Working Of Technical Support on an Intranet

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 Working of Technical Support on an Intranet  





Almost any company that sells goods and services to consumers-and to a certain extent, that sells to businesses-spends a substantial amount of time, money, and corporate resources providing technical support. It need not be a computer or software company. Even people who buy washing machines or CD players or lamps run into problems with the products and need help.

Providing excellent technical support, especially for companies that need to reach a large number of people, can be an exceedingly expensive proposition. Typically, technical support is provided via the telephone, sometimes using toll-free 800 phone numbers. The cost of hiring and staffing support lines, as well as paying for telecommunications costs, can be staggeringly high.

An intranet can help cut those costs. Instead of having to staff many expensive support lines, a company can instead create a public Web site that people can visit. This Web site can contain an enormous amount of technical support information-everything from answers to common problems, to downloadable software to fix problems with hardware, to links to access user-to-user forums where people can exchange answers they've found to common problems.

In the next illustration, we'll return to our imaginary company, CyberMusic, and see how they use their intranet to help provide technical support to their customers.

When companies provide technical support using Internet and intranet technology, much of what they do is posted outside the corporate firewall, on the Internet. A variety of material can be posted. For example, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) can be posted-answers to the most common technical problems. A database of problems and their answers can be searched directly from the Web, using the Common Gateway Interface. Public discussion areas can be set up, where people post their problems, and technical support personnel can answer. And other customers can answer the questions as well. If the product is related to hardware or software, patches to the software can be posted that can be downloaded to solve technical problems. Another bonus in using Web sites to provide technical support is that the company can get people to fill in their names, addresses, and other information-a way of gathering customer names.

While much of what is posted is outside the corporate firewall on the Internet, what goes on inside the firewall on the intranet is still used in a variety of ways to help provide technical support. The databases that are posted on the Internet, for example, are first created on the intranet, and then exported to the Internet. E-mail sent to the technical support department must pass through the corporate firewall from the Internet. And when someone registers to receive technical support, the information from the person is sent in a secure fashion back through the firewall into the Intranet. There, it will be put into a corporate customer database, so that the company can, for example, send out direct mail to all its customers.

Using an Intranet to Provide Technical Support

For companies that sell goods and services to the consumer market, providing technical support can be an expensive, time-consuming chore. Using a combination of a company's intranet and the Internet, technical support costs can be cut dramatically, and better technical support can be delivered. This illustration shows how our imaginary company CyberMusic uses them to provide technical support. CyberMusic manufactures CD players as well as publishes and sells records, so this page shows how they provide technical support for both lines of products.

  • CyberMusic creates a public Web site for technical support that anyone can access over the Internet. They publicize the site in their product literature, in their advertising, and even when people call into their technical support lines, a recorded message suggests that people access the Web site to get immediate technical support. The Web site is located on a bastion host outside the CyberMusic intranet, and is separated from it by a filtering router. The bastion host and the filtering routers are part of the firewall that protects CyberMusic's intranet from the Internet.
  • CyberMusic has found through the years that only 10 or 12 common problems cause 80 percent of the calls to their technical support phone lines-and these are problems that can be solved quite simply. (For example, a surprising number of people simply forget to plug in the power cord of their CD player.) So CyberMusic posts the problems and answers to them in FAQs on their Web site. This cuts down tremendously on calls to their technical support line.
  • Not all problems can be solved by reading the FAQs. So CyberMusic uses several other techniques for providing technical support. The company creates a database of common problems and solutions that can be searched via the Web using the Common Gateway Interface. A CGI program takes the user's question, formulates it as a query for the database, submits it, and returns the result of the query in an HTML formatted page.
  • Sometimes the best technical support is provided by people, not FAQs and databases. So CyberMusic has created a number of discussion areas where people can ask questions about their problems, and where CyberMusic technical support professionals can answer the questions. In yet other technical support areas, customers can answer each other's questions. These areas are set up as USENET newsgroups, accessible via browsers such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Explorer.
  • The company also provides a "mailto" link on the technical support page that when clicked on launches an e-mail program in the customer's browser, with the e-mail address of the technical support staff already filled in. The person can now type in a question, and the e-mail will be sent through the Internet, through the CyberMusic firewall, and then to the technical support department. Once there, a technical support manager uses groupware to route the request to the proper person, and uses the tracking features of groupware to see that the question is answered.
  • CyberMusic CD's contain more than just musical information on them-they can also be read by a computer and contain interviews and interactive articles about the musicians and other information. CyberMusic has found, however, that some computers have trouble reading the CD's. To solve the problem, they make available special drivers and patches for those computers. The drivers and patches can be downloaded directly from the Web site on the bastion host. This saves CyberMusic a great deal of money in processing, handling, and mailing costs.
  • CyberMusic, like many companies that sell products to consumers, tries to maintain as comprehensive a list as possible of people who have purchased their products. Most people, however, don't send in reply forms, and so the number of customer names and addresses they have is quite small. CyberMusic uses its Web site to get many more names. One way to get names is to have people type in their name, address, and other information before they can get to a certain area of the Web site-for example, to the discussions or to download patches. Another way is to sponsor contests on the site, such as giving away CD players and records. When a name and address are typed into a Web form, the data is sent through CyberMusic's firewall to its intranet. It's then put in a customer database, where CyberMusic can use it for customer mailings.




Copyright Manjor Inc.