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Customer self-service a must-have for Oracle Collaborate attendees

Companies now see online self-service options as a must-have for customer experience strategy.

LAS VEGAS -- In late 2013, George Bisker was on the hunt for an online self-service option for customers. It could...

hurt the business if his company failed to keep pace with basic customer expectations like ordering products online.

But Bisker, director of business systems at Cardinal Glass Industries in Eden Prairie, Minn., needed a technology that would work with the company's ERP system, Oracle's JD Edwards Enterprise One, and that could handle the custom nature of Cardinal's business. Cardinal Glass sells to residential window providers such as Anderson Windows but also smaller businesses. As a result, product orders can range from a simple pane of glass to framed windows in a variety of materials and colors. Bisker needed an e-commerce platform that could reflect the range of product orders without putting the onus on customers to enter the order information correctly.

I believed in my heart of hearts that we had to have this capability.
George Biskerdirector of business systems, Cardinal Glass Industries

Bisker also wanted to give customers access to useful account information without opening Pandora's box. Too much information might prompt customers to flood Cardinal Glass customer service reps with follow-up calls with questions, such as, "I just saw online that my order is ready, on the shop floor, and it's going to X center, so why won't it be on the truck tomorrow?" Bisker said in a session on building self-service into the company's website at the Oracle Collaborate conference this week. Too much transparency, Bisker feared, could defeat the purpose of a well-designed customer self-service system.

Bisker believed that customer self-service was critical to business vitality. "I believed in my heart of hearts that we had to have this capability," he said. But he had to persuade executives that the project had ROI.

Online self-service technologies are growing in currency. But despite the clear efficiency and cost reduction that self-service can bring, companies have to travel a fine line. While enterprises are developing e-commerce sites that enable consumers to buy products, check on account issues or troubleshoot product questions via the Web, they have to be deft about the kinds of questions they route to self-service options and how they supplement self-service with other channels of interaction, such as phone calls and online content to provide answers.

Gartner research has indicated that companies enlisting self-service may be able to reduce contact center costs by up to 50%. Self-service may also drive company revenue. According to Forrester Research, 55% of U.S. adults are likely to abandon an online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their question. Moreover, according to research by MyCustomer.com and SSI, nearly 70% of consumers expect companies to provide online self-service options.

E-commerce options with a (glass) ceiling

At Cardinal Glass, over the past year, Bisker has built an e-commerce platform that integrates with Oracle's JD Edwards Enterprise One. Known as Cardinal Connect, the initiative enables customers to go to the company's website to purchase products, check on an order and access payment information.

Not only did Bisker believe that customers needed self-service options, but Cardinal Connect also aimed to replace shadow IT projects at two plants. These locations had developed their own rogue self-service Web pages in response to customer requests. But Bisker wanted to create a consistent, company-sanctioned self-service option.

Using JD Edwards' Configurator, Cardinal Glass was able to integrate inventory and other ERP customer order data, enabling customers to use a simple Web page to order products or check on their accounts. But, as Bisker noted, his customer base ranges from large to small and orders products with a great deal of variety. He didn't want to have to build out Web pages with an infinite number of options to choose from. That would likely confuse or create data errors. Instead, Bisker and his consultant team built Web forms that were table-driven based on customers' ordering history. For example, Anderson Windows could call up an order for windows with two or four planes, of a certain color and material -- without having to find the right options when they order. Instead, their order options are built into their order forms.

As a result of the project, customers can order online efficiently and without some of the data errors they encountered previously, where they might order a product with insufficient data.

Companies are striving to provide consumers with the right amount of information about their accounts without opening up their backend systems to a sea of customer inquiries based on that information. Further, they have to create tiers of service, where customers can use self-service options for less-complex queries while still being able to provide phone-based service for more complex issues.

Bisker said that the next step is threefold: wider adoption of the system by customers, moving the shadow-IT websites over to the Cardinal Connect system, and further development of the platform so customers have multiple points of entry to search on. For example, customers could find information not just via a purchase order or account number, but also by product name or date of order. But, he said, he wants to proceed carefully. He doesn't want to code an infinite number of search options, but create only the search options that make sense for a broad base of customers.

Self-service for self-guided robots

Matt Cooper, global customer experience CRM and project manager at iRobot Corp., also wants to use technology to enhance customer self-service options. The company makes self-guided robots for home uses like floor cleaning as well as self-guided mechanisms that can detect bombs or aid HazMat workers in dangerous physical environments. And iRobot uses Oracle Service Cloud to enable customer self-service options.

The company's products, Cooper said, are complex. So iRobot needs to be able to provide ample information so customers can troubleshoot their products themselves rather than resort to a phone call. On its website, the company features a fair amount of content, such as articles, videos and diagrams, so customers can walk through product issues. Cooper said that the self-service options also give reps more time for customers on the phone so that agents don't have to worry about traditional efficiency metrics like average call time and can instead focus on support quality.

Self-service options have "reduced our call volume enough that we can focus more on the customers and on first-call resolution [a measure of how many interactions it takes to resolve a customer issue]," Cooper said.

Cooper also plans to use analytics to bring self-service to the next level. Cooper envisions a time when he can use the reporting from the Service Cloud to see issues proactively and be able to alert customers even before they occur.

"A lot of service is going to where you can predict the customer's needs before they need it," Cooper said

To that end, iRobot is considering exploiting Internet-of-Things-connected devices, where the company's products would send constant streams of data back to company databases via the Web. For example, with IoT in place the company might be able to sense a defect in a product's operation even before a customer noticed it and schedule a service visit.

Cooper said that it could take time to achieve that company's vision. Cooper said that part of getting there will be a bit more integration of the rule base and Oracle's custom Business Objects component. The company then can create more customized alerts and reporting to get that kind of data -- and be able to respond in real time.

"Service is going to a place where you can serve up something to solve a problem before they even have to reach out to you," Cooper said.

Next Steps

ERP upgrade helps digitize, but not without user resistance

ERP implementation brings need for change management

IoT, BI major themes at Oracle Collaborate

Dig Deeper on Online customer service

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