Off Center
Constant Contact is getting very good at not handling calls, emails and chats from customers.

And the customers love it.

One look at the company's comprehensive and highly customer-focused web self-service resources and practices, and you’ll understand why.

From its powerful knowledgebase – that enables online users to instantly find what they need – to its dynamic demos, podcasts, tutorials and FAQs that help users quickly become product experts, Constant Contact serves as a prime example of how self-service can empower rather than alienate customers.

And, of course, such self-service success hasn’t exactly hurt the bottom line. With so many customers embracing Constant Contact’s potent online resources to help themselves, the company has been able to keep call center costs down in the midst of rapid growth.

“Mike Pace, our Director of Customer Support responsible for our self-service channels, has come up with a unique way of measuring the impact of this channel on our overall operations,” says Larry Streeter, Constant Contact’s VP of Customer Support. “Month over month we see a savings of 20%-25% in headcount based on what the self-service channel [has done for us].  As for our overall operational costs, self-service is one of the primary reasons why our ‘Support Costs as a Percent of Company Revenue’ ratio has gone down year after year!”

The Self-Service Experience from the Customer’s POV

It’s pretty easy to get customers to let go of agents’ hands when you give customers everything they need at their fingertips. 

Even the most staunch self-service skeptic is likely to become a believer after visiting the Constant Contact website for the first time. Let’s say the customer is looking for information on creating an effective online survey; they will find a load of helpful resources by simply typing “survey creation” in the “Search” box that appears on every page of the website. Not that customers need to be so terse in their wording; Constant Contact’s search engine is equipped with natural language processing, and thus has little problem making sense out of such search requests as “How do I create an online survey?”

The results of the aforementioned search? Topping the list of relevant resources provided is a link to a comprehensive yet concise 7-step tutorial entitled “Creating an Online Survey”. On the same page as the tutorial are clearly visible links to other relevant items, such as:

• A recorded podcast covering Constant Contact’s online survey creation process
• Survey templates that customers can use, as well as examples of actual surveys used by existing Constant Contact corporate customers (with each company’s name provided)
• An article on why online feedback is so important

There is also a link to sign up to attend a live online demo on Constant Contact survey creation. (These demos are conducted every Tuesday at 2 pm ET.) In addition, the page provides information on pricing and a free 60-day trial offer.

The original search on “survey creation” also provides links to relevant FAQs, as well as customer success stories and additional articles on the topic.

And if by chance a user is unable to find exactly what they are looking for online, or has a specific question about something they read, heard or saw, Constant Contact makes it easy for them to reach a live agent (a best practice, but one that's embraced by far too few customer care organizations). Under a clearly marked “Coaching & Support” section that appears on practically every page of the site, users can click on a link called “Get live help from real people”, which directs users to a page containing the call center’s toll-free number as well as a “Chat with us now” and an “Email us” link. (When I tested the chat feature, I received a friendly greeting and response from a live agent within seconds.) 

Even when customers choose to contact an agent, the agent is often able to pave the way for future self-service by showing the customer where the answer was located as well as other features of the website, explains Streeter.

“Having our reps use the same [knowledgebase] as our customers helps them promote the usage. Many times I hear reps on the phone with a customer saying, ‘Here’s the answer to your question and here’s how I found that answer.  Would you like me to show you how I found it?’ They then walk the customer through their first knowledgebase search!”

Keeping the Knowledgebase in Quality Shape

Of course, a knowledgebase is only as strong as the information that is put into it. And since a company’s products/services and customer issues as well as expectations continuously evolve, a call center’s work is never done when it comes to sustaining self-service success.   

Constant Contact is well aware of this, and thus strives to keep its knowledgebase well fed and highly functional at all times for customers. This entails regularly updating and testing the system internally and, even more importantly, monitoring customers’ actual self-service interactions. 

“With our fanatical focus on the customer experience and the scalability we enjoy, you better believe we monitor our self-service apps!” says Streeter. “Customer usage of the self-service channels is continuously analyzed for patterns, keyword usage, and even failed knowledgebase searches.” 

In addition, the call center uses an online survey to solicit direct feedback from customers regarding their self-service experience. Survey results are tracked and trended – with customer comments categorized for content – and then reviewed at Monthly Business Review meetings. “We get great feedback from our customers on ways to improve the service, suggested rewordings for knowledgebase articles to provide additional clarity, and keyword suggestions to facilitate an easier search for the right article,” Streeter explains. “We learn a lot from our customers.”

And from the call center’s frontline staff, as well. Constant Contact’s eServices team regularly meets with groups of agents and asks for their input on the most common questions they get from customers. Using such feedback, the eServices team is able to fine-tune keywords and position the ‘Top 5’ FAQs within each product to help optimize the relevancy of the knowledgebase.  

“I think our relentless focus on the relevancy of our self-service channels is why we have such great success,” says Streeter. “Relevancy is a key metric for measuring success with this channel, and our eServices team goes to great length to make that happen.”

Pushing the Self-Service Envelope

As effective as it already is, self-service at Constant Contact is about to get even better. Streeter points out that the company’s “ConnectUp! Community” platform – which enables users to network online and share insight and experiences – is on track for a major facelift in the upcoming months.  “We continue to invest in this specific self-service channel as peer-to-peer support continues to gain popularity with customers looking for ‘support, my way!’”

Constant Contact also maintains a “Support Blog” that serves as an additional resource for tips on using their products. Further, the company pushes helpful FAQs and blog posts to Facebook and Twitter to reach out to “social” customers.

And as if all that weren’t enough, the company is currently working on embedding short, instructional videos into knowledgebase articles and tutorials, as well as adding “Google-type” interface for searching and reviewing resources in the knowledgebase.

Says Streeter, “Our eServices and developer teams continue to find ways of pushing the envelope with self-service.” 

Constant Contact – the Big Picture:
Waltham, Mass.; Loveland, Colo.
Hours of operation: Monday-Thursday 9am-11pm, Friday 9am-9pm (all times EST)
Number of agents: 180
Products/services provided: Customer service/support for the company’s email marketing, online survey, event marketing, and social media marketing offerings.
Channels handled: Phone, email, chat, web self-service, Twitter
What’s so great about them? Their strong web self-service practices and applications drive customer autonomy and satisfaction while lowering the call center’s costs.

JR Hardenburgh
1/31/2011 11:57:42 pm

Nice article on Mike Pace's shop. Hope he can get you to be the keynote speaker at the NECCF vendor conference this June at Gillette Stadium.

2/1/2011 01:11:35 am

Thanks JR, but I wouldn't be able to accept anyway. People would think I wrote the above article on Constant Contact's excellent organization just so that I could land a speaking gig!

Despite what my mother says, I have ethics. ; )


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