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Live Help and Live Support Software Guide

Copyright 2005 by Akeni System. Please do not reproduce without permission.

  • Overview
  • Choosing the Right Live Help Solution
  • Hardware Considerations
  • Features to look for in a Live Support System
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    Overview

    In this guide, the process of selecting a Live Chat, Live Help and Live Support solution will be discussed. A detailed summary of the various features found in a Live Help System will be included to help you choose the right solution for your web site. At the end of the guide, I have included a check list of the features found in a Live Help system so that you can compare the various solutions that are available.

    Choosing the Right Live Help Solution

    You can host a Live Help system for your web site by uploading the scripts or program executables onto your dedicated server, virtual server, or shared hosting plans. Alternatively, there are ASP's (Application Service Providers) offering hosted Live Help solutions so that you don't need to administer and maintain your own server.

    The best way to choose a system is to download an evaluation version of the software from such web sites as CNET's download.com, Tucows, Sourceforge and Icewalkers.

    Currently, most open source projects for Live Help and live support are written using PHP, Perl, Java with a MySql backend. The advantage of PHP and MySql based solution is that most web hosting companies have the PHP and MySql already installed on their server, all you need to do is to upload the PHP scripts to the server and add the "live Help" button to your web site. In addition, if you need customization for the software you can either perform the customization in-house or hire a consultant with PHP expertise.

    Commercial releases of Live Help and Live Support software are programmed using C++, IIS (Microsoft Internet Information Services), PHP, Perl, Java, Python, .NET, ActiveX, flash, etc. The programming language of the server software will determine your hardware and operating system requirements. If the server software is written using PHP, Perl, Java, Python, then most likely you have a choice between a Windows or Linux based server. For IIS, .NET based systems you will be limited to a Windows based server solution.

    If you only have one or two operators for your web site, you might want to consider selecting a monthly subscription to a hosted solution. Hosted solutions has various advantages such as no need to administer and maintain your own server. The price for hosted solution ranges from $6 per operator per month up to $200 per operator per month. Most hosted solutions offers a 30 day trial period for your to evaluate their products.

    If your estimate that your web site will have a high volume of visitors using the Live Help system, then you need to choose your system more carefully. A Live Help system using PHP and MySql does not scale well because there needs to be constant polling of the system by the customer representative or operator to see if a new message has arrived. This limitation is imposed by the HTTP protocol. Thus a well designed system written in Java or C++ will be the ideal solution because you have a socket connection between the client and server.

    Hardware Considerations

    Once the you have decided on the Live Help server software, the next step would be to determine the hardware requirements.

    The speed of the CPU is less of a factor when hosting a Live Help system. The more important criteria is the amount of physical memory available. If you are hosting the server inside your own company, then you can start by using a server with at least 512MB of memory. But if you are using a dedicated server hosted by a data centre then you should determine the amount of memory more carefully since the cost of the hosting plan increases considerably when you add more memory. When you double the physical memory, usually the price of the hosting plan doubles as well.

    Once your Live Help system is setup, you should stress test the system. Try to connect as many visitors to your website. You should continuously monitor the CPU load and memory usage to see if there are memory leaks in the software system. From the memory usage, you can determine the amount of memory that is used per operator or customer representative and thus how many concurrent visitors you can handle on your server.

    Features to look for in a Live Support System

    • Web interface customization: Company specific logos, colors, and style sheet can be used so that the visitor will see a look and feel that is tailored to the web site.
    • Operator customization: Most aspect of the application can be changed and tailored to suit the operator's work habits. For example, all the tool-bars should be fully customizable to maximize productivity.
    • Off-line/away messages: Visitors can leave messages to an operator if the operator is away, busy, or off-line. The Operators will receive the notification messages as soon as they came back.
    • Typing Indicator & Smileys/Emoticons: The typing indicator allows both the operator and the visitor to know that the other side is busy composing a reply.
    • URL Push: URLs can be "pushed" to a visitor, which will then be opened in a new browser window. The operator can also instruct the browser to go to a new page using the same window, which can be used to give a tour of the web site to the visitor
    • Quick Phrases/Macros: Operators can prepare canned replies for commonly asked questions so that they do not have to type them out every time. These can be phrases or URL links that can be "pushed" into the other side.
    • Visitor/IP blocking: Operators can choose to ban visitors who are abusing the system.
    • Multiple departments: Visitors can choose to talk to a specific department, such as Sales, Marketing, Technical Support etc.
    • Call transfer & conference calls: Operators can invite other operators to join an existing support session. This allows operators to ask for help from other operators when they encountered cases that they can not handle alone. The operators can then handle the visitor together as a team (analogous to a conference call), or the case can be referred to the new operator (analogous to a call transfer)
    • Real-time web site traffic monitor: Monitor and track visitors to your web site. You can see their IP address, the page they are currently on, where they came from, how many pages they have visited, the amount of time spent on your web site, and more, all in real time
    • Operator to Operator Communication: Operators can send instant messages, notifications, and alerts to each other. They can also see each other's real-time online and away status.
    • Forums: Forums can serve as meeting places where they can share ideas and ask for help in real time. The forum is permanent and can be used as a knowledge database for the team.
    • Supervisor/mentor mode: A supervisor/mentor can participate in a support session in an manner that is invisible to the visitor (but the operator will see that the supervisor/mentor is there). This can be used by a supervisor to monitor the quality and efficiency of the support staff. It can also be used by a more experience operator to mentor a new staff by sending the new staff private instructions during live training.
    • Queue with automatic load distribution: Each operator can be assigned a maximum work load. Visitors will be assigned to an operator who has the least load at the moment. This allows a support center to give operators different work loads depending on their experience and skill. When all operators are busy the visitors will be in a queue and later serviced when one of the operator becomes available.
    • Visual & sound notification: The program should play a sound, show animated icons, or flash the task bar, whenever important events occurred. These notifications shold be fully configurable.
    • Multi-lingual: The system should befull Unicode enabled to support all languages. The applications interface has already been translated into many languages. You shoudl be able to setup the system so that visitor can choose the language they wish to use.
    • Native application: Operators use a feature rich Windows application instead of a web based interface. The application should not written in Java or .NET so it is easy to download and install.
    • Web based interface:The web based operator interface is useful when people are travelling or away from their computer but still needs to be in touch with the customers.
    • Tabbed sessions: Operators can handle multiple support sessions using a very efficient tabbed interface. For those that prefer to have a new window opened for each support session they can deactivate this feature as well.

    Appendix 1. Feature Check List

    The following is a check list of the various features of a Live Help and Live Support System

    Feature Description
    URL Push URLs can be "pushed" to a visitor, which will then be opened in a new browser window. The operator can also instruct the browser to go to a new page using the same window, which can be used to give a tour of the web site to the visitor.
    Quick Phrases Operators can prepare canned replies for commonly asked questions so that they do not have to type them out every time. These can be phrases or URL links that can be "pushed" into the other side.
    Visitor IP blocking Operators can choose to ban visitors who are abusing the system.
    Multiple departments Visitors can choose to talk to a specific department, such as Sales, Marketing, Technical Support etc.
    Call transfer & conference calls Operators can invite other operators to join an existing support session. This allows operators to ask for help from other operators when they encountered cases that they can not handle alone. The operators can then handle the visitor together as a team (analogous to a conference call), or the case can be referred to the new operator (analogous to a call transfer)
    Real-time web site traffic monitor Monitor and track visitors to your web site. You can see their IP address, the page they are currently on, where they came from, how many pages they have visited, the amount of time spent on your web site, and more, all in real time.
    Operator to Operator Communication Operators can send instant messages, notifications, and alerts to each other. They can also see each other's real-time online and away status.
    Native application Operators use a feature rich Windows application instead of a web based interface. Our application is not written in Java or .NET so it is easy to download and install.
    Web based interface The web based operator interface is useful when people are travelling or away from their computer but still needs to be in touch with the customers.
    Operator customization Most aspect of the application can be changed and tailored to suit the operator's work habits. For example, all the tool-bars are fully customizable to maximize productivity.
    Web interface customization Company specific logos, colors, and style sheet can be used so that the visitor will see a look and feel that is tailored to the web site.
    Visual & sound notification The program will play a sound, show animated icons, or flash the task bar, whenever important events occurred. These notifications are fully configurable.
    Unobtrusive interface The program can be minimized to the system tray icon area when not in use. It will automatically pop up whenever a visitor opened up a support session.
    Offline/away messages Visitors can leave messages to an operator if the operator is away, busy, or off-line. The Operators will receive the notification messages as soon as they came back.
    Tabbed sessions Operators can handle multiple support sessions using a very efficient tabbed interface. For those that prefer to have a new window opened for each support session they can deactivate this feature as well.
    Multi-lingual The system is full Unicode enabled to support all languages. The applications interface has already been translated into many languages. You can setup the system so that visitor can choose the language they wish to use.
    Typing Indicator & Smileys/Emoticons The typing indicator allows both the operator and the visitor to know that the other side is busy composing a reply.
    Forums Akeni's system administrator can setup forums(also known as chat rooms) for your sales or support teams. Forums can serve as meeting places where they can share ideas and ask for help in real time. The forum is permanent and can be used as a knowledge database for the team.
    Supervisor/mentor mode A supervisor/mentor can participate in a support session in an manner that is invisible to the visitor (but the operator will see that the supervisor/mentor is there). This can be used by a supervisor to monitor the quality and efficiency of the support staff. It can also be used by a more experience operator to mentor a new staff by sending the new staff private instructions during live training.
    Queue with automatic load distribution Each operator can be assigned a maximum work load. Visitors will be assigned to an operator who has the least load at the moment. This allows a support center to give operators different work loads depending on their experience and skill. When all operators are busy the visitors will be in a queue and later serviced when one of the operator becomes available.

    Appendix 2. Copyright

    Copyright 2005 by Akeni Systems. All Rights Reserved.

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