Part of the growing trend toward online customer relationship management (CRM), e-support is the electronic (usually Web-based) version of customer service that would otherwise have required either a visit to a company or a telephone call. According to industry estimates, e-support can cost a company as little as 25 cents per interaction compared to as much as $25. for a telephone inquiry. At its best, e-support offers a customer efficient 24-hour-a-day service, and offers an enterprise a cost-effective means of improving customer relations.

The least expensive version of e-support is Web self-service, which does not involve interaction with a company representative and includes such options as FAQ lists, online documents, and searchable databases. However, many customers prefer access to a customer representative, which is generally offered through e-forms or e-mail contact. A current CRM trend is towards live support, which may be offered through online chat, instant messaging (IM), or voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software.

Increasingly, Web sites offer a combination of e-support types, usually arranged in a hierarchical model ranging from the least to the most expensive. As a rule, a Web site guides customers toward static information first, then toward the interactive self-help options if that doesn't meet their needs, and toward live interaction support only if the first two options don't satisfy them. The toll-free line to a company representative - once the only customer support listed on a Web site - is typically offered solely as a last resort.

This was last updated in March 2007

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