August 10th, 2009 by Christopher Musico

[Editors’ Note: The next chapter in this case study appeared in our August edition of CRM magazine.]

There is a common misnomer that customer service representatives (CSRs) are either poorly trained or just taking the position to make ends meet. Combine that with an advanced degree from an institution of higher education, and you have a recipe for CSR morale disaster.

Nowhere was this more evident than at OSIsoft, which helps companies record and track systems data information on the health of the software utilized. The company’s support staff all hold degrees in engineering or an engineering discipline, and Don Smith, vice president of customer support for the company, says the idea that the degree may be wasted working in a customer support position had plagued the company for years.

“Customer support has a reputation of being a starter or low-end position,” Smith says. “The average person expects to have the first person [they speak with] barely take down their name and know nothing about the product in question. You have people telling parents what they’re doing, and the parents ask, ‘That’s a good job for you as engineer? You got your master’s from Stanford, right?’ So I wanted to grow the role and integrity of the position.”

Smith recalls that many who had entered the position of support agent quickly wanted to transfer to other facets of the company such as sales or engineering. Agent retention had plummeted to lows of approximately 29 percent, mainly because they viewed the position as a stepping stone rather than a quality career destination. “I wanted them to see support as one of the most exciting jobs they have,” he says.

A key way to help accomplish this aim, according to Smith, was to finally rejuvenate the company’s broken knowledge base system. Only 40 percent of those who utilized it reported that they were able to find the proper answer. Smith wanted to incorporate all of the company’s employees — including the support agents — to expand the volume of articles with the most up-to-date, correct information. “If I could get a third of the company in a room at one time, ask a question, and agree on an answer … that’s as good as we’ll get,” he says. “That’s my dream.”

To make this dream a reality, OSIsoft turned to Socialtext, an enterprise 2.0 solution provider, to provide a wiki that would empower all employees to contribute when applicable. Through the use of the wiki, Smith can show the support workers they are not only doing break/fix issues, but are also helping to keep the world’s largest companies running smoothly. “Using the technology with our support people means they are engaged in their work, instead of being burdened by the workload and missing the fact they are doing exciting work,” he says. “The wiki allows that to happen.”

Retention has risen to 85 percent since implementing Socialtext’s wiki. “Support is where the action is happening,” he says. “They’re learning relevant stuff, be it helping an alternative energy launch get off the ground or get solar wind farms on line. We are providing a manufacturing record of what’s going on, and we are on the cutting edge by helping companies get the information they need to resolve problems.”

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