Organized Customer and Employee Support

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Computers and applications stubbornly remain hard to use. Developers, from solo code jockeys to huge corporations, promise us things will be better "real soon." But if operating systems and applications aren't easier today than yesterday, at least we're seeing advances in how to support them. Take NTRSupport's new FirstHelp tool, a support portal. It combines information, drivers, tips, training, techniques, instant messaging, e-mail and even remote control software in a one-stop support shop.

Getting answers is never easy. Drivers for various computer problems are here and there, scattered around a server disk in a pattern only the tech understands, but can't really explain when questioned. FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about applications used are everywhere or nowhere, with no organization. Training information can't be found and what documentation exists for company software is so lost it may as well be in Amelia Earhart's briefcase. When you rely on another small company to provide help, the disconnect and disorganization multiplies.

NTRSupport, part of NTRGlobal, provides on-demand remote control, remote support and remote access tools using a hosted model. Other companies, such as LogMeIn or GoToMyPC and the like, offer some or all of these features, but NTRSupport has jumped ahead with its new FirstHelp product.

FirstHelp allows you to put as much help and support information on a support portal page as you wish, and lets you customize the page for internal or external use. If your company sells a product involving a computer, such as a PC-based point of sale accounting system for dry cleaners, you have to provide support. Wouldn't it be easier if all the dry cleaner clerks looking for help went to a branded Web page full of news, tips, troubleshooting notices and a way to, with one-click, e-mail a support tech? The clerk might actually find the answer to the problem and never call support at all. They get back to work faster and you don't incur support charges. Everybody wins, and clothes get processed more quickly.

When customers need to open an Instant Message chat session, or even ask for a tech to remotely access and control their computers, FirstHelp lets them do that. But FirstHelp also allows you to present information you want to get in front of customers, such as workarounds for new problems, on the same page they go for interactive support.

You can provide the information publicly so anyone going to "" can see the info, or require a username and password. You can also customize the page with your logo, your colors, and portal widgets dragged and dropped wherever you want them on the page.

Big companies can build their own portals like this, of course, but that takes time and money, both of which are in short supply today. NRTSupport hosts your customized portal using a Software as a Service model. Pricing starts at 10 portals for $32.50 per month ($390 per year). You can add more portals and more storage for drivers, help files, FAQs, and anything else you want, as your portal and support needs grow.

If you're not the biggest dog in dry cleaning point of sale software, a customizable support portal will help your image. With 10 portals, you can make Bill's Dry Cleaning page reflect Bill's look and feel, while Betty's Dry Cleaning page can reflect Betty's. For little money and a bit of customization, you can provide individual support portals for each of your customers. Want to customize down to the department level? Set up two portals and put information valuable to each group on their specific portal.

I like this idea because it makes a tough job, support, easier for those providing the support and those needing support. Too often support providers scatter information hither and yon to make life easier for themselves, not their client. FirstHelp helps the disorganized support groups get organized.

The portal idea lost most of its luster over the last few years, but the new world of Web 2.0, mashups and drag and drop widgets should help elevate portals once again. A dynamic, easily modified portal page, configured to make life as easy as possible for those seeking help, should get clients back to work faster. NTRSupport says this will free support tech time for more important jobs, and that may well be true. Every support question a client can answer means another support tech left uncalled.

Current NTRSupport customers will feel right at home with this system. Companies looking for a comprehensive support system for internal or external use should find FirstHelp a good way to force themselves to provide a better support experience. Doing so without heavy programming or adding new equipment, following the SaaS model, should take at least some of the pain out of improving your help desk support.

This story, "Organized Customer and Employee Support" was originally published by Network World.

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