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9/28/2004
06:14 PM
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Tools Aim To Help Customer-Service Reps Get The Right Answers

InQuira's new CRM system employs natural-language search technology so reps can search all the information assets within a company.

With pressure to deflect customer-service calls to online self-service channels mounting, competition to solve the so-called "last mile" of customer service--namely, resolving customer issues--is heating up. Next week, InQuira Inc. ups the ante on the search front by introducing two products to make it easier for customer-service reps to find answers to questions.

InQuira's Contact Center Advisor essentially embeds the company's natural-language search technology into the desktop dashboards of the most-used customer-relationship-management applications, letting reps search all the information assets within a company to solve problems without having to switch applications. And the related InQuira Information Manager is a knowledge-management interface that's integrated with the contact-center adviser. When a problem is resolved, all the information accessed and steps taken to solve that problem are brought immediately to bear when similar problems come up in the future.

The idea, chief marketing officer Bob Macdonald says, is to let customer-service reps locate useful answers quicker and increase the likelihood that future occurrences can be solved using online support. Knowledge-management tools built into CRM systems simply don't give service reps the range of information they need to be effective. "Agents more often than not have to jump out of those applications to get answers to questions," Macdonald says. "With this, agents no longer have to leave the CRM dashboard." InQuira's new technology also incorporates any context from a customer's attempts to solve the problem themselves online. So when agents click the search button in their CRM apps, the wording of questions, the findings to those questions, and additional follow-up questions already entered online automatically become the basis for the search.

Macdonald says the most used CRM applications--from Amdocs, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, and Siebel Systems, for instance--are great for tracking leads, managing customer contacts, and coordinating sales efforts, but solving service requests remains a gap in their capabilities. "That's the one area left for making a big impact," he says.

AMR Research analyst Laura Preslan agrees, pointing to iPhrase, Kana, Kanisa, Primus, and SupportSoft as InQuira competitors that are trying to tackle the issue-resolution shortcomings of CRM apps. All of those vendors offer what Preslan describes as emerging technology that eventually will make them attractive acquisition targets for the larger CRM vendors. In the meantime, she says, they'll fight for an overlooked and increasingly important subset of CRM. "No one has staked a claim to the entire space," Preslan says. "It's important because so many CRM implementations stop short of the customer-issue-resolution piece."

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