Aberdeen Group’s September 2009 report “Enterprise Search – Discover the Next Opportunity for Growth” investigated the strategies and tactics companies have used to drive productivity and improve customer service using enterprise search. In that report, Aberdeen used four key performance criteria to distinguish Best-in-Class companies — the 20 percent of companies that achieved the stronger gains in productivity and reduced customer support costs, when compared to all other companies.
This article draws from that same research data but highlights the performance improvements that customer service centers have achieved by using enterprise search solutions.
Top Performing Search Enables Customer Service Gains
Top-performing organizations that deploy an enterprise search solution show outstanding gains in customer service performance.
Best-in-Class organizations — the 20 percent exhibiting the highest productivity gains from the use of enterprise search — have managed to reduce both the volume of calls to their support centers and the cost of providing customer support. What is more impressive, though, is that while the Best-in-Class have experienced a drop in call volume of 10 percent, the costs of providing customer support has been cut by 15 percent overall. Two advances have made this possible.
First, providing a high-quality enterprise search solution that is accessible to customer support staff helps them to help customers. They are more likely to find the information they need faster and more frequently. As a result, they can reduce the average time required to handle each support request: The Best-in-Class improved their time to resolve customer support issues by 10 percent, as opposed to other survey respondents, who only improved their time to resolve by 7 percent.
Secondly, many organizations have been able to reduce call volume by providing self-service customer support via an online portal. However, this is only an improvement if customers are able to find the information they need to resolve their issues. If customers are unable to find the information they need online, customer satisfaction will suffer, and call center productivity will be unchanged — or potentially worse. Productivity is likely to decline because the call center now has to deal with increasingly frustrated customers who have wasted many minutes unsuccessfully searching for the solution themselves.
The Search Solution
By integrating strong search capabilities into this external support portal, enterprises can provide a superior support experience for their customers. Customers are more likely to find the information they need quickly, resolve their problems without the assistance of a customer service representative and find their overall customer support experience to be a positive and productive one.
The quality of an online support offering is enhanced by the provision of rich media such as images and video. Best-in-Class organizations are more likely than others to include rich content in the scope of their search solution (see table below).
Best-in-ClassLaggardsAudio50 percent22 percentImages59 percent31 percentVideo36 percent28 percent
When such content is provided in a self-service help portal, customers can watch the steps they need to take to resolve their specific issue, instead of having to read about the steps required and then try to put those steps into practice.
Appropriate tagging of documents is necessary to ensure that customers can find the content they need in a timely way. Some search users have reported that the parties in their organization that stand to gain from tagging are the most likely to be thorough and consistent in tackling that task. If one of management’s goals is to reduce the overall cost of customer support, thorough tagging of content is one way to achieve that. Seventy percent of the Best-in-Class have achieved this capability versus 55 percent of all others.
Feedback on the success and relevance of search results needs to be continuous too. The search terms used by customers will change over time and may even change quite drastically and suddenly at key times, such as immediately after the release of a new product or during the holiday season, for consumer goods. Seventy-one percent of the Best-in-Class monitor the effectiveness of their search technology, while only 51 percent of all others do this.
Evidence also shows that Best-in-Class organizations — those that have achieved the highest growth in productivity from enterprise search — have deployed search technologies more aggressively for customer support than their counterparts. Fifty percent of Best-in-Class companies indicated that unexpected downtime in their search solution would have a major impact on service levels, or they would be completely incapable of providing customer support. In comparison, that same severity of impact was reported by only 24 percent of all other organizations.
- Enterprise search — either deployed internally to assist customer support representatives or via a portal to enable customers to help themselves — brings substantial benefits. Best-in-Class organizations have been able to cut the cost of providing customer support, reduce call volume and improve the time to resolve customer problems.
- Organizations that do not use enterprise search to support their customer service function should investigate how they might do so. Without the support of search, enterprises risk delivering an inferior, high-cost service offering that could lead to dissatisfied customers. If the company has not procured an enterprise search solution before, then a careful evaluation of requirements must be made. Earlier Aberdeen research (Enterprise Search: The Key Evaluation Criteria for Selecting a High Performing Solution) has shown that Best-in-Class users of enterprise search place a premium on functionality over lowest costs when they select a search solution.
- Organizations that already use enterprise search to enable customer support functions should recognize that continual nurturing of the search solution is necessary to provide a powerful customer experience. Processes need to be established to continuously identify and tag relevant content, to collect and act on customer feedback, and to ensure that relevant and valuable search results are delivered where a self-service help portal is used.
David White is a senior research analyst in business intelligence at Aberdeen Group.