It’s important to remember how easy it is for customers to switch to competitors today. It used to be that if you had a customer’s business for a few years, chances were that customer wouldn’t jump ship over a small problem. Today if you make a customer unhappy, even over a little thing, he or she can and will find a new supplier in an instant.
A company called RightNow Technologies has some answers that help businesses let customers manage relationships. RightNow’s Web-based self-service solution creates a knowledge base that allows customers to shape the service in ways to make it most relevant to them. Because customers typically repeat the same questions, the RightNow solution can draw from a central repository of information they call the “knowledgebase” to provide immediate answers. This allows the system to answer thousands of inquiries at the same time. The knowledge base is “self-learning” and “self-maintaining.” Each individual customer manages his or her relationship, shaping and adding value to the knowledge base by determining what is most relevant to him or to her. The information individual customers find most useful and most timely becomes the most easily accessible.
As we’ve said, the need to seek help from a customer representative dramatically increases call center and e-mail loads, which in turn threatens the quality of service. Customer inquiries can jump as much as 300 percent after a company adds an online element to its business, and even offline companies are learning that customers expect to find help twenty-four hours a day. This was happening at easyRentaCar, whose customer service staff of twenty was being snowed under with e-mail inquiries. Because the company had to write an individual reply to each inquiry, it was taking as long as a week for customers to receive a reply. Within one month of the RightNow Web solution, 95 percent of the inquiries were being resolved within twenty-four hours, and a full 80 percent of all inquiries were being answered through self service.
When customers sign onto the easyRentaCar site, they’re presented with a choice of languages and taken to a welcome page where the basics of the company’s offerings are listed. Links on everything from booking online and locations to prices and policies are presented, including a link to the customer service site. At the customer service site visitors can search the knowledge base or immediately send a request for assistance.
Phil Jones, chief technology officer for easyRentaCar, says, “We are now in a situation where we are proactively managing the customer support process, empowering the customers to find the answers to their questions, and when they do need assistance from us, scheduling and prioritizing requests and providing a more consistent answer.”
The customer management of relationships can be approached through a variety of traditional channels including telephone calls, e-mails, and website interaction. Complete, multichannel, integrated, robust solutions are critical. When considering the cost of each method, many businesses are finding that applications, which include Web-based self service, are what one industry expert calls the “sweet spot” in the customer relationship marketplace. Forrester Research reports the average cost per interaction is $32.74 by telephone, $9.99 by e-mail, $7.80 by online chat service, and $1.17 by knowledge-based self service, making the RightNow solution a big bargain.
 “EasyRentaCar Expanding Online Service for Online Services,” right_now.com, April 9, 2002, pp. 1, 2.
Susan Carstensen, “The Savings of Web-Based Self-Service,” RightNow Technologies, Inc. White Paper, 2001.