Electronic Support Systems - A Great Way to Stretch Expertise
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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
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
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
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. However, they 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
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
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.
About the Author
Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of the award-winning "Straight Talk on
Boosting Business Performance" success program. She helps people "discover and
recover" the profits their businesses may be losing daily through overlooked
performance potential. Adele is a business consultant and the president of an
award-winning chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). To learn
more about her tools and resources, visit her site at
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-06-16 21:30:29 in Business Articles