A Conversation with ... Charlie Isaacs, KANA Covering All the Channels

Nature alert! The greater common website (websiteimus staticus horribilus) has reached extinction levels, and good riddance, I say! Like the dodo or the compassionate conservative, there are certain things we can just plain live without.

Nope, websites are no longer mere destinations, with primitive functions and archaic marketing applications. They have crawled from the tepid briny seas to flop onto the beach and take a first breath to become...

Channels. Channels for customer service. Channels for sales. Channels for business intelligence. The transformation of the website from billboard to mission-critical business component is complete. And that is good. But it's not easy.

I'm talking with Charlie Isaacs, the chief technology officer at KANA Software. Charlie has a unique perspective on the subject of Web self-service, and other emerging Web capabilities. He can talk about why to do it as easily as he can talk about how to do it.

"I forgot where I first heard it, but I subscribe to it," Charlie says, remembering a bon mot that plugged-in people like him tend to hear before the rest of us: "Email is the new snail mail; and chat is the new email."

KANA Software has a big presence in the Web self-service market, if such a thing can be said to exist. I'm not sure it's fair to describe KANA that narrowly; in fact, it's probably a disservice. KANA has its vision set a lot higher than that. For them, the Web deserves attention because it's an extremely versatile channel for customer interaction, and can be tuned to provide anything (and everything) from sales opportunities to customer support. And it can do so in a way that customers actually welcome and embrace. But they never forget that it's not the ONLY channel. And for KANA, it's all about the channel.

The key, says Charlie, to the success of any customer-facing application is to know who you're talking to: Know thy customer. "Absolutely," agrees Charlie. "You need to know who the customer is, and in order to do that you need technology in the background that manages the customer. You need to know what they've bought in the past, what their predilections are, what they're inclined to do ... this needs to be tightly coupled with a knowledge-centered approach."

Charlie continues: "One of our customers did a study, and found that males expect their emails to be answered within 24 hours. And females expect an answer within four hours! Either way, how do you do that without an application that will search a knowledgebase of preformatted answers, and populate the screen with the correct answer?"

Good question. And I can promise you that three years ago, we wouldn't even have been asking it. Because the expectation level of the typical consumer has erupted from "Can I do that?" to "WHY CAN'T I do that??" in a very small window of time. Whether it's the Google-ization factor, or just a natural (albeit incredibly fast) maturity cycle, the fact remains: There is an inescapable irony of this heightened level of customer-awareness. And that is: The thing that makes it possible—the Web—is the same thing that makes it necessary. "Every one of our customer sees ‘churn' as an issue," says Charlie, talking about the vast marketplace now available to consumers at the click of a button or two. "If I'm not happy with a product, I just throw it away and look for a new one. And on the Web, there are endless choices." The trick, Charlie believes, is to differentiate your widget from the other guy's widget. And price alone is not the answer. "I'm not going to buy the one from a vendor with bad Web support...it's too easy to go somewhere else. If I do my research, and find a vendor with a good online support area, I can assume I can get my questions answered. So, that's who I buy from."

Web self-service is only part of it, though. Remember: it's one channel out of many. "The same tools that can guide a self-service customer to the answer you want them to find can also guide an agent who might be helping that customer.

"When you guide an agent, there can be a transactional answer. Let's say it's a question about billing—a preformatted response form wouldn't help you there. Instead, the system needs to go out to a repository, query for an answer, conduct a transaction and deliver the answer back to the agent. BUT, along with that, the system that is sensitive to activity trends might also be able to provide an upsell opportunity," Charlie explains.

Believe me when I say: we haven't even scratched the surface. "We're working on a proactive engine, in beta currently, that can intelligently determine the value of the customer," reveals Charlie. "If they're looking at the Rolex watches, and you know they buy a Rolex every year, then guess what? You should give them a chat invitation immediately, or a ‘click-to-talk' option," to immediately discuss their annual Rolex investment ... something I hope to happen to me someday.

The line between basic CRM applications (that answer simple questions via FAQs or preformatted responses) and Web-based experiences that include BI and analytics to determine customer value and up-sell/cross-sell opportunities, is fading fast. New solutions, such as the ones KANA and Charlie develop, are almost eerie in their abilities: "You can determine if a customer is high-value, and then watch to see if he/she suffers on a page for a predetermined amount of time without satisfaction, or if they're stuck on a field for more than ‘x' seconds, then some action, decided by rules engines, can kick in. That action might be to give them a call on their cell phone: ‘Hey, Mr. Jones, we were just wondering if there's any way we can help you?' And he says, ‘As a matter of fact, I was just on your website...'" This is the power of a rules engine, but it should not be misused. "You have to be careful...you might creep somebody out," laughs Charlie.

"It's a complex algorithm, this knowledge stuff. But it's the only way to do it."

I concur.

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