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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Social Dynamics of Help

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I recently met with Helpstream, an on-demand provider of customer service and relationship management applications for any business that relies primarily on its website to interact with customers. (That's a surprisingly large constituency these days, ranging from cut-price airlines to online retailers. Even government agencies are starting to provide more and more of their services online as recognition grows of the cost and convenience of the Web channel).

Helpstream's specialty is providing an infrastructure that supplements traditional self-service help and phone-based call center agents with a middle tier of community-based help. This taps into the willingness of Web users not only to help themselves by tracking down online solutions to problems and questions, but also to voluntarily help others by providing answers of their own. Helpstream now has 130 customers and has shared with me some interesting metrics the company has collected from that experience.

In general, Web-based companies find that around two-fifths of customer issues are resolved in a self-service mode, by people looking up the answers themselves on the supplier's website. The rest would normally become cases that have to be dealt with by a customer service agent. But when a company using Helpstream's technology interposes a community option — where customers can post a question to ask for help from other service users — another fifth get resolved this way (ie, a third of the issues that would otherwise become agent cases). Those numbers add up to a significant saving on agent time, and are at the heart of Helpstream's proposition.

An interesting statistic that Helpstream has discovered is that over time, as many as a half of the self-service cases that get resolved are solved using answers that come from the community. Another striking finding is that once someone has had a question answered by going to the community, they are five times more likely to go back to the community next time than to try and contact an agent. The natural conclusion, says Bob Warfield, EVP products, is that, "Those numbers are going to trend up over time as community adoption grows."

That's good news both for companies that want to deliver effective customer service resolutions while holding down the cost of live help, and for consumers that want to get answers as quickly as possible. Self-service help is becoming both more accepted and more sophisticated. "The customer service world has changed," says Bill Odell, Helpstream's VP marketing. "People are out there trying to self-serve on the Web."

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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