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Tech Industry

Customer service goes online

A start-up's software lets service reps speak with a customer online and guide the visitor's browser through a company's Web site.

NEW YORK--A start-up firm today unveiled Web-based customer service software that lets a company representative converse with a customer online and guide the visitor's Web browser through pages on the firm's Web site.

SiteBridge, formerly known as SocialScience, calls the new software for real-time, interactive customer service CustomerNow.

SiteBridge's announcement came today at the Internet and Electronic Commerce conference in New York, where other vendors also made product announcements.

SiteBridge's software can detect the visitor's Web browser and computing platform, whether the user is behind a firewall, and then serves up customized pages tailored to individual users. No plug-ins or special software are required for users, and because the system is not completely Java-based, it can deal with users who have older browsers or have disabled Java for security reasons.

The product is targeted to firms such as online brokerages, consumer banking, computer help desks, online retailers, and travel services, said Wendell Lansford, SiteBridge's chief executive.

Net-based customer service is emerging as a factor in differentiating a company from its rivals. An October report by research firm Jupiter Communications concluded that business-related chat functionality could boost the competitive positioning of commerce sites and online marketers.

Customers click on a link on a company's Web site, answer basic questions to expedite the call, and then the "call" is taken by an online customer service representative (CSR).

One advantage of SiteBridge's system: home users with a single phone line don't have to disconnect from the Net and "leave the Web site environment" to get a question addressed.

Designed for large companies with ten or more customer reps, the SiteBridge system logs every contact, and supervisors can get transcripts of individual sessions. For reps, the system is designed to mimic how they handle phone calls, and their console shields them from technical complexities.

SiteBridge is not the first to jump on the online customer service bandwagon. ichat, which makes Net-based chat software, offers a Customer Interaction Suite for building chat rooms, and provides threaded discussion areas for customer support. Aspect Technologies and start-up WebLine Communications announced offerings last month.

CustomerNow is being offered at an introductory rate of $30,000 with five CSR seats included. Additional seats cost $1200. Lansford said the company has not yet determined how much the price will increase in June, when the introductory rate expires.

In other news at the show:

  • eCharge is scheduled to unveil a transaction system that lets users buy on the Web and have charges put on their monthly telephone bills.
  • USA Global Link is expected to launch its Instant Callback serve that lets Web shoppers receive phone calls from Web site vendors on demand.
  • Ironside Technologies is scheduled to introduce a new software developers kit called Ironworks Developers Kit to build custom e-commerce applications. It also will release Ironside 2.0, business-to-business e-commerce software targeted at wholesalers and distributors.
  • Segue Software will unveil new scenario-based testing tools so e-commerce sites can simulate situations before they launch their services on the Net.
  • SpaceWorks will announce a customer guarantee for its enterprise-oriented e-commerce software: up and running in 60 days or money back.
  • Speedware is due to unveil a major upgrade, Orderpoint 4.0. Features include automated email notification and customer-specific pricing.
  • Trade'ex Commerce Systems is scheduled to make partnership and customer announcements plus a reshuffling of its product line into a suite of offerings.