Use the Net to improve your service

Colin Brown, managing director at service management software supplier Tesseract, believes the Internet has created one of the...

Colin Brown, managing director at service management software supplier Tesseract, believes the Internet has created one of the most exciting development phases ever in customer service: for the service provider, it has opened up a new world of possibilities for real-time information management and sharing and, for customers, it has improved the speed and quality of communications, writes Ross Bentley.

"The Web can provide everyone in the service chain - including customers - with an unrivalled level of access to information, and cost savings," says Brown.

"For example, by adopting e-mail communications, service providers can handle more customer requests with fewer call takers. Thus they reduce overheads, or at least maintain costs in the face of increasing call rates. Meanwhile, customers, when preferred, can contact their service providers whenever they want."

Brown gives the example of Continuous Power International, a provider of uninterrupted power supplies. He says the introduction of Internet communications for its field engineers via laptops - using e-mail to issue and close service calls, and to simultaneously automatically update stock records - has generated significant savings across the business. These have come, for instance, from saving engineers the time, travel expenses and mobile phone charges that were traditionally spent collecting and closing calls.

"Continuous Power's business is all about service, and making the internal operation more efficient means that customers will continue to receive the standard of service they deserve," he says.

Brown also points to garage equipment supplier Tecalemit, which has tailored its screen displays to suit the individual needs of each customer. Its user sites across the UK log all calls to Tecalemit via the Internet.

"Tecalemit wants its operators to input certain data using simple point-and-click routines, and it wants the screens and windows to react to that information in a certain way," explains Brown. "It also wants 'linked' windows of information so that when the user logs-in they can see all the call history data relevant to them and their site."

After entering the appropriate fault details into a memo field, the customer's call request activates a trigger that sends Tecalemit an e-mail. The request is then dispatched to the relevant field engineer. Tecalemit closes the call by informing the customer site via e-mail.

From the host system's point of view, Brown says the advantages of the Web are clearly of major potential benefit, especially to global corporates - companies with country-focused service operations that are characterised by individual databases that run in isolation. These systems are usually co-ordinated and managed by a central team that is forever struggling to gain a global perspective of their activities.

"There are clear management rewards to linking and consolidating all this information into a central database," says Brown. "But having a central database is only part of the story. The real economic advantages of consolidating service management operations can only be gained if browser-based technology is implemented."

"Distributing" the service management function via a browser means service providers can immediately eliminate their dependence on local IT skills and make obsolete the traditional costs of software ownership, says Brown.

"The customer service industry has always been a people business, and it always will be, because people like to talk to people. But, where and when appropriate, Internet technology can be used to good effect to improve customer satisfaction levels."

Find out more about how the Internet can improve customer service at the Service Management Europe Show, 12-14 November, Birmingham

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