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.

Diagram depicting people, process, and technologiesThe 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 goals.

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 selection process.

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.

Price Considerations
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.

Licensing Options
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.

Scalability
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 support?
  • 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 system console.

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 communication presents.

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 scott@1to1service.com.  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.