Your eService Challenge: Selecting
Your eService Technology
By Scott Whitsitt
Published in e.bill magazine, June 2000
Research has demonstrated that $1 spent on service yields 12
times more revenue than $1 spent on advertising. But eService
technology is not cheap, and you need to select the product that
is right for your business. Many companies today believe that
new technology alone will solve their business problems. But is
this the case? With over 200 eService tools available today and
dozens more on the way, how do you choose from the overwhelming
array of options?
Identify the features important to your company
Selecting the right eService technology for your company requires
that you first identify the key features your company needs and
then evaluate products that have those features.
four components of an effective eService solution --your company’s
overall business strategy, people, processes, and technical infrastructure
-- should ultimately drive your technology selection decision.
An integrated approach to evaluating each component is the most
successful way to ensure that your company reaches its e-commerce
Most organizations are finding this shift to Internet customer
service far from simple. After years of fine tuning their staffing
approaches, business processes and technical infrastructures for
voice communications, it is difficult to deal with this new medium
– the Internet and text-based communications.
Considering the following areas will help you identify the key
eService product features you need to consider in your technology
Your overall strategy
It is essential to recognize your company’s overall business
strategy in order to make a logical and effective choice of technology.
Do you differentiate yourselves from competitors by being operationally
excellent and offering a wide selection of products at low prices?
Or does your strategy depend on customer intimacy, focusing on
building strong relationships through better customer service
and deeper customer knowledge than competitors?
Next, consider how you are planning on implementing your strategy.
For example, if your company is based on customer intimacy, are
you prepared to staff your eService organization 24 x 7, and make
the investment in time and money to maintain a large-scale CRM
application? Customer intimate companies might make e-mail, chat,
and voice over IP available to their customers, while operationally
excellent companies will more likely focus their strategies on
self-service options that are easy to use and cost less.
The cost of eService and eCRM applications varies widely from
less than $25,000 to over $2,000,000. Higher-end applications
provide more extensive cross-function features and integration
with other aspects of your infrastructure such as purchasing data
and customer preferences. At the same time, depending on your
needs, some of the lower priced applications are quite robust
and may sufficiently satisfy basic customer interaction requirements.
Pricing also depends upon the type of license you select.
The first is a perpetual license to use the application in house.
By paying a single up-front fee, you are allowed to use the software
as long as you like. However, with this type of license, upgrades
are generally only included when you pay maintenance. The second
approach is a subscription for a specified time period (often
two or three years), which allows you to use the software in-
house only during that time period. Upgrades and support are generally
provided during this period at no additional cost. The third approach
involves application hosting, during which a third party application
service provider (ASP) licenses the product and runs it on your
behalf in their data center. If you are comfortable with
a third party hosting your application, you may be able to lower
up-front licensing fees, reduce time to market, and limit your
risk of obsolescence by selecting this option.
As your company grows, your technology must grow with it. Scalability
refers to the ability of a product to function as volume requirements
change. In other words, does the product continue to function
effectively as the number of users increases or as the features
become more complex?
To determine whether the level of scalability will suit your
needs, some insightful questions to ask vendors include:
- What is the largest installation to date for the product?
Number of users? Concurrent users? Messages per hour, day, month?
- Has the company performed any benchmarking tests (in regard
to scalability in various environments) and will the vendor
provide that information?
- What operating systems and databases does the application
- Does the product support NT or Unix clustering?
Implementation and Maintenance Process
Another key consideration when purchasing products is ease of
implementation and maintenance. How much training is required
by your systems engineering staff before they can implement and
administer the application? Can the application be administered
via a web-browser, or do you need to be directly connected within
the LAN on which the application is running? Keep in mind that
some applications can only be administered directly from the server’s
Product Development History
eService tools also vary based upon the history of the company
offering them. Recognizing the product development history of
the company from which you are purchasing your technology will
allow you to take advantage of that company’s strengths. There
are essentially three groups of companies offering eService solutions
today. First there are the companies that have traditionally offered
telecommunications switches and hardware and are now adding functionality
to their product lines to route incoming phone calls, e-mail,
chat, and voice-over IP using their existing platforms. However,
many of these companies tend to treat new technology in the same
way that they treated phone calls in the past, without taking
into account the unique challenges and opportunities that web-based
In addition to this first group, other “web-based” software providers
that support multiple communication channels from a more Internet-centric
perspective have emerged during the past few years. And
last but not least, the third group of companies focus solely
on a single communication channel (i.e., e-mail or real-time text
chat, etc.). This focus allows them to optimize their applications
to support that one form of communication, essentially making
them experts in that one area.
CRM vs. eService and eMarketing
There is a significant difference between Customer Relationship
Management (CRM) tools that provide extensive customer profiling
across business functions, and products that support customer
contacts on a smaller scale. It is essential to determine whether
or not an enterprise-wide CRM application is required or desired
or whether a more limited customer contact solution is in order.
Extensive CRM features can include: coordinated information among
departments, proactive customer profile management, integrated
marketing campaigns, extensive sales force automation capabilities,
and other cross-functional features. eService tools (that are
not a part of a CRM suite) may provide simpler access to customer
information and limited cross-functional access. At the same time,
these eService products are generally less costly and easier to
implement than a complete CRM application.
The Bottom Line
Because the marketing descriptions of most eService applications
are very similar, it can be hard to tell them apart. However,
if you answered the questions above, you now have some idea of
how the technology you choose should integrate into your overall
strategy. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that
although the options available today are extensive, technology
alone will not meet your business challenges. You must consider
the people and business processes in place and ensure that your
overall strategy is in line with business goals in order to launch
your company into building successful online relationships.
Scott Whitsitt is president and CEO of One-to-One Service.com.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. One-to-One Service.com
helps organizations web-enable their call centers and provides
a variety of eService and eMarketing solutions. They can
be reached on the web at www.1to1service.com.