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Choosing the Perfect Customer Service App

There are a lot of customer service apps in the market to help you manage your customer support. This guide will help you search for the right solution and guide your selection process so you’ll feel more confident about your choice.

Why a Customer Service App?

Great customer service is critical to your company's success. Like most small companies, you've likely managed your customer support informally, using email and other standard business productivity tools to field requests, and sharing support responsibilities among your team.

But as your business grows, you may need to streamline your customer support operations - and that's where a customer service app becomes essential. Often known in the industry as a "help desk," a customer service app is essential for companies that field support requests from many different channels - not just phone and email, but also Twitter, Facebook and live chat.

Keeping tabs on all these requests, prioritizing them, and resolving them in a timely manner has grown much more complicated.

Without software to help them manage these demands, customer service teams work inefficiently and without the right information, and often fail in their mission to provide timely and satisfactory service to customers.

Today's customer service app is a must-have for customer support teams dedicated to service excellence.

The right customer service app can have enormous benefits for your business, including:

  • Increased customer satisfaction. With the right app, agents can resolve cases more quickly, and customers won't have to repeat the same information again and again.
  • Better consistency. Agents can access a common knowledge base and use standard procedures.
  • Improved efficiency and reduced costs. Your team can focus on resolving customers' issues rather than administrative tasks and "busy work," allowing agents to get more done in less time.

Info-Tech Research Group found that companies relied on email response capabilities, followed by self-service portals, analytics and reporting, mobile support and resolution workflow tools as the most essential criteria in a customer service app.


Shopping For Your Ideal App

A customer service app can be a somewhat substantial financial investment, and it's a decision you'll want to live with for a while - after all, one of the reasons for investing in a customer service app is to help your company scale your support operations. So, before you jump feet-first into a selection, it's important to back up and understand your organization's goals and needs, then conduct a methodical and objective review of your options.

1. Figure out what you want to achieve with your customer service app

The most important step is determining your goals within your company. What does adopting customer support software mean to your organization and what business objectives do you expect it to help you achieve?

For example, your company may be primarily focused on:

  • Increasing customer satisfaction rates
  • Improving time-to-resolution and reducing costs
  • Meeting key growth metrics by increasing new customers and reducing customer churn
  • Making your customer support agents more productive by giving them more flexibility and tools that empower them

It may seem straightforward, but all too often stakeholders have different ideas of what they want a customer service app to do - leading to an unproductive product search.

Before you begin, gather everybody who has a stake in the outcome of your search - your executive team, customer support management, IT team and others - and lay out all the problems you're trying to solve. Then, prioritize the objectives you want your customer service app to help you meet.

2. Make your evaluation checklist

Now that you know what you want to accomplish, it's time to create your wish list. How will your customer service app help you get where you want to go?

It's essential to get input from people at every level who are involved with customer support to choose and rank the features and functionality you need your app to provide. This attention to detail will help you choose the right tool with all the functionality you need rather than a tool with extra unnecessary bells and whistles.

A discussion among team members at the senior level, management level and front lines will help you gather your initial wish list. Consider and rank features such as:

  • Resolution workflow management (ticketing and case management, automated assignment and escalation)
  • Customer self-service and help centers
  • Knowledge base (content management for adding and update content)
  • Agent dashboard and user interface
  • Mobile capabilities for agents and customers
  • Multichannel integration (email, telephone, live chat, self-service)
  • Complex search capabilities (multiple criteria, the ability to refine results)
  • Social media support (monitoring social media channels, response capabilities)
  • Queuing (routing and prioritizing interactions)
  • Reporting and analytics (views of key metrics such as average resolution time, real-time analytics and interactive dashboard)

Start with your comprehensive list - everything under the sun you could possibly want - then rank your requirements and get a consensus from the group on the ranking.

This checklist will let you conduct an apples-to-apples comparison and evaluate solutions efficiently. It will also let you identify candidates that are not able to provide specific services, so you don't waste time interviewing and getting a demo from vendors who can't meet your needs.

3. Schedule demos of products that appear to meet your criteria

Use your checklist to identify vendors offering products that appear to meet your high-priority requirements. Then, go to the vendor's website, sign up for the free trial and request a demo.

Have representatives from different roles in your company test the product in the free trial. This will give everybody an initial sense of whether the product is a viable option - if agents can see themselves using it every day and managers can see the value of it to meet their goals. The free trial lets your people test out the usability of the tools and put basic functionality to the test.

A demo with the vendor's sales representative lets you go much more in-depth. Have your "testers" come up with lists of questions that come up for them as they use the software in trial. Then, make sure the testers are involved in the demo and have a chance to see specific capabilities and ask their questions.

4. Evaluate and rate products and vendors

As you go through demos and try out each product through your free trial, try to evaluate the product on a variety of factors. It helps to have a mechanism to quantify and score vendors on these factors, so that at the end of the process you'll have the data that help you make a clear choice.

It's important to think about more than just the features of the tool. Factors such as affordability, usability and architecture are equally important. Also consider the vendor itself: the company's viability, commitment to the space and its reach - the ability to provide global coverage and post-sales support.

Turn your checklist into a ratings worksheet (such as the one provided in the appendix) to let your team objectively rate criteria. Then, compile the team's rating sheets and aggregate the scores to make your selection. Because each participant in the process has the same information, the process is collaborative and objective and will ultimately meet the needs of all stakeholders, including the people using the tool each day.

Choosing the right tool to manage customer interactions is one of the most important decisions you'll make in today's competitive global business environment, giving your company a distinct competitive advantage. By following a needs-driven, logical decision-making process, your selection team can identify and prioritize real needs, comprehensively and objectively evaluate products and choose the customer service app that will serve your company - and your customers - as you grow.


Customer Service App Rating Worksheet

Ready to invest in a customer service app for your company? Before you begin looking for solutions, consider this requirements checklist and rating sheet and determine which features and criteria are most important for your team.

Architecture

  1. Access Controls: Does the app allow us to define user groups and determine permission requirements (frontline users should have different privileges than a customer service manager)?
  2. Extensibility: Is the system easily able to scale in the future with new functionality or modifications of existing?
  3. Integration: Can components exchange data and interoperate with existing enterprise systems (including productivity applications, CRM, and ERP systems)? Which software products integrate well with the solution?
  4. Client Operating Systems Supported: Which operating systems are supported by the app, for all clients? Is the app 100% browser-based?

Engagement Methodology and Support

  1. Customer Support: Does the app vendor provide toll-free customer support 24 hours, seven days per week?
  2. Data Management: Does the data management design support integration and sharing of data among all applications?
  3. Implementation Support: Does the vendor provide complete, turnkey, on-site implementation and project management support?
  4. Training and Documentation: What training and user documentation and support does the vendor provide to users?
  5. Software Updates: How often does the vendor provide software releases and updates to applications?
  6. Single Sign-On: Can we enable users to authenticate only once (through the portal) to access various systems in the enterprise?
  7. Scalability: Can we scale the number of concurrent users (agents and customers) that can be supported on this system?

Product Features

Resolution Workflow Management (Case Management/Ticketing): Does the app create, manage and close individual customer cases (tickets), as well as initiate triggers (alarms or alerts) to remind customer service agents to follow up?

Escalation Rules: Does the app allow tickets to be assigned to individuals or teams, and later reassigned and escalated in severity? Can we program automated escalation procedures into the platform and trigger rules through natural language processing and other means?

Customer Self-Care Features: Can customers access and update their account information online, access information about open cases or tickets and access resources such as knowledge bases and forums from a self-service console?

Web Portals: Does the app provide a launching point to access content for customers, agents and customer service managers?

Knowledge Base and Search: Does the app provide a content repository tool such as a customer service knowledge base? Does it provide search capabilities for both content repositories and additional web assets?

Call Center Features: Does the app manage information, processes and systems that control the flow of customer requests in and out of the call center? Can we write, store and retrieve customer service scripts from the platform and record inbound and outbound calls?

Social: Does the app provide native tools for proactive social media monitoring and response? Can it manage a variety of social media channels for issue resolution?

Mobile Support: Does the app support mobile browsers (at a minimum) or provide dedicated mobile applications for target operating systems (iOS, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Mobile)?

Queuing: Can the app queue customer cases according to specific criteria and parameters?

Software Integration Capabilities: Does the app provide integration with CRM, RSS/activity feeds, SharePoint, IVR, telephony, email, etc.? What vendor-specific application and communications hardware connectors available out of the box? Is there any additional for connectors to our company's environment?

Channel Integration Capabilities: With which interaction channels does the app integrate for contextual customer service resolution capabilities: telephony, IVR, email, live chat, web self-service, social channels, mobile browsers/apps?

Vendor Qualifications and References

All vendors must provide the following information for their proposal to be considered:

A brief outline of the vendor company and services offered, including:

  • Full legal name of the company
  • Year business was established
  • Number of people currently employed
  • Income statement and balance sheet for each of the two most recently completed fiscal years certified by a public accountant

A description of the vendor's geographic reach and market penetration

An outline of the product lineup the

Information on current software clients, including:

  • Total number of current clients
  • A list of clients with similar needs using the same software
  • Evidence of successful completion of a project of a similar size and complexity

References: Contact information for three references (if possible) from projects similar in size, application and scope, and a brief description of their implementation.


Demo questions that agents might want to ask

  1. Does the software provide decision trees or resolution wizards for complex service issues?

  2. How can we escalate a case to tier-two support?

  3. Can you walk us through how to create, assign, update, close and archive tickets for customer service cases?

  4. Can you demonstrate the search capabilities?

  5. Can we use the software from a mobile device?

  6. Can agents add custom widgets to the portal?

  7. Can you show us how the app supports multichannel escalation?


Demo questions that customer service managers might want to ask

  1. How can we structure information and assign categories/ taxonomies to content to navigate the knowledge base?

  2. How can we set up, edit, maintain and delete rules in the system for automated escalation?

  3. How can knowledge managers create, edit and retire resolution workflow tools like decisions trees or wizards?

  4. How can we conduct gap analysis and real-time analytics for knowledge base usage?

  5. What are the advanced search capabilities: the ability to index knowledge base and external content and reorder and reprioritize search results based on specific keywords?

  6. Can you show us case management and ticketing capabilities from a manager's perspective?

  7. How is new content added, edited, updated and archived in the knowledge base content repository, and what is the content approval workflow for knowledge base articles?

 

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