Friday, April 22, 2011

3 Affordable Customer Support Solutions for Your Small Business

As a small business owner, I personally know that the task of servicing my customers and prospects online becomes far more difficult as you grow your business. Smaller business' rely on email, and phone support to handle incoming inquiries that can easily be resolved online. If your a small business with a website, you may have already considered using the web to service customers. A google for the term "web self service and customer support" yields an extensive list of links to some Enterprise solutions like RightNow Technologies CX Platform, Inquira, eGain, or Salesforce's Service Cloud. These companies offer everything from Knowledge Base capabilities, Community, to Live Chat and Social solutions to support customers online. They are absolutely great platforms that I have personally worked with, but the problem is they are expensive. For a small business owner like myself with less than 5 people on staff, I couldn't afford 1 month of any of these products. With the exception of Salesforce, these companies don't target the SMB market. Their markets are focused on large B2B or B2C businesses for their Web Self Service products instead. So I compiled a quick list of affordable but powerful Web Based Customer Support applications that can help power your Online Web Self Service strategy for your small business. Tell me about your preferred applications for powering your small business' web self service.

Zoho Support

Zoho has built some serious applications in the CRM space that are competing fiercly with Salesforce.Com, and they now are focusing on Customer Support offering a Customer Support suite that offers robust features like an internal and customer facing knowledge base, ticket management, and a Customer Support Portal that enables you to create a help site that is automatically integrated with the suite. For business's looking for a quick way to get a knowledge base and support portal up and running, this is by far one of the quickest ways to get one up and running with robust capabilities. The sign up process is entirely online, you can start with a Free Account, and for businesses that need Sales & Marketing CRM - Zoho offers a pretty robust solution that seamlessly integrates with Zoho Support. If you are already a Zoho CRM user, then this is an ideal platform for your needs. One of my areas of concern is that the capabilities don't address Social Media support and response and the limited capabilities of the Free Edition. Smaller business are often relying on Social Media to support and engage with customers and these capabilities are missing from the suite. Some concerns with the FREE Edition are that it only enables a company to service 25 requests per day, and does not offer Customer Portal which enables you to turn on a knowledge base for your customers online. If you want those features, you will have to opt for the Professional Edition at $12 per user per month which I would recommend if you have a need for online web self service.

Omnistar Live

OmniStar Live is the one solution that surprised me the most. They offer some great capabilities that some of the Enterprise players in this space offer in one package. Features such as Ticket Management, Knowledge Base, Live Chat, Customer Feedback, and the ability to create online troubleshooting wizards come shipped with the software and are all configurable in a easy to use interface. These features alone make it a great value for customers looking for more multichannel and service capabilities. Their hosted solution starts at $27 per month for up to 3 users, and they offer an Unlimited Staff offering where you install the application on your server for a $297 one time fee. I recommend this solution for companies servicing a high tech product that often requires updates to the knowledge base and complex troubleshooting wizards. This application does require some configuration and offers some robust tools for customizing the online support experience in terms of the user interface. They have a WYSIWYG Editor to customize the Customer Support Portal experience to change the look/feel of your site and tailor it to your company logo/brand. If you choose the Hosted solution you may not be able to customize the domain where your customer portal sits so that you have a URL like Go with the higher end installable $297 solution for companies who want to host it with their own domain. Omnistar offers free installation for those who don't have an IT Department to install the product on the hosted server. What sets this solution apart from the rest is it's Live Chat, Online Troubleshooter, and Instant Customer Feedback offering that is often not found in even some of the larger Enterprise Solutions for Web Self Service. The Online troubleshooter will save a company lots of time in PHP or HTML development required to walk customers through logic based scenarios to solve complex problems online. For companies with a complex technical product, this maybe an ideal platform to power your web self service.


Assistly offers the most Social offering of all the other applications. With Assistly you get the ability to ticket and respond to customers over Facebook, Twitter, Email, and Live Chat integrated into 1 package. In addition, you get a Customer Portal that you can publish to your customers with FAQs, Online Search, and an online Community Q&A section. The suite offers you very basic content authoring and knowledge base capability. You can't categorize knowledge categorized by product, and search seems to be very dependent on key words contained within an article. This will work for a business with a very simple product portfolio, but businesses with larger offerings of products - the knowledge base won't cut it. Sign up and getting started is extremely simple, and at $39 per agent per month, you get a robust online solution for servicing your customers online. For businesses who have a high need for supporting customers across Social Media, and on a realtime basis, this is an ideal solution. Assistly recently partnered with Get Satisfaction to extend their suite to the the popular community platform. Further integrations with traditional CRM vendors will be ideal for this application's future success.

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