posted 1 Sep 2000 in Volume 4 Issue 1
One of today's buzzwords and hottest topics is Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Most CRM systems available today cover the three functional areas of service, sales and marketing. The key driver for implementing CRM systems is customer retention, and not gaining new customers. To retain customers, high quality systems are required to make sure that every time the customer has a query or a problem, it is resolved efficiently and effectively. In the case of high-tech companies, the enterprise knowledge base plays a crucial role in effective customer service.
Most modern customer support systems consist of a problem tracking system and an integrated solutions database, which form the core of the enterprise knowledge base. In high-tech companies, the knowledge base is available to customer support personnel as well as development engineers. It is also becoming very common and important to provide controlled access to subsets of the knowledge base directly to the customer.
A typical ‘customer problem’ life cycle consists of three distinct phases:
High level business benefits
The introduction of a solutions database and supporting search tools provides an organisation with certain business benefits:
Knowledge transfer & creation
In many high-tech companies, it is very common that complex and intricate knowledge about specific products is held in the heads of individual engineers. The transfer of such knowledge into a common and accessible repository is often the biggest challenge. When implementing a customer service system, some of this knowledge is transferred when the system is being set up. The remainder needs to be transferred when the system is up and running.
In order to make sure that engineers continuously add to and update the knowledge base, business processes and rules must be introduced. For example, a simple business rule can be invoked by the system to insure that problems that take longer than one working day to resolve can not be closed unless a ‘solution’ is created first.
Using a web or other application, knowledge can be created as part of the workflow. This, sometimes, can be captured whilst talking to the customer about a problem, that is, online and in real-time.
Advanced products offer features that assist in the creation of solutions. These include editable terms dictionaries, statement matching and pop-up help windows. Statement matching allows users to take statements that are created as part of a solution and match them with similar statements already in the knowledge base – optionally replacing it with the statement already used in order to maintain consistency.
Once a solution is created, it needs to be authorised. Privileged users will be able to ‘publish’ a solution and make it available to the world. Other users may require formal approval from authorised personnel. This is normally handled by processes and workflow. Some element of housekeeping is required to make sure that obsolete, out-of-date or low-use solutions are removed.
When a solution is entered into the knowledge base, it can be translated into specific languages, and may be classified by type, status, or customer-defined properties.
Most products provide a certain array of tools to enable the user to search for solutions. The different types of searching that can be performed include:
ARM may not sound an immediately familiar name but it is highly probable that you use a product that was enabled by the company’s technology. When you check your schedule on a personal organiser or push the buttons on your mobile phone you are likely to be using a product that contains a chip based around an ARM® microprocessor core.
The company is an intellectual property (IP) provider that was established in November 1990 as a joint venture between Acorn, Apple and VLSI. It designs and licences power-efficient, cost-effective RISC processors, peripherals, and system-chips for international electronics companies including Alcatel, IBM, Intel, Sony, Texas Instruments and Toshiba, to use in digital electronics products ranging from digital cellular telephones and smart cards to automotive systems and game consoles. Since its opening listing on the London Stock Exchange and Nasdaq in April 1999, this award-winning company has grown at an incredible rate, entering the FTSE 100 in early 2000.
ARM’s rapid growth has prompted the company to deploy the necessary technology to ensure it can continue to provide quality support to its rapidly expanding customer base. As well as designing the RISC microprocessor cores used in a variety of applications, ARM has dedicated support and engineering divisions that provide the comprehensive, near 24x7, support required by its customers to develop these advanced and complex systems. The sheer penetration of its designs in the world's technology market means that the company’s main support centre in Cambridge handles upwards of 400 calls a month from 35-plus Silicon partners and even more individual developers with design or product queries.
Although 400 calls a month does not seem high for a typical support centre environment, ARM's support operations fall in the ‘low-volume, high-complexity’ category. The support calls handled by ARM engineers are often very complex. In order to resolve issues quickly, sophisticated systems are required.
When the company first began operations with just 12 staff in a barn in Cambridgeshire, ensuring that all customer queries were being dealt with, and product issues and their resolutions disseminated to all staff, was a relatively easy task. With the company now employing over 450 staff in 12 offices around the world, this informal process rapidly became insufficient.
John Thompson, Manager of the Global Support Division at ARM, says: “Our customers depend upon our designs to get their new products delivered to the market as quickly as possible, to give them a critical edge over their competitors. If they’re experiencing any development difficulties, we have to be available to provide a solution as soon as possible.”
ARM had chosen to implement a technology solution that enabled it to log and track all support calls through a single, common database platform, to ensure that no query was left unresolved, as well as providing staff with access to a library of recurring faults and known fixes. However, ensuring that all staff could access the solution quickly and easily from wherever in the world they were located was proving a difficult challenge.
Thompson explains: “A number of our staff are always on the road dealing with customer queries or providing training. As such, we can have staff dialling into the solution from anywhere in the world. Previously, our staff were required to download two megabytes of data before they could even access the database itself – and that was costing them time and the company money. We were also concerned that, if this continued, we would not be providing our customers with the quality support on which we pride ourselves.”
Creating a secure, easily accessible intranet
A custom built interface to ARM’s support solution created a secure intranet that enables all users to access the system via a standard web browser over dial-up and ISDN lines. As a cost-efficient method of providing easy access to the main system ARM has been able to deploy the solution broadly and effectively within the company thus providing total visibility into its customer support activities.
ARM's cupport group accesses the solution to log and track every customer call and contact regarding a design or product query. These staff can also access a history of previous cases to see if a resolution to that particular issue has already been identified. In addition, sales representatives can access and interrogate the system to track all cases relating to their individual customer accounts.
Should it be determined that the problem is wider than just a support query, the support team logs the issue within the database to be forwarded automatically to ARM’s engineering division, who also have access to the system to log and track cases. Once a fix has been found the system generates an automated notification to all relevant customer cases that a resolution is now available.
Thompson says: "With the ease of access that we now have we are able to disseminate technical knowledge and problem resolutions around the company far more extensively and quickly than was possible before. Our ability to access this information enables us to resolve issues swiftly and efficiently - and that means our clients are able to get their products to the market as quickly as possible."
Empowering customers over the web
ARM is now looking to facilitate further access to the solution by making it available over the Internet. In addition, the company is considering extending its CRM and eBusiness strategies to enable partners and developers to self-diagnose faults and search for existing resolutions through the external web site.
Thompson says: "Empowering the customer to resolve straightforward queries themselves will facilitate their design process and free up our staff to deal with the more in-depth, complex technical issues they face. This will increase both the speed at which we respond to queries and the overall quality of our customer support, particularly as we continue to grow."
Afshin Rabbani is managing director of Princeton Consulting. He can be contacted at: email@example.com