Superstah! Helpstream: Community-Driven Customer Service - Customer Relationship Management

I met Tony Nemelka,at the time,CEO of Helpstream (author’s note: he has since moved on) and an industry veteran,for breakfast at IHOP in mid 2009,the same IHOP I started the third edition of CRM at the Speed of Light with back in 2004. Over a calorie-conscious garden scramble,we talked over outlooks and philosophies. But that’s not what they were at the time. They were (and still are) a nearly perfect Social CRM solution—for their niche.

How? They incorporate the social functionality needed to involve the customer community in solving customer service issues and also to monitor and capture the feedback they get from the customers. But to make it truly a Social CRM application,they incorporate analytics,business rules,and workflow to make sure that customer service activity in the community is not only monitored and analyzed (in a left- and right-brained—whole-brained—way),but that the responsible company staff members are notified when situations appear. Those situational responses are triggered and then flagged due to a business rule,workflow routes the flagged occurrence to the selected authority,and that person is notified to take action in some way. Perfecto. Besides their well-executed apps,they have a smart strategy. Their plan is for Helpstream to morph from a platform for communitydriven customer service to something much bigger. They are going to be filling in the gaps between the community and the traditional pillars of CRM—sales,marketing,and support—this is their vision down the road. They won’t have a full CRM suite,but by partnering with companies like Oracle they will be able to provide the glue that welds external customer engagement processes to business operations.

These guys have 150 customers and run communities with their on-demand offerings that total over 250,000 members. Interestingly,they have a number of marketing automation vendors as their clients,including Marketo,Eloqua,and Infusionsoft.

They are what Social CRM is.
Mission 21st Century
About halfway through one of the two buttermilk pancakes at that IHOP (with sugar-free syrup),Tony Nemelka outlined the rationale for that transformation of the company as it goes forward into the 21st century.

Customer service has focused too long on solving problems instead of engaging and developing relationships with customers. Huge investments have been made in systems designed primarily to deflect customers and reduce the costs of resolving problems. But customers don’t tolerate that anymore. The Web has provided a venue for customers to vent their experiences and frustrations. Other customers listen and respond,so companies have started listening too. In a word,business has become social.

Social business is not about problems and solutions; it’s about people,expertise,and getting value. Companies are wasting incredibly valuable resources in their customers by not empowering them to have a voice or not listening to them when they do; not enabling them to talk to one another; taking too long to solve their problem. They miss a huge opportunity to leverage customer passion for the brand or helping other customers.

For most companies,customers are the most under-utilized asset they have,a terrible waste for company and customer alike. Customers who have already spent money with you are very likely to spend more money with you. Customers have experience using your product and they know what works,what doesn’t,what needs to be improved. Customers are a tremendous source of ideas for new products and innovations you might not uncover otherwise. Customers will refer you to other customers if they are happy with you.

Helpstream’s mission is to lead a new wave in customer service,one that is focused on engaging and leveraging customers. Helpstream provides social,community-aware business solutions that turn customer service into the most strategic activity in the company. We believe the next-generation of customer service professionals will be focused on helping companies leverage their customers to build community,solve problems,and increase the value customers receive from the company’s products and services. Our job is to provide the technology platform to make that task easy and rewarding for everyone involved.

The Product
Helpstream’s product remains true to the mission and vision. It integrates social customer service with business rules and workflow to create a tight connection between business operations and the external customer.The feature set reflects a progressive business culture,something that Helpstream itself has and encourages with the evolution of its product lines.

  • Integrated self-service portal Through the portal,authorized users can browse or search for information,interact in the community,or submit,update,and check the status of a case. End users have permission-based access to the same information available to service representatives.

  • Federated search This allows users to simultaneously find matching content across all areas,including Q&A threads,discussions,and ideas in the community,FAQs,checklists,and content-rich articles in the knowledge base,open and closed case histories from the service desk,and matching content from external sources.

  • Community This is Helpstream’s true differentiator. As members,customers can ask and answer questions,mark best answers,open discussions,post comments,and maintain a public profile. A user generated content-based feature,Idea Brainstorming enables users to submit improvement suggestions that can be voted and commented on by other users. Electronic subscriptions enable users to receive automatic notifications of new posts in areas of their interest. In all cases,service representatives retain full editorial control and can determine what is published for public and private viewing. ActivityStream enables users to subscribe to other users and follow their stream of activity to see what others are working on in the community.

  • Service desk This is where your inner quant gets satisfied. Helpstream case management routes,queues,and manages cases for resolution,depending on the SLA. Using customizable workflow,user-definable fields,and rules-based escalation,case assignment can be automated or controlled manually via drag and drop. Agent-assignable wizards can be used to communicate step-by-step procedures to customers,who can switch to agent mode if they get stuck on something in self-service. E-mail integration allows end users to create,update,close,and rate cases via e-mail. The Service Waterfall graphically shows how and who resolves cases.
    Service Waterfall

  • Knowledge base The knowledge base can store and manage any type of file,each with publishing rights,version controls,and usage tracking. It includes authoring tools and permission controls so that useful community posts or case histories can be converted into wiki articles where they can be specifically formatted,tagged for search, and then kept up-to-date by subsequent users.

Not bad,eh? That’s Helpstream. They are more than just an alternative. They are what mainstream customer service technology needs to become.

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