So, back in 2001 I started writing the suite of custom software that has been powering IOSPIRIT ever since it existed. In 2003, I started a new project called "Callisto", a website engine that is completely object-based and that powers IOSPIRIT's website to date.

Over the years, it has become very, very powerful and extremely flexible allowing IOSPIRIT to be very reactive to new marketing and sales techniques as well as new web technologies.

But then I haven't touched or updated some of its parts for quite some time. The contact form is a nice example for that. It began to look dated and actually became a real efficiency problem as the interest into the products began to grow rapidly: as a dedicated suport desk coexisted with it, many visitors could not decide which one to use. So, what had to happen did happen: the support desk interface was used for general pricing inquiries and support inquiries would be transmitted through the contact form. Many visitors would submit their question or comments to both.

I've then put up a gentle note below the contact form that users should use the support desk for support inquiries, but not everybody would see it. And even if they did, I'd still receive a lot of inquiries that were already dealt with in the FAQs or for which a dedicated web interface exists (i.e. the license code remailer).

The core message I gathered from all this is: customers see the contact form as the primary place of getting into touch with a company - regardless of subject.

So if I wanted higher efficiency and customer satisfaction, it was time to rethink support!

This is what I ended up with:

  • The contact form now asks customers to pick the topic of their inquiry.
  • Depending on the topic, either more or less fields are displayed that ask for information that would otherwise have required an additional Q&A mail exchange.
  • In the case of problems receiving order-related mails, users are now directly informed about the two main causes (bogus spam filters - huhu Hotmail! - and delays in receipt that we're not to blame for, for example if greylisting is used on the receiving server)
  • The support desk has been integrated into the contact form.
  • As a special gem for both our customers and us, the integrated support desk interface now uses AJAX techniques to do a live search in the FAQs. While a customer is still typing to describe a problem or ask a question, possibly relevant FAQ entries - if any - will pop up below. So if the user is about to ask a frequently asked question, he'll likely already be presented the answer before he even finishes typing the question!

The key benefits of the AJAX based support desk as I see them:

  • customers asking FAQs have a high chance to receive an answer - faster than ever before
  • the number of inquiries containing questions that were already dealt with in the FAQs has dropped significantly
  • everybody saves precious time without having to accept any kind of tradeoff

Being the object oriented system that Callisto is, it was easy to integrate the context-sensitive FAQ into other services, so I integrated it into the forum as well.

Enjoy! :-)

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