Electronic Support Systems:
A Great Way to Stretch Expertise
by Adele Sommers
Wouldn't it be great to have thoroughly trained experts handle every issue and solve every problem in your organization? Imagine what a perfect world it would be if, after hiring bright and eager people, you could provide them with a limitless amount of training to help make each person become a rote expert in his or her job domain. Likewise, imagine being able to educate customers to become experts in every facet of using your offerings, regardless of how complex they are.
If this sounds like a perfect world, perhaps it is, but it's also expensive and time-consuming. It places tremendous emphasis on "installing knowledge" into the brains of employees and consumers to handle complexity in products, services, and internal procedures. This article discusses alternatives to that approach, which include electronic support systems.
Either Simplify -- Or Offer Electronic Support!
We know that one way to reduce the need for both personnel and customer training is to simplify, simplify, simplify. This refers to everything from system interfaces, setup tasks, and procedures to anything else related to what you offer to your customers or require your personnel to do.
Simplifying your offerings makes it easier for your customers to use them, and also makes them much more straightforward to market, document, test, and maintain. If your business could be made this uncomplicated, imagine how much less effort you'd need to exert to pump information into your employees and customers!
But what if total simplification isn't possible, and neither is perpetual training? Some domains of knowledge are constantly in a state of flux as they shift to reflect changing industry standards, government rules, and other dynamic forces. If your offerings revolve around such domains, even the best attempts at training people to become cutting-edge specialists will fall behind the curve eventually. An alternative would be to embed wisdom in your systems and offerings so that you won't need to plant it in the minds of customers and employees.
Electronic support systems can help greatly in these situations. These systems are integrated environments that are easily accessible by each employee, or if they are embodied in your offerings, by your customers. They can provide immediate, individualized admission to a full range of advice, guidance, assistance, information, software, data, images, tools, assessments, decision support, and monitoring aids. They thereby help people evaluate options and accomplish their work with minimal support and intervention by others.
More "People Power" with Less Know-How
Electronic support systems enable people to perform with a greater level of expertise than they actually have, with greater speed than they could otherwise, or when the knowledge they deal with is so dynamic that no one can reasonably keep up with it.
By supplying intelligent task assistance, these systems can provide just-in-time information, instruction, and the ability to do calculations; answer complex questions on the fly; and guide relatively difficult procedures. They are not necessarily cheap to develop, however, so they might not be within easy reach of an organization with a small budget. Yet they do have the potential to reduce training and customer support costs dramatically.
Example #1: Consumer Lending
When applying for a loan over the telephone, you may have wondered, "Gosh, how have things speeded up so much these days so that in the course of one call, I can find out within ten or fifteen minutes whether I'm qualified?" The personnel on the other end of the call are probably using electronic support systems to guide them in completing the queries and calculations from beginning to end.
So, instead of having to acquire and maintain "rote knowledge" of their subject, such personnel may be depending heavily on a system, which is where much of the up-to-date information, calculation speed, and decision-making rules reside.
Example #2: Income Tax Preparation
If you've ever prepared your own income tax return, you probably know exactly how challenging it is to struggle through the tax preparation guides. Just staring at the forms, which seem to change radically every year, can be quite intimidating. You might have thrown up your hands, as many people do, and sought out a tax preparation software package such as Intuit's TurboTax.
TurboTax is an excellent example of an electronic support system that's available to the public. Its step-by-step process guides users through a series of inquiries that helps them perform each task correctly, even if they don't know the first thing about the U.S. tax code. It greatly reduces or eliminates customer training, which is one reason why it's so commercially successful.
Example #3: Technical Support
Technical support personnel always need quick access to a knowledgebase of problems described by customers, and the resolutions that were developed to solve those problems.
It's ideal for the staff to be able to troubleshoot problems quickly over the telephone, using some kind of electronic support system, rather than having to go off and research the same problem every time they get a call. Customers are much happier with the quick response, and personnel aren't tying up their time hunting around for answers.
In conclusion, wherever simplification leaves off, electronic support can help facilitate the remaining tasks. Such guidance can come in the form of interviews, tightly interwoven tips and hints, overviews, demonstrations, wizards, decision guidance, calculation tools, and other systematic interactions that intelligently aid people in achieving their goals.
If your organization aims to invest in an electronic support system, the indicators that could be factored into a payback analysis include customer satisfaction, the speed and volume of customer transactions, and reductions in average support call resolution time. These improvements could generate impressive savings and benefits over time, which might justify the costs of developing a system.
Copyright 2006 Adele Sommers