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Talkin' about the self-service revolution

The past year was eventful for customer service application provider Kanisa Inc. In late spring of 2003, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company beefed up its self-service offerings

What's the next major technological innovation that could revolutionize the self-service space?

We'll be rolling out some products later this year that will continue to show our innovation. And a lot of that innovation is around solving more-complex customer problems. Not just ... break/fix problems, but more of a guided resolution process, where you capture more information about the customer and you're able to apply more enterprise resources online, to avoid taking a phone call. You'll also continue to see incremental improvements in the ability to leverage VoIP to do things like voice recognized service -- so [the phone] is just another channel. The phone will become a better self-service tool.

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Whom do you consider your fiercest competition?

Nobody really worries me. We're the new leader, and I think we worry others. In terms of the decision-making [team], there is still an educational process with some of our prospects to explain why the CRM vendors don't do what we do. But it's a brief conversation. When you spend $20 million on a CRM system, you kind of expect it to do everything. So at times we have to explain that their CRM package didn't come with knowledge management and problem resolution applications. How does a vendor like Kanisa fit into the overall CRM market?

We see a large opportunity in the customer service market at the intersection between knowledge management and CRM -- when a representative is working with a customer trying to resolve a problem, and it requires access to enterprise information or other resources. In the past, right at that point of the high-value interaction [with the customer who is having a problem], there was no application for problem resolution. There were a bunch of point products and tools and a lot of manual steps to try to solve that customer's problem. We took our knowledge management technology and put an application on top of it, making it easy to access and deliver the right information at the right time. What is the best way to encourage customers to use self-service technology?

There are two buckets of people: the anonymous customers who you don't know anything about and who are coming to your site to resolve a problem, and they won't tell you much about themselves. The other is the category of customers who will authenticate -- they will register and they're willing to tell you a lot about themselves. In the first group, it's critical to walk them through a process to solve their problem in their natural language. And then you make sure that you capture whether or not they resolved their problem, either through surveys or check boxes, so that, [with] the next customer who comes in with a similar problem, you can 'bubble up' the resolution faster, so it's less of a diagnostic process. What steps should an organization take to harness in-house knowledge before implementing self-service technology?

The first step is a discovery process to understand the types of problems the call center is seeing. The second step is to assess and audit the information that's available in the enterprise -- not just within the support organization. The third step is to ensure you have a clear strategy for how to deploy this in a Web environment. When you apply it, you have to actually think from the end customer's perspective. We went through this three-step process with Network Associates. They were able to reduce their call volume by 10%, and they were able to directly attribute it to their self-service implementation with Kanisa. That equates to over $20 million in savings for them. Talk about the savings associated with self-service versus a typical contact center interaction.

The SSPA [Service & Support Professionals Association] provides benchmarking on the IT market. They found that, in 2002, first-contact resolution cost was about $55 and $27.90 for each electronic resolution. The third number of interest is the escalation -- when a call is bumped from a level-one call center support representative to a higher-level, more expensive resource. That number, according to SSPA, can be upwards of three to five times the original call. So, the trick is being able to take fewer calls by having an effective self-service strategy and to escalate less often.

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