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PC World

Web-based customer service grows

November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 8:20 a.m. EST (1320 GMT)

by Cameron Crouch

(IDG) -- Web-based customer service is finally meandering toward the real-time promise of the Internet.

WebEx launched on Thursday its WebEx Support Service that lets technicians conduct live help sessions via a Web browser. Also, eCustomer Contact Center is crafting Web-based support centers that combine chat, e-mail, and voice interaction.

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Long-distance repair

As with the WebEx meeting service, which lets you collaborate over the Web, you don't need any preinstalled software to use WebEx Support: A 400KB plug-in lets you join a session.

WebEx Support provides remote control, says Felicity Wohltman, director of product marketing for WebEx. "You can take control of someone else's applications or desktop."

In a WebEx Support session, the technician sees a variety of commands while you see only a prompt that requests access for the technician. All you need is a standard Web browser and a modem connection that can handle at least 56 kilobits per second.

Technicians can use WebEx to not only work on your desktop applications, but also conduct real-time operations. They can upload a file, run diagnostic tools on it, and reinstall it for you.

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"It's much easier to show a customer something and implement a solution for them than it is to describe something over the phone," Wolhtman says.

For now, the service is focused on business-to-business support. Enterprise sites using WebEx can take you to for support sessions, or tailor their own version.

The Internet call center

While WebEx has developed customer support from Web collaboration, another service, eCustomer Contact Center, offers a different take on Internet customer support. Its small- to medium-size call centers use voice over IP to offer support by e-mail, chat, Web collaboration, and Web call-back.

Its developers, Sento and Genesys, demonstrated the technology at this week's Customer Relationship Management Conference in San Francisco.

"As an end user, you might just see a button [on a Web site] that says 'Call me now,'" says Evan Davis, Sento's director of IT research and development. "Click that, and you have a seamless callback done using voice over IP."

Using the eCustomer Contact Center, sites will be able to offer you a choice of ways to get support. You can get answers by e-mail, chat, a phone call, or even a Web collaboration session where an agent takes you through a Web site using push technology. The callback button automatically initiates a phone call from the agent. Agents can take voice, chat, and e-mail requests in real-time; e-mail queries won't sit unanswered in a massive in-box.

"E-mail gets handled just like a voice call," Davis says.

For now, Web service provider Netgateway is the only announced beta customer. You might start to see the eCustomer Contact Center on Web sites beginning early next year.

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