CRM with a family touch

MyFamily.com, an online genealogy service that connects families with their histories and one another, was beginning to feel the pinch of its own success last year. Providing top-notch customer service was becoming increasingly expensive because the number of subscribers to its Web sites had doubled each year since 1999, according to Jared Richards, call center manager. Launched in 1997, MyFamily.com is on track to finish this year with 1.6 million customers, he says.

The rising number of customers meant that the number of e-mail inquiries the company received would likely rise beyond the 2,000 to 5,000 already arriving daily -- and that the costs associated with customer support would go up, says Richards.

"In order to handle that amount of e-mail within 48 hours, we had to employ 15 full-time equivalents just to answer e-mail," Richards says. And company officials knew they would need far more employees to handle the increased volume of e-mail.

To save money and improve customer service in the midst of such growth, MyFamily.com in August 2002 deployed eService Center, a self-service CRM application from RightNow Technologies.

Before MyFamily.com started using RightNow's technology, live customer support personnel handled queries via e-mail. But as the business grew, MyFamily.com, like other online companies, began to see the benefits of letting customers find immediate answers to their questions via the Web 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those benefits include eliminating the need for customer service representatives to answer routine questions, freeing them to respond to higher-level inquiries.

RightNow's eService Center is an online CRM tool that allows companies to manage customer service problems with limited human interaction. It integrates a single self-learning knowledge base across all customer communication channels, including the Web, e-mail, chat and telephone.

EService Center also includes analytics and the ability to measure customer satisfaction through surveys, says Greg Gianforte, RightNow's CEO.

RightNow's eService Center makes it possible for customers to find answers to questions on their own because it uses technology that automatically brings the most requested and relevant information to the top of the knowledge base, says Gianforte. In MyFamily's case, the knowledge base includes more than 400 prewritten responses to common questions.

Although RightNow hosts eService Center on its own platform for 90 percent of its clients, including MyFamily.com, it does support Windows NT, SQL Server, Linux, Oracle and MySQL.

Richards says that while MyFamily.com primarily wanted to curb its costs, it also wanted to be able to answer customer e-mails faster; its goal was to respond to them in less than a day.

The results of using eService Center speak for themselves, says Richards. MyFamily.com now needs the equivalent of just five full-time staffers to respond to e-mail; and all customer questions are answered within 24 hours. Within 30 days after MyFamily.com implemented RightNow's system, the number of e-mails that employees had to answer personally fell 30 percent, says MyFamily.com spokeswoman Mary Kay Evans.

After adding up the salaries and benefits that would have been paid to customer service representatives and comparing that figure with the cost of the RightNow license, Richards says MyFamily.com experienced an ROI of 260 percent in nine months; the company has declined to release financial details.

A RightNow spokeswoman says customers typically purchase a two-year license, which can range from US$35,000 to more than $100,000. However, large, multisite implementations cost well over $1 million, she says.

Knowledge Transfer

Before moving to eService Center, MyFamily.com used software from Kana for e-mail management and had built its database of responses using Kana's system. But the process wasn't completely automated. "When someone e-mailed us a question, we would find an answer that matched their question and send it back to them," Richards says.

Richards says MyFamily.com wanted a less labor-intensive system -- and one that would serve customers more effectively. Company officials liked eService Center because of the way it integrated existing content.

"My team and RightNow took the canned messages we had already created and ported them over into RightNow, and within 24 hours we had it switched over," Richards says. "With RightNow, the customer goes to the Web site and types in a question and is presented with an accurate answer online in a few seconds, so they don't have to wait for an e-mail."

Richards says MyFamily.com looked at other vendors' products before selecting RightNow's offering, but he declined to name the other contenders. He says the company didn't even consider creating its own software because it wanted something it could put in place immediately.

"Since we implemented RightNow, we haven't had any issues with stability or uptime," Richards says. "Every day we're continuing to build up our database of answers."

Bruce Temkin, an analyst at Forrester Research, says a self-service application like RightNow that provides companies with an online knowledge base makes it easy for customers to find answers to their questions. And self-service is important to a company like MyFamily.com that uses the Internet as its primary sales channel. "When a prospect is online and interested, the last thing you want to do is have them leave your site without some information that they need," says Temkin.

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