Conversagent Kicks Up Customer Service

    June 28, 2005

Every company is in the customer service business. They may say they’re in the fast food business or the book selling business or cable TV business, but in the end business won’t succeed if you don’t offer good service to your customers. More and more companies offer services on the Internet for their customers to utilize. Often these services are difficult to navigate and when you get to the FAQs, you may have weed through 200 questions before you get to the one you need. Most people have been there.

Conversagent is looking to help companies beat the rap of bad customer service with their “Automated Service Agent” (ASA). Essentially, the ASA is the next generation in the FAQ and it stands far above the traditional offerings of online customer support. The ASA can be fine-tuned to just about any online customer service venture and some big companies have been making broad use of the ASA.

One of their biggest customers right now is Comcast. The window for AskComcast pops up and it tells the user what it is and what it does. So you ask a question like, “How do I setup my email?” Keep in mind it can recognize some misspellings so I could put in “emale” for example.

Then it asks you “Which email application are you using?” You get dozen choices including the Microsoft stuff and others like Eudora or Pegasus or Opera Mail. You just pick the corresponding number. I chose Mozilla Thunderbird for my example.

AskComcast then gives the user easy to read instructions on how to set up one’s email through Mozilla Thunderbird or whatever application the user chooses. But that’s easy. It does a lot more. Let’s try “My modem seems to be broken.” It brings up instructions for troubleshooting your modem. If that initial run of instructions doesn’t get you what you need, type in more and you get more.

The ASA’s aren’t limited to this type of customer service though. They’ve recently picked up online brokerage HarrisDirect. AskHarrisDirect can get the user started in the world of stocks and bonds online and it’s pretty simple. You pop open the window and the first suggested question is “How do I open an account?”

The answer says the fastest way to open an account is through their online application process. It then tells the user what types of accounts can be opened online and what types require more effort than the initial application.

Large organizations are recognizing the customer loyalty and cost-savings benefits associated with the use of Automated Service Agents,” said CEO of Conversagent Steve Klein. “We are proud that our solution has been chosen by Harrisdirect, a company consistently recognized for its high standards in customer service,”

Klein was certainly hyped about his products. As he walked me through many of the functions of this ASA, it became apparent he might be on to something here. The way the information gets into the ASA is perhaps the most interesting and cool feature. Conversagent gets the FAQs from the company they’ve hooked up with, say Time Warner Cable (who is one of their customers). Then they sit down with them and go over those questions and possibly add some more. Then they set it up and it’s going.

Suppose now that Time Warner has added a brand new pay-per-view service. It would be easy enough to have authorized users plug in their own questions and answers into the ASA as they go. It doesn’t require all the techs from Conversagent to come over or write new code to integrate all this. Did I mention they don’t charge for updates?

Conversagent offers this service in one of two ways: You can basically lease it from them or buy a version and run it in house. The leasing program is by far the most common and Conversagent maintains everything in their house while allowing the users to still plug in their own questions. Users pay a monthly fee for this based on the number of customers accessing the ASA.

The alternative is to pay a one time perpetual licensing fee, which is quite a bit higher. Then the ASA will be run completely in house by the company who paid for it. The software is downloaded from Conversagent and it’s fairly easy to utilize from that point on.

Right now, Conversagent doesn’t really have much in the way of competition other than the traditional FAQs on websites and those, sometimes, are a pain in the hard drive. Oddly, Conversagent is working on improving the FAQs as well. This will allow companies to monitor more closely what questions are getting asked frequently and Conversagent says a number of improvements are in the works for their own FAQ feature which rolls out in the next few days.

The benefits to all this are seen in a number of areas. First is customer contentment. Most people in customer service have dealt with frustrated, irate customers because they can’t find the information they need. Conversagent sells the ASA on the notion of dramatically improving that entire process. These ASAs will allow customers to go through a variety of questions and if they can’t be answered through the ASA process, it can go live with a real person with an archive of everything the customer asked the ASA. Having worked customer service in the past, I see exactly why Mr. Klein is enthusiastic.

Now that customers are happier, we can look at employees. First, less irate customers means a slightly happier workforce. It also means companies can either realize cost savings by having fewer employees or redirecting employees in other areas that may need more attention.

Mr. Klein discussed specific problems in his own experience that turned companies he once thought extraordinarily competent to average and it had to do with the quality of their customer service. He firmly believes in his product because he thinks that all customers deserve that extraordinary service.

Klein and his press agent Kate Larkin did say they have a number of big things on the drawing board both in terms of new clients and in terms of new features. I think Conversagent may just be on to something here.

John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.