You'd be hard pressed to find a more time-consuming, yet vital, business issue than customer support. Customer retention should be a concern of every small business owner since it costs a lot less to keep a customer than it does to create one or to get one back. Still, responding to support e-mails takes valuable time and lots of it that could be spent growing the business. HostedSupport.com, a customer support automation firm with 16 employees located in Los Angeles, offers several products designed to help companies reduce customer support issues while maintaining customer satisfaction.
The HostedSupport.com customer support system consists of ezSupport and ezSupport Pro the two flagship products plus ezSupport for eBay, a product designed specifically for eBay sellers and a smaller, free, introductory version of the same program called ezSupport Lite for eBay.
Both ezSupport and ezSupport Pro are hosted, Internet-based products built around a central knowledge base and designed to answer your customer's e-mail questions. All you need to access the Web-based applications is Internet access and a browser you don't need to buy or install any additional software or hardware.
Keeping the Customer Satisfied
According to Steve Hartert, vice president at HostedSupport.com, ezSupport can reduce the amount of e-mail your customer service reps need to handle by up to 80 percent. "EzSupport is designed to answer all of the repetitive questions a company gets, such as how much do you charge for shipping, what's your product warranty and other similar requests," he said. "Your customers receive the actual answers, not generic responses. If the ezSupport database can't answer the question, the e-mail gets forwarded to your service reps."
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The knowledge base forms the heart of the system. Hartert said that during the initial setup, the small business owner answers a series of questions about how his business works. "The first pass takes about 15 or 20 minutes, and it's all done online," he said. "That first round of questions answers about half of the customer questions that come in. Ultimately, the system can correctly answer about 80 percent of all customer e-mail or provide answers to your Web site FAQs."
Challenges and Advantages
Every small business runs into challenges with maintaining customer service. Those can include problems keeping up with customer phone calls and e-mails, slow responses to inquiries, providing incorrect answers and calls that simply fall through the cracks. Hartert said that using the ezSupport system ensures customers receive a faster response and accurate information.
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"By handling the majority of mundane requests, ezSupport not only reduces the amount of e-mail your customer service reps have to answer, but increases efficiency by escalating and forwarding the inquiries that require human intervention to your service reps."
He added that one customer reduced personnel costs after he began using ezSupport. The company employed five people to answer customer e-mail, but only needed two people once ezSupport was up and running. "Instead of cutting three positions, the company turned those jobs into profit positions by training those customer service folks to work in sales."
In Practice, Not Theory
In real life, all the hype in the world doesn't make a bit of difference. Bob Allen, president of MyGolfballStore.com, uses both ezSupport Pro for his direct-sales Web site and ezSupport for eBay for his eBay auction store.
Allen started out using ezSupport for eBay since about 85 percent of his total sales come from his eBay site where he handles over 1,000 transactions per month. The eBay version integrates directly with the company's "Ask the Seller a Question" form. "This service helped us beyond belief. Most online retailers who don't have a brick-and-mortar outlet need to keep overhead as low as possible, and this is an affordable system for sellers on eBay" he said.
Between his two sites, Allen said, "I was on the verge of hiring a person just to handle the 200 to 250 customer e-mails we get every day and also looking at developing some kind of customer support system," Allen continued. "HostedSupport gave us everything we were looking for at a price we could never have hit on our own, and I didn't have to hire another employee."
He estimates that the service has reduced the amount of e-mail he deals with by 70 percent, which frees him up to spend time improving both his sites.
Allen likes ezSupport Pro because it lets him track customer problems using a ticketing system. "Being able to track problems was the most difficult physical task, but ezSupport Pro takes care of all that now." He noted that the eBay version doesn't offer that particular feature, so he created a Web site where he can direct his eBay clients with more complex problems to the ezSupport Pro system.
"HostedSupport is top-notch technology for sellers like us. If they put the full-blown version on eBay, it will cut down on buyer/seller communications issues and cut negative feedback in half," he estimated.
ezSupport: $49.95 per month for each support representative
ezSupport Pro: $79.95 per month for each support representative
ezSupport for eBay: $4.95 per month for each support representative
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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