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Self-service stakes revenue claim

While self-service technology offers obvious cost savings, its role as a revenue generator is often overlooked.

Self-service applications are well-known for saving companies money, but a few firms are finding out that when done right, it can bring in revenue as well.

According to a recent survey from Boston-based AMR Research Inc., Web self-service technology will be the most frequently implemented application in 2005, with 34% of the firms surveyed citing plans for self-service this year. Yet, when asked to rank the importance of implementing business applications, Web self-service came in last.

"When business-line executives were asked what was most important to them, the focus was on generating revenue," said Eric Newmark, senior research analyst with AMR. "There was definitely a disconnect in not realizing that revenue can be driven as well. Some companies have driven a pretty significant ROI and up-sell around these apps."

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One area that is seeing impressive revenue gains is in using guided search technology to increase sales conversions. Additionally, companies are generating revenue by using business intelligence rules to trigger escalation of self-service inquiries to live agents who can then up-sell or cross-sell, by analyzing clickstreams to improve marketing effectiveness and by redeploying valuable support staff to revenue-generating activities.

"Simply by improving search technology, like upgrading to natural language as opposed to simple keywords, we're seeing a big improvement in the ability for customers to find what they're looking for," Newmark said.

For example, one high-tech company using natural language processing saved $750,000 by reducing call volume, but also increased revenue 1.5% by redirecting support agents to consulting work. Additionally, a software company used Web self-service to create personalized support site for its top 20 customers. With proactive technical support and increased response time, they increased the average contract value from $400,000 to $650,000, totaling roughly $5 million.

With technologies as different as Web search and interactive voice response, the self-service software market can be confusing. Newmark sees the technology as addressing three areas:

  • Informative inquiries -- customers retrieve information themselves, such as order tracking, product information or account maintenance.
  • Administrative inquiries -- customers have a part in the process, but the company finishes the process, such as a mortgage application where a customer fills out a form online, but bank agents process it at times of low call volume.
  • Interactive -- customers interact with live agents in situations like chat technology.

"We're really seeing spending across all three," Newmark said. "Traditionally, service centers have been viewed as nonprofitable. Self-service technology has been marketed in that way, but in the last few years technology has arrived for companies to break out of this siloed approach."

The most common area where companies are finding revenue possibilities is with natural language search, and the biggest ROI is coming from businesses with a high volume of inquiries with a low level of complexity.

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