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8/19/2011
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One Route To Automating Customer Tech Support

By monitoring customer tech support queries, nanoRep builds a knowledge base that can provide answers to a high percentage of them. One customer reports achieving a 90% to 95% hit rate.

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With the right technology and a little bit of strategy, the company behind the do-it-yourself website builder Yola found it could automate responses to 90% of its incoming customer support requests.

Achieving that result with the help of nanoRep, an Israeli company with a software-as-a-service product for online service. NanoRep provides a help desk ticketing system, together with monitoring of agent communications so the next time someone asks a similar question, the system can try to provide an instant answer. That way, it's only if the customer is dissatisfied with the response that they need to open up a traditional support ticket for review by an agent.

"This has completely changed the type of cases we see in support," said Monique Viljoen-Platts, vice president of customer service for Yola. Like the Lycos Tripod product, which has also discovered the need for better customer service, Yola provides Web-based tools for building websites that are supposed to be easy to use--but not always quite easy enough for every user.

"It used to be we would get a lot of repetitive support questions, mostly very basic things like 'how do I add an image?' Now, the cases we get are quite unique and very specific to a problem that requires human communication to solve--we're getting the machines to do machine work, and the humans to do human's work," Viljoen-Platts said.

Using its own natural language processing technology, nanoRep analyzes questions users type into a search box and tries to provide an immediate answer, based on previous responses recorded in a knowledge base. That can dramatically decrease the amount of customer support labor required to handle email and phone calls, nanoRep CEO Doron Herzlich said in an interview. "When people receive immediate realtime answer on the Web, they stop calling."

NanoRep provides a system for managing service and support tickets as part of the application, but there is no per-seat fee for using it. Instead, nanoRep starts at $199 per month and scales up based on the volume of inquiries it can handle without human intervention--$399 for 10,000 monthly answers and $990 for 30,000. The service can also be integrated with other help desk or customer relationship management systems, mining their tickets for knowledge base content.

Viljoen-Platts said Yola discovered nanoRep at a critical time for the company's growth. Originally known as SynthaSite, Yola was founded in South Africa and Viljoen-Platts continues to work out of its office in Cape Town. After picking up $20 million in venture funding in 2009, Yola established a headquarters in San Francisco and began to expand more aggressively.

One key challenge was figuring out how to provide users with the support they needed at a reasonable cost, Viljoen-Platts said. Although the company had built up a body of tutorials and frequently asked questions documents, the search engines Yola used with those documents, including Google, tended to return too many results and too seldom delivered the right answer. Yola looked at text chat with service representatives as an expensive proposition, considering that it requires synchronous communication and the staffing to support that. And although Yola wound up offering phone support to paying customers (as one of the terms it agreed to for certain partnerships), it had an incentive to minimize those interactions.

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ymoed570
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ymoed570,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/29/2011 | 10:16:20 AM
re: One Route To Automating Customer Tech Support
Interesting write up. Yet, in my opinion, automated customer support is good for certain things but not for necessarily other. In certain situation human interaction is more important in order to provide the customer service the customer is expecting. Verishow.com for example, provides an improvement for traditional chat application as it lets agents share images and other content with the customer in a real live scenario addressing their needs in more personal way.
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