Priceline.com Inc. has bet its business model on the fact that Web-savvy customers like to help themselves - in this case, to deals on airfare, hotels, car rentals and the like. The Norwalk, Conn.-based company has extended that model to its customer service operations, adopting an e-service strategy to complement its telephone-based call center. If customers run into trouble during a travel search, they're encouraged to try self-service or e-mail options - more cost-effective ways to handle services issues - before resorting to a phone call.

Like Priceline.com, companies everywhere are leveraging e-service technologies -- Web self-service, chat, e-mail response management, collaboration tools, remote diagnostics -- as an alternative to the phone for interacting with customers. One reason is that customers today want the additional channel options that e-service offers them. According to a 2005 survey from Wellesley, Mass.-based Service Excellence Research Group LLC, 60 percent of high-tech customers attempt to solve their own problems through self-service knowledge bases before trying interactive channels.

To be effective, e-service deployments require considerable investments of time and money -- in knowledge-base creation and maintenance, sophisticated search technologies, incident tracking and workflow tools, and channel integration -- so customers get the same experience regardless of how they contact providers. So although the cost benefits that can result from e-service initiatives have not declined, businesses are increasingly looking at other reasons to justify investments.

In a recent survey conducted by ServiceXRG, 90.4 percent of respondents said customer satisfaction is the leading driver for implementing services such as remote control, chat and collaboration, while 94.4 percent named customer satisfaction as the primary driver for self-service.

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