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Vendors rise to the customer service challenge

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IT Services & Careers
Vendors rise to the customer service challenge
To build loyalty and gain a competitive edge, vendors today must offer their customers a variety of 24×7 service options.
By Esther Shein, Editor-In-Chief

June 1999

In this article:
Customer service vendor reports by technology

With product cycles growing shorter and new acronyms being bandied about seemingly every week, IT is clearly more complex than it’s ever been. What’s an IT manager to do? Many are coming to rely more heavily on their vendors to provide guidance and product support, and in a highly competitive market, some vendors are rising to the challenge, notably, on the Web.

According to a recent report by The Yankee Group, of Needham, Mass., the market for Web-based call centers will grow to $1.2 billion by 2003. The ability to offer self-help, e-mail response, and live interaction in a fully linked solution will be a dominant trend in customer service, according to Steve Robins, a Yankee Group analyst. Organizations that provide customers with a variety of convenient service options in a 24×7 environment will build loyalty and create competitive differentiation, he says.

Edward Roche, a vice president and research director of The Concours Group, based in Kingwood, Texas, concurs that automated, Web-enabled services have become the best way to help customers. “Over the last few years we’ve seen a growth in the use of the Web for providing FAQs [frequently asked questions] for people, in addition to the use of semi-structured, semi-expert systems that help you find notes relevant to your problem,” he says, “and the growth of fax back–you call a number and the fax back system sends you back a directory of help notes that give you information about your problem.”

Customer service vendor reports by technology
Application development tools
Client systems
Data warehouses and datamarts
E-commerce & Extranets
Enterprise applications
Internet/Intranet tools
Network infrastructure
Network & systems management
Network services
IT industry services Security Servers Storage systems Year 2000 tools

However, Roche cautions, it’s not enough to put helpful information on the Web; automated support should be “ergonomically sensitive,” comfortable, and easy to use.

And don’t forget, a customer is still a customer after he pays the bill. “You have to have a way to check to determine if the person making a query actually got helped. So follow up and be proactive,” he adds.

Roche also notes that companies have to change the paradigm that views customer service as a cost that needs to be minimized. “Rather than look at it as a cost center, you need to look at it as a…strategic marketing arm and strategic listening arm for the company.” That means developing internal mechanisms to leverage incoming service suggestions for use in the development of subsequent product releases.

“Frankly, I’m not sure how many companies look at it this way, but successful companies will study how well a product is working and will leverage the cost center” rather than view it as something to be stuck in the back, says Roche.

In another attempt to proactively service customers, more and more companies have also begun eyeing the use of customer relationship management software. CRM combines integrated business processes such as salesforce automation, the help desk, marketing, and other applications for better serving customers before and after the sale (see our upcoming story on Web-based CRM in July).

Datamation decided to examine users’ perceptions of the customer service they receive in terms of the quality of pre- and post-sales support, product documentation, and pricing. Based on our writers’ research and reporting, we selected a sampling of companies for each story to represent the 16 categories of technology we follow. Read on to see what we discovered. //

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