not only cutting-edge technology but also highly skilled contact personnel.