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News : Step One Aims to Put the Customer in Charge of Customer Care
May 19, 2014 -- Calling customer service—or navigating the maze of an online help desk—is among the most frustrating chores for consumers who are dealing with product problems. Turns out, it’s not that much fun for the companies either. One Austin startup says its software can make the experience better for all.
"There are typical things that people call in about; we use this to predict the help that is needed," says Alex Mitchell, Step One’s CEO. "Within five seconds, we’ve indexed the company’s help content and we’ll return a list of the five most helpful video articles and troubleshooting tools to address the problem."
It’s not that the cable company or the wireless provider has suddenly grown a heart for us long-frustrated customers. Mitchell says Step One’s software can reduce the time spent dealing with issues like laggard WiFi connections. "If we can drive even single-digit percentages of better self-service, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars a year," he says.
The company last week released its software, called Contextual Care, which Mitchell says uses artificial intelligence to learn what problems people like you or me might have—and the best ways to solve them. "This is similar to a recommendation engine that you’d see from a Netflix or Amazon," he explains.
Unsurprisingly, Step One’s first target customers are in the telecom industry. Mitchell says most people would rather be able to solve the problem, quickly and efficiently, on their own and that Step One’s software helps them do that.
Step One is the latest entrant into what can be called the "smart" customer support sector, something my colleague, Wade Roush, has written much about from his perch in San Francisco. In fact, the Bay Area is home to a few companies, including Get Satisfaction and Lithium Technologies, that are using online, crowdsourced intelligence to help fix service glitches.
"It adjusts the content over time so the customer experience gets better," he says.
In addition to officially launching its product, Step One also said on Thursday that it has raised venture funds from Silverton Partners in Austin. (It had previously raised seed money from LiveOak Ventures, another Austin-based firm.) The startup will use the money to double its workforce to 20 and move into new offices as it expands operations.
Mitchell and his two co-founders started Step One a year ago in an RV parked in the parking lot of Motive, an Austin software company where they had worked together. (Motive was acquired by Alcatel-Lucent in 2008.) Since then, the company has graduated to a two-bedroom apartment in Austin where the 10 employees are "crawling all over each other," Mitchell says, laughing.
As it plans to move into new digs, the company is gearing up to tackle customer service issues in other industries, including the health care sector.
"This is one of the first times that businesses are engaging customers in a visible way one-to-one. Usually, it’s one-to-many," Mitchell says. "We’re going to make getting help an effortless customer experience."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Thursday, May 22, 2014