March 19, 2003, 12:00 AM

Cutting off inquiries at the web site keeps call center costs under control

Specialized Bicycles is using a customer inquiry database built on RightNow Technologies` knowledge management platform to short circuit nearly all customer inquiries before they come to the call center.

When manufacturer Specialized Bicycles went on the web in 1994, it quickly learned that consumers don’t differentiate between manufacturer and retailer when they have questions about a product. Specialized Bicycles was unprepared for the volume of inquiries, says Sean McLaughlin, marketing manager for the Morgan Hill, CA-based company. Specialized Bicycles hosts several hundred thousand unique visitors a month--McLaughlin wouldn’t be more specific--at

Even though Specialized Bicycles’ site was designed to communicate with bicycle retailers, consumer volume grew to such an extent that Specialized finally concluded it needed a more effective way to answer questions. Today it is using a customer inquiry database built on RightNow Technologies Inc.’s knowledge management platform available at its web site and it short circuits nearly all customer inquiries before they come to the call center. “Far better than 90% of the time, customers help themselves,” McLaughlin says.

As a result, Specialized Bicycle handles calls from 4,000 dealers around the world as well as from consumers with a call center staff of 10.

Specialized started the web self-service project by seeding its web site with questions that customers posed frequently. The questions reside at more than a simple FAQ page, which would quickly have become unwieldy due to the broad range of questions that customers ask. Instead, RightNow creates and hosts a database that contains questions and answers. Customers search for their answer by inputting the question or key words.

The RightNow program asks customers who use the service to rate their satisfaction. If ratings of a particular answer fall below 50%, Specialized’s managers review the content to determine where it is falling short. Call center agents analyze the questions they receive and if they believe that a question is one that others are likely to ask, the company inputs it into the database, thus keeping content fresh. Customers who don’t find answers in the database can submit an e-mail that Specialized will answer within 48 hours.

RightNow offers its service both as an ASP, where it hosts the service, and under an in-house licensing arrangement. Typical fee for a two-year service is $35,000 to more than $100,000, but the fee can range into seven figures for large, multi-site implementations, the company says.


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