New CRM Technologies

Happy New Year! If you’re reading this, it means that your computers haven’t gone kablooey from the no-show Y2K bug, and that’s a good thing.

I, for one, am pretty happy things worked out the way they did. (Though if you know anyone who wants to buy 30 gallons of water, three cases of Spam, and a couple hundred pounds of dog food, let me know…)

Moldering stockpiles aside, I think that we can all be glad that the first few days of the 21st century weren’t spent by candlelight and that the Net isn’t on the fritz. What would have happened if the predictions had come true… we can only imagine.

But it did get me thinking: Were any of us prepared to handle the demand for customer support we would have met if things had gone awry?

Forget the obvious big problems such as power outages and nuclear disasters – those would have made any discussion on the web a moot point. No, I’m talking about the flood of little problems that everyone expected. How would we have handled those?

Not well, if what happened this Christmas is any indication. A recent report by the Software & Information Industry Association on those who shopped online during the holiday rush found no consumers who described themselves as “extremely satisfied” with their experience.

While a majority (90 percent) of respondents found what they were looking for, ten percent didn’t. Worse than that, one fifth of shoppers couldn’t find information they were looking for anywhere on the site. And 20 percent reported that the interfaces they encountered were difficult to use, while many reported problems with shipping and availability info. All of this is no big surprise to anybody who did their shopping online this year. Yuck!

Plenty of ClickZ folks have delved into the issue of what people want and need from site design, flow, and information delivery – none of that’s a surprise for you intrepid readers. But I wanted to take a look today at how to use some of the more cutting… er, Leading Edge technologies out there to help improve customer service and user experience on the web.

Probably one of the most frustrating things for consumers is not being able to find the information they need to complete their purchases, something borne out by the SIIA study mentioned above.

There you are, shopping cart stuffed to the gills, ready to buy, only to find that you don’t have a specific piece of info you need before you press that “Buy” button. Unfortunately, there are no helpful salespeople to ask for assistance. Or are there?

Several relatively new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technologies out there allow e-tailers to improve their customer service by actually connecting customers with support people live on the site. In most cases, customers can just press a button to get connected either by telephone or through a simple chat interface. In a flash you’re not alone anymore, and your questions are answered. Next stop: Checkout!

Online chat support can be a great low-tech way to get your customers the support they’re obviously looking for. Sites like 1800flowers.com do this extremely well: Just a click of a button and you’re chatting with a customer service representative who can answer your question. “That’s great,” I hear you saying, “but what if I don’t have the moolah that those guys do? How can I implement the same feature on my site?”

LiveAssistance might just be the answer you’re looking for. Hosted remotely at the LiveAssistance “Web Call Center,” this system works with any modern browser (including AOL), requires no plug-ins or CGIs, and is customizable to look like your site.

Customers pressing the “Chat Now” button instantly get a chat window with a customer service operator who can answer questions or “push” URLs out to the users, allowing them to see everything from GIFs to RealVideo files. As with any call center operation, pricing varies depending on your needs.

For those operations that need a solution that’s a bit more robust and customizable, M>WebTouch from MATRA.net provides chat functionality along with email management tools. It also includes measurement tools to track user behavior and visits, making it a useful addition to sites that need an all-in-one customer service management tool.

Right Now Technologies offers a variety of tools from the help-yourself ease of RightNowWeb (a web-based FAQ and customer support tool) to RightNowLive’s ability to help customers through a live chat function. Right Now’s technologies allow customers to ask questions, read past answers, and search for relevant information in a simple-to-use format.

If chat software seems a bit cold for your customers, why not speak to them directly? Integrating the web with voice communications might seem tough, but several new products make it a lot easier than you think.

TalkLive, part of Chat’N’Talk Live from New Tech Industries, Inc., allows users to use their own computers to speak live to customer service operators via the telephone. Just click the “Talk” button, enter in your call data, and when you answer the phone, it’ll be the customer service folks.

InstantCall also lets you put a “Call Me” button on your site. Site owners set up an account with InstantCall, provide InstantCall with their customer service center information, and within days are able to put a “Call” button on their site. As customers come on they can press the button and talk via telephone to get their questions answered. It’s a great service for customer support, but can also be handy for any bricks-and-mortar facility that has to integrate the web with an existing phone infrastructure.

Will these tools solve all your customer satisfaction problems? Probably not. But they can provide a lifeline to your customers by linking them to the most valuable tool in your arsenal: Your people.

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