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The Value-added Activity Begins after the Customer hits 'Submit Order'

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October 1, 1999 *2,400 subscribers* Volume 1, Issue 09
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ECnow.com 1999 trend #02: "Companies will begin to recognize that the value-added activity begins after the customer hits 'submit order' and that "Customer service will become the point of differentiation"


E-Support – Improving the customer experience at Dell
By Bob Riazzi
Services Marketing Director, Dell Computer Corporation
September 27, 1999

Yesterday's hardware industry model of on-site and telephone support certainly improved the customer's experience with computers. Customers with problems could call a technician, get issues resolved and quickly get back to business. But we've squeezed and maximized these capabilities. Reducing resolution times, fixing problems before they occur and resolving issues electronically comprise the next step in improving the customer experience. Minimizing the time customers spend on problems maximizes the time they spend managing and growing their businesses.

The Internet, with its capacity to deliver intuitive, unassisted and automated problem resolution capabilities, is the key enabler of the shift to electronic support (e-support). Customers, manufacturers and service providers are recognizing this paradigm change and are positioning themselves to realize the benefits: resolution times go down; system availability goes up; costs are reduced; everybody wins.

A Successful Online Support System Begins with the Customer

Customers tell us that when it comes to system investment, two things are important: uptime and availability. The cost of downtime for enterprise customers is now estimated to range up to $13,000 a minute. E-support responds to customers' demands for uptime and availability: it provides a better, more cost- and time-efficient way to help customers solve problems, prevent problems and even upgrade their systems – all with minimal on-site service technician involvement.

E-support is a comprehensive, integrated set of Internet-enabled customer support tools, knowledge bases, diagnostics and problem-resolution capabilities. This technology enables a customer to receive information, proactive alerts, and unassisted or automated support for correcting problems. Since customers require stringent levels of security and confidentiality, e-support must operate with user-controlled safeguards that preserve privacy.

Some key characteristics that govern the usefulness of e-support are (1) personalizing support in the context of the customer's environment; (2) providing a depth of knowledge that allows first-time, accurate resolution; (3) supplying information that is real-time, current and includes input from the industry at large.

Customers want e-support systems to provide:

  • An intuitive customer interface to problem resolution sources
  • Fully automated, Internet-enabled problem resolution processes
  • Proactive, self-diagnosing and self-maintaining computing environments for all customers

Building Programs that Enhance the Customer Experience

At Dell, our move toward a more complete customer experience began with 30-day money back hardware guarantees, toll-free telephone support for the life of the computer, and extended warranties. Next we added installation services, next business day resolution, a 4-hour response option, the ability to purchase a variety of peripherals, software and accessories direct from Dell, and custom factory integration of hardware and software.

Now we've added "E-Support Direct from Dell," part of a complete online experience designed to help customers find and implement the help they need, quickly and easily, online.

Dell's E-Support consists of:

  • Internet-enabled diagnostics, tools and knowledge bases
  • Receipt of proactive alerts
  • Unassisted or automated support
  • A secure, user-controlled environment

Another part of our online enterprise support effort is providing free private, customized Intranet sites to over 27,000 corporate, government, education and institutional customers. These Intranet sites contain enterprise-specific pricing, options for paperless ordering and billing, and advanced help-desk support or asset management information.

What are the benefits to customers? Lower cost of ownership through increased systems uptime and far more efficient and effective diagnostics and support. By letting customers interact directly with online self-help tools and knowledge bases, we've seen a marked improvement in issue-resolution time, proactive alerting and resolution before failure occurs, as well as an increase in first-time resolution. Customers are able to detect, diagnose and resolve most of their own problems, creating a high sense of satisfaction and control.

E-Support Marketplace: Opportunity for Growth and Results

We expect that by the end of 2000, more than 50% of our customers will be using E-Support. In fact, International Data Corporation (IDC) expects the overall e-support marketplace to grow to $10.4 billion annually from 1998's $1.9 billion.

Already Dell's online support usage is increasing rapidly. Some results include the following:

  • We resolve over 70% of calls remotely
  • We doubled services revenue in the past 12 months
  • We assist more than 45,000 customers each month via e-mail, resolving technical issues and answering related questions
  • We provide answers via an online search engine to nearly 250,000 technical support questions submitted by customers each month
  • We enable customers to download more than 175,000 technical data files each week from our website

Another aspect of online support is an Internet-based systems management and support solution that digitally detects system problems. Available on one server line, we expect to make this capability available across the entire product line by the end of 2000.

What Does the Future Hold?

The hardware industry has come a long way from break-fix via telephone and on-site support to a complete online experience. Eventually, corporate and individual computer system users alike can look forward to proactive, self-maintaining computing environments across the entire spectrum of use. Imagine: systems that maintain themselves online. It's the ultimate in customer support, and it's becoming possible.

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