A quick shout out to Tracey Skinner of Waterfield Technologies who was kind enough to spend some time discussing her thoughts and experiences around Customer Service, and in particular Self Service. After following discussions with Exalead customers and trudging through countless articles and reports on the topic, it was interesting to get insight from someone who provides integration services and customer service solutions to clients of all industries and sizes.
First, I wanted to get an insiders perspective on the state of adoption of new software technologies. “We’re not seeing a lot of companies making expenditures on new suites or replacement technologies versus making what they have better.” Tracy went on to echo what we’re hearing from Exalead customers: call centers are filled with archaic legacy systems that don’t cooperate with each other and the biggest challenge to date is tying all these systems together in cost-efficient ways to improve the effectiveness of their communications with and services for their customers. Budgets are so tight that companies are being more creative than ever to get existing systems to work better. “It requires a compelling ROI pitch in order to bring in technologies that require licensing.”
With respect to the state of self-service, Tracy said Waterfield is seeing a dramatic increase in interest for self-service portals with many clients either discussing, in process, or evaluating solutions. However the implementation of self-service portals and similar systems is impeded by economics. Despite this, Tracy is hearing, from her clients, a strong resolve to make advances in 2010. This is encouraging to hear, but it seems the previously sited data integration challenges could directly impact the quality and effectiveness of a self-service solution. Tracy admits she is not sure people fully understand the impact of data integration and need to look at fundamentals first before slapping a web UI on-top. “When IT starts drilling in, they begin understanding other expenditures and tend to balk.”
Given Exalead’s own experiences, a search-based approach can be used to address the customer service data integration challenges and still provide a compelling ROI. With this approach, a search engine indexes content from any source(s) desired: databases, file servers, content management systems, email servers, the Web, etc. Whatever the number or type of resources indexed, the result is a single structured data layer that can be directly queried by users, or tapped by other applications using standard Web formats and protocols. This eliminates costly and complicated integrations on the backend, providing unified access for all Customer Service reps and customers to all the appropriate structured and unstructured data inside and outside the firewall regardless of the source.
Beyond the integration of information, the search-based approach provides other advantages, further improving the success and effectiveness of a self-service solution. More on that in the future.