epeople White Paper New Trends in Customer Support: Collaborative Virtual Teams

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1 epeople White Paper New Trends in Customer Support: Collaborative Virtual Teams

2 Executive Summary Every support executive is well aware of the immense challenges of delivering effective and efficient customer support. Most technology companies have implemented classic, tiered support organizational models, supplemented with programs such as outsourcing, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and self-help tools all in an effort to reach this goal. However, the increased technical complexity of the support environment means that support is no longer a simple tiered model. Support professionals must work as teams within the department and across the enterprise to apply the right skills to resolve issues quickly. Support organizations are now required to leverage any and all types of external expertise - such as partners, developers, and even other customers - when trying to quickly resolve an issue. Without this high level of collaboration, companies risk losing customers to the competition. Support executives must now consider how technology can be applied to enable these virtual support organizations to work together on problem resolution. The epeople Service Network 3.0 is a collaborative support application that enables an extended team of support providers to work together to more effectively resolve support issues. This solution drives faster problem resolution, helps support professionals be more productive and ensures that valuable knowledge is captured and leveraged by the support team and the rest of the company. Table of Contents The Classic Support Model Supplementing the Classic Support Model Outsourcing CRM Self Help Emerging Trends in Customer Support Extending the Support Organization Collaborative Support The epeople Solution Components of the epeople Service Network 3.0 Business Benefits Customer Implementations Contact epeople

3 The Classic Support Model The classic model of support was developed in the mid 1980s by organizations such as IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation. The classic model is built on a tiered support structure where teams of first level support analysts initially handle most requests. The first level analyst attempts to resolve the issue, or escalates the issue to a more appropriate support professional. Since its inception, the classic model has worked best with products that are long-lived, stable, generate a predictable number of calls, and whose customers are similar in support requirements. For many high technology companies, however, market conditions are the exact opposite. Some industry pressures are putting strain on the classic support model: Fast pace of technical advancement is resulting in more complex technical environments, rapid introduction of new products, and need for more integration. Product margins are growing smaller and product lifecycles are shorter. Complex technical environments often require multiple support personnel with different areas of technical expertise to work together to resolve an issue. Labor costs are rising and experienced support analysts are difficult to find. 1 It usually takes six to 18 months for a new support analyst to become fully productive IDC: Volpi, Ana, Third-Party Support Portals and the Impact of Changing Business Models on the Support Market, September AFSMI Journal: Brown, Dave, Transitioning from a Labor-Based Model to a Knowledge Enabled Model, July 1999.

4 Supplementing the Classic Support Model Over the years, support organizations have applied several strategies to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the classic model, including: outsourcing, CRM, and self-help tools. 2 Outsourcing In an effort to reduce the cost of technical support and supplement the technical expertise within their organization, many companies seek outsourcing arrangements. Outsourcing has allowed companies to focus more energy and resources on their core business by deflecting some requests outside the organization. CRM During the 1990s, CRM systems extended their basic sales functionality to include problem and issue management capabilities for customer support. Automating the problem tracking process provided efficiency gains for call centers by electronically capturing problem information, managing queues, and enabling electronic transfer and escalation of issues. These capabilities have enabled companies to better understand overall customer experience and become more efficient in managing customer problems through their lifecycle. Self Help While outsourcing attempted to reduce the number of support requests coming into the support organization by deflecting them outside the company, the Internet has enabled a set of support tools that deflect support requests by enabling customers to find answers themselves. Often described as self-help or self-service, they include knowledge access tools, community newsgroups, and self-repair technologies. They can be an important part of a support strategy by enabling customers to resolve simple support problems.

5 Emerging Trends in Customer Support The emergence of the Internet as a cost-effective, collaborative business tool has created new opportunities to optimize the classic support model by extending the support organization and enabling collaboration within and across organizational boundaries. Extending the Support Organization Many of the challenges in running a support business revolve around resource constraints, such as not having enough people to manage the request load or not having people with the right skills and product knowledge. Some companies have used outsourcing as a way to add new skills and scale their operations. However, outsourcing often does not provide the flexibility needed to support a quickly changing technical environment. Also, outsourcing removes management overview and control, making it difficult to capture important knowledge gained in support delivery. In addition, outsourcing still includes hidden infrastructure expenses that limit cost reduction benefits. Most companies have a wealth of high-quality, untapped resources at hand distributors, integrators, suppliers, and developers who are already associated with the company and have deep product knowledge. Companies increasingly rely on these partners to extend marketing channels and technical capabilities. The natural outgrowth of this model is to enable these groups to deliver technical support. For reasons of cost control, customer preference or channel strategy, some requests are better handled outside the internal support group, via the virtual support organization. By using the Internet to aggregate, manage and monitor a geographically distributed set of support personnel, virtual support organizations can become a reality. The smart service organization will integrate and manage the customer support process through a combination of automation, humanization, individualization and collaboration. IDC, Worldwide Software Support and Integration Services Forecast and Analysis,

6 Collaborative Support The classic support model is based on a one-to-one process, where one support professional provides technical assistance to the customer, without reliance or consultation with others. In today s support environment, however, a significant percentage of customer support requests require multiple support providers to work together, either because of technical complexity or because cross-functional or cross-company input is required. 4 During 2001, organizations will pursue contextual collaboration strategies enabling customers, employees, and partners to plan, share, clarify, negotiate, brainstorm, coordinate, build community, and exchange information within operational applications. META Trend, epeople has identified that for some organizations, over 65% of all support requests involve some form of collaboration. Additionally, support organizations that require fast turnaround on support requests are unable to effectively handle even a small percentage of requests that require collaboration, resulting in drastically reduced productivity. Multi-vendor support requests are becoming more common. One study by the Customer Support Consortium identified that 27% of support requests involved multi-vendor issues, and these requests typically cost up to 17 times more to resolve. 3 Today, informal collaboration within a support environment takes place in the form of face-to-face conversations, s, phone calls, and instant messaging. Relying on these informal methods of collaboration has a number of drawbacks, including: Informal collaboration is limited to known resources, i.e. only those people that the support provider knows can help, rather than the larger group of people available either inside or outside the organization who have relevant expertise. There is no mechanism to share the details of a specific support request among the different support providers, resulting in significant delays, as each new collaborator must be briefed. Valuable knowledge capture about the issue and its resolution is not properly captured, and therefore cannot be leveraged throughout the organization on future support requests and product enhancements. 3 Multi-Vendor Support Strategy: Standards for a Virtual Support Community, Customer Support Consortium, 1997

7 Effective collaboration in the support environment must include: 1. The ability to locate the right experts at the right time. 2. An easy way to immediately collaborate on a specific support request with one or more support providers. 3. Visibility and control over collaborative support requests. 4. Knowledge capture of the collaborative experience. The majority of collaboration tools on the market today are primarily focused on unstructured or project collaboration, and there is little ability to integrate them into a company s existing support processes. Traditional CRM products, designed for problem tracking, don t handle collaboration well, especially across the enterprise. CRM systems use an escalation-based approach, which mandates one person per task, when the reality is that many situations require multiple support providers to work together to deliver a resolution. In a cross-enterprise support environment, where multiple CRM systems are in use, most of the collaboration must occur outside the CRM products. Therefore, companies need to look to an emerging set of collaborative support tools that complement their existing support infrastructure. Enterprises must expand the knowledge base by capturing the experiences of collaborative teams. 5 Gartner, Rethinking Collaboration, Business Challenges, and Opportunities, January Simple Complex Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Collaborative Support Team-based Support Requests Self Help & Forums CRM (point of record) Virtual Support Organization Individual-based Extending the support organization and delivering collaborative support can result in significant productivity gains and cost savings.

8 The epeople Solution The epeople Service Network 3.0 makes it easy for companies to build a virtual, collaborative support organization that includes people inside the support team, throughout the company, and also any external partners with appropriate skills. The result is greater efficiency and effectiveness in handling support requests, which helps to improve overall customer satisfaction. 6 Incoming support requests, whether directly from the Web, through or through a CRM system, are distributed based on skills, quality, cost, and service level requirements. The virtual support organization is able to work collaboratively as a team when necessary and where business objectives require it. Based on the company s preference, support providers across departmental and company boundaries will be able to locate each other and work together to resolve a request. The support executive retains overall visibility and control of the entire structure because epeople Service Network 3.0 gives them access to data in real-time. Visibility and Control Support Audience Customers Developers Partners Collaborative Support Workspace Flexible Sourcing Internal Resources Partners, Developers and Vendors External Services Providers Knowledge Capture Companies can use the epeople Service Network 3.0 to deliver support to customers, developers and other partners.

9 Components of the epeople Service Network 3.0 Flexible sourcing Creating a virtual support organization through the epeople Service Network 3.0 delivers unparalleled flexibility in support resources. Incidents can be routed to internal or external members of the support team, who can also work collaboratively with both named individuals and others who have specific skills or expertise. As the technical environment, product requirements and support objectives change, support executives can alter resource allocations and change how requests are routed. Collaborative Workspaces With the epeople Service Network 3.0, end users and support personnel work together to resolve complex issues through a collaborative problem resolution workspace that includes features like real-time chat, shared desktop, and file exchange. This workspace can be launched directly from a CRM system or from the epeople Service Network application. Support providers can work one-to-one with customers or as a collaborative team amongst themselves, delivering efficient, multi-party problem resolution. 7 Knowledge capture Data on each support request and its resolution can be fed back into a company s knowledge management systems via an XML-based mechanism. The epeople Service Network 3.0 captures a comprehensive, multi-session problem resolution transcript, including a resolution summary that classifies the problem in terms of closure codes, diagnosis and root cause analysis, and workaround information. Visibility and control With the epeople Service Network, companies track and analyze business intelligence on all aspects of customer support. All support providers, whether internal or external, are screened according to a company s specified technical qualifications, enabling support executives to control who can view which questions and respond with answers and also specify how and when collaboration can occur. The epeople Service Network 3.0 makes it easy to measure the performance of support providers based on timeliness, quality ratings, or other factors and make changes as needed, in real-time. Integration with the support infrastructure The epeople Service Network 3.0 integrates into a company s existing support systems and processes. Support requests can be accepted via the Web, or through integration with CRM and ticket-tracking systems. The epeople Service Network 3.0 can interface and mirror CRM workflow or operate standalone. Information on escalation, resolution, and support personnel performance is tracked and associated with a specific request. The data is integrated back into the CRM system via an XMLbased ticket exchange mechanism.

10 Business Benefits Implementing the epeople Service Network 3.0 improves the efficiency and productivity of customer support. Companies are able to tap into partner, supplier, developer and customer knowledge to deploy a virtual support organization with more skills, expertise and availability. Customers and support providers now have the tools to resolve issues quickly, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and higher support productivity. Performance on complex support requests, in particular, can improve dramatically through collaboration between multiple support providers. 8 Through knowledge capture of all support incidents, particularly collaborative support incidents, companies can make significant improvements in the quality of internal knowledge. This knowledge can be used to enhance support delivery, product planning and other company processes. The result is increased flexibility to respond to today s fast changing technical support environment. Customer Implementations Adobe Systems, Inc., uses the flexibility of an epeople Service Network to extend their resources and add a new, Web-based customer support solution without adding any staff. To date, tens of thousands of customer support requests have been successfully resolved by Adobe s virtual support organization, which includes over 400 Adobe Certified Experts who are not on Adobe s payroll. Openwave Systems Inc., the worldwide leader of open IP-based communication infrastructure software and applications, has selected the epeople solution to power its Openwave Developer Web Support. The epeople solution is enabling Openwave to resolve developer issues quickly and effectively, helping developers to maximize their time building applications rather than waiting for answers. Oracle Corporation has partnered with epeople to extend their resources and provide single-incident support for its Oracle Technology Network. Now all developers can quickly and easily receive 24x7, real-time, person-to-person Web support from a network of Oracle Certified Professionals. Additional epeople customers and partners include, Microsoft Corp., PC World Communications Inc., Sybase Inc., and Symbol Technologies Inc.

11 About epeople epeople, founded in 1997, is the leading provider of Internet-based support solutions. The epeople Service Network is a patent-pending, collaborative support infrastructure that helps companies capture, manage and resolve customer issues more effectively, thereby increasing customer satisfaction. Investors include Redpoint Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Integral Capital Partners, Bedrock Capital, Brentwood Venture Capital, and CNET. More information on epeople is available at To learn more about how you can benefit from virtual support organizations and collaborative problem resolution or to see an epeople Service Network demonstration, please contact us at or via at epeople, Inc. 450 National Avenue Mountain View, CA USA Phone (650) Fax (650) Website: Copyright 2001 epeople, Inc. All rights reserved. This white paper is for informational purposes only. epeople makes no warranties, express or implied in this document. All information current as of November Subject to change without notice. epeople, the epeople logo, epeople Service Network, and epeople Service Network Platform are trademarks of epeople, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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