SEO: The New Competitive Advantage of Online Customer Service

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In the past, SEO has not been a top priority for customer service departments, but with its ability to extend customer service’s reach to the major search engines, many organizations are putting plans in place to realize its full potential.

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SEO: The New Competitive Advantage of Online Customer Service

  1. 1. SEO: The New Competitive Advantage of Online Customer Service 6 Steps for Deploying Virtual Agents to Maximize SEO Published by Published by
  2. 2. 6 STEPS FOR DEPLOYING VIRTUAL AGENTS TO MAXIMIZE SEO SEO: New Key Strategy for Online Customer Service According to Wikipedia, “Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a webpage in a search engine’s “natural,” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”), search results. In general, the earlier, (or higher ranked on the search results page) and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users.”1 There is no doubt that the discipline of Search Engine Optimization has quickly grown from being a marketing tactic often left solely to the webmaster, to becoming a mission critical, integral component of an organization’s overall online identity. Organizations compete on a daily basis to show up in the top search results in an attempt to be found, and effective SEO strategies help make that possible. In the past, SEO has not been a top priority for customer service departments, but with its ability to extend customer service’s reach to the major search engines, many organizations are putting plans in place to realize its full potential. SEO, or “search engine optimization” is the process of optimizing web pages for online search, making these pages visible via “organic” (non paid) listings on search engines. Keep SEO in mind as you continue reading through this report as we uncovered a real competitive advantage that customer service, contact centers, and customer experience professionals can attain by combining the latest SEO tactics with robust online self-service solutions, such as Virtual Agents. Virtual Agents: A Partner for Enabling Customer Self-Service Now more than ever, customer service professionals must focus on delivering an outstanding customer service experience to website visitors. A highly effective and scalable solution organizations are turning to in their effort to achieve this goal is Virtual Agents. At their core, Virtual Agents are software services that engage in automated conversations with customers in self-service environments. They empower customers through their journey for answers and task completion by simplifying the process of delivering information across multiple interaction channels. In short, they help customers get immediate answers to their questions at a time that is convenient to them. What’s Your Question? Enter your question here Ask! © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 2
  3. 3. 6 STEPS FOR DEPLOYING VIRTUAL AGENTS TO MAXIMIZE SEO Threat or Opportunity? Gone are the days when customers had only a few options for customer service such as phoning into the call center for support or physically visiting your location. Today, many organizations are extending their customer support to a number of service channels such as their corporate website, mobile, social media as well as traditional contact center agents. Multi-channel, online customer service has become a business imperative, driven by customer demand for 24X7 online access to information and the desire to get answers to their most frequently asked questions without having to engage the contact center or a live chat agent. But what if all of your prospective and existing customers don’t begin their search for their answers in one of these support channels? What if your website is not always the first place they turn for online service information? What if they turn to the world’s largest and most accessed online search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo for answers? Will your organization’s support channels reach these prospective and existing customers, or will your competitors get to them first? A New Mission for Virtual Agents Bridging the Customer Service Gap with Search Engine Optimization Many organizations have come to recognize that a significant gap exists between connecting customers and prospects who have questions, with an organization’s customer service channels, even those that are online. If your company does not appear in the top search results on the major search engines, then unapproved company messaging, or your competitor’s messaging, can easily creep into the top spot, redirecting customers and potential customers away from your organization. This represents a real threat. As a result, there’s a growing desire to combine Search Engine Optimization (SEO) with Virtual Agents or other web self-service technologies in an effort to bridge this customer service gap and prevent competitiors from stealing customers before they even get close to your customer service channels. If done correctly, your organization can even drive new revenue opportunities, and capture not just “share of wallet” but “share of mind”. When combined with traditional SEO techniques for helping your organization rank better, Virtual Agents can and do provide a distinct advantage in extending the reach of your organization’s customer service by improving your organization’s rank on web pages. Today, there are real benefits that companies can realize by using a Virtual Agent solution in this way. Virtual Agents can help your organization engage with customers and deliver one right answer to commonly asked product, service and corporate questions, increase the reach of your organization’s customer service, and derail your competitor’s attempts at stealing away the customers you work so hard to keep. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 3
  4. 4. 6 STEPS FOR DEPLOYING VIRTUAL AGENTS TO MAXIMIZE SEO Extending the Benefit: Scaling Virtual Agent Technology to Other Channels When the latest Virtual Agent technologies are deployed correctly, search engines can view and index an organization’s approved, public knowledge base of content, enabling their customers, prospects and stakeholders to find relevant answers through the world’s largest online search engines. Best of all, Virtual Agent knowledge bases are loaded with keyword rich data that search engines love. After all, an organization’s online knowledge base reflects true voice of the customer data and the information that matters most to stakeholders. Leveraging this knowledge base for SEO purposes can provide organizations with a tremendous advantage over competitors as the questions or keywords that customers and prospects type into search engines align very well with voice of the customer data stored in an organization’s knowledge base. This helps you get the leg up on your competition and brings prospective and existing customers one step closer to your organization’s customer service channels. The good news is that many organizations who rely on Virtual Agents for web self-service already receive some of these benefits. The GREAT news, is that organizations can realize significantly greater results by implementing the suggestions outlined in this whitepaper. TD Bank utilizes the IntelliResponse Virtual Agent solution across their online and mobile channels for groups such as retail banking and discount brokerage as well as property and casualty insurance. TD leverages the IntelliResponse Virtual Agent for SEO. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 4
  5. 5. 6 STEPS FOR DEPLOYING VIRTUAL AGENTS TO MAXIMIZE SEO 6 Steps for Using Virtual Agents to Maximize SEO Benefits As you’ve discovered, delivering online service excellence doesn’t have to be limited to your company’s corporate website, social media or mobile channels. Delivering online service excellence can begin on the major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo and a Virtual-Agent-based SEO strategy helps to maximize this opportunity. Below, we’ve outlined 6 key steps to get you started on the road to SEO dominance, using Virtual Agent technology. 1) To Crawl or Not to Crawl - Google uses a “crawler” to automatically discover and scan websites by following links from one webpage to another.2 Organizations must first decide whether they will want Google to crawl the publicly available answers that are available via their Virtual Agent. If so, Google will index these answers as part of the content that is available through the Google search engine. Note: Google will actually crawl answer pages automatically, but if the decision is made to intentionally have Google crawl the answers pages, there are techniques that we’ll explore which can make this even more effective. 2) Controlling your content - In these early planning stages, it will be important to take note of those answers that you might not want to be picked up by Google search results. Since this is done at the page level, those answers can simply be excluded. Depending on your Virtual Agent provider’s expertise, they will be able to help advise you in this area. 3) Creating A Dynamic Webpage - Next up, you will want to create a dynamic webpage that includes the unique URL of each answer in your organization’s knowledge base that you wish Google crawlers to pick-up and index. Either your organization or your Virtual Agent provider can create this page. TD uses IntelliResponse Virtual Agent for SEO. TD created a dynamic webpage based 4) Host & Point - Organizations will then host this newly created dynamic webpage and then point Google crawlers to it, allowing the crawlers to discover each page with the answer URLs. Your Virtual Agent can provide further guidance to your webmaster if required. 5) Crawl, Index & Serve - The URLs from your dynamic webpage will then be used by the Google crawler to access each specific answer in your Virtual Agent solution knowledge base. Over time, Google will include these webpages in their results when end users ask questions that match with the answers contained in your knowledge base. 6) Enhance with Marketing - Further improvements can be made when an organization’s customer service, contact center or customer experience group works with their marketing team. Marketing can tag answers that are relevant to your organization’s brand that can assist in improving the delivery of results as these tags are also indexed during the process. These tags do not appear when the answers are rendered within an answer page in mobile, web or social mediums. Your marketing department can offer further suggestions for optimizing your knowledge base that perhaps fall in line with your organization’s SEO strategy. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. on their knowledgebase. The result was that this created an index in Google that had all the content (including tags which can further aid in an organizations SEO). When customers search for TD transit number for example (as seen in previous screen shot), the IntelliResponse answer appears in the first page of results on Google. If the individual clicks on the link in Google they will land on the fully rendered answer page. 5
  6. 6. 6 STEPS FOR DEPLOYING VIRTUAL AGENTS TO MAXIMIZE SEO Virtual Agents and SEO: Benefits Here are some benefits you’ll receive when Virtual Agents are deployed for this purpose in your organization: Extend the Reach of Your Customer Service Using Virtual Agents, your organization can experience the same great customer service across multiple interaction channels, like the corporate web, mobile, social and even the agent environment. Implementing these Virtual-Agent based SEO techniques can extend your customer service reach to the major search engines too. Since customers might choose to look for answers from any number of locations, these techniques can help bridge this gap that exists between connecting customers and prospects who have questions with your organization’s official customer service channels. Block Unofficial Product Information and Bad Customer Reviews When unofficial messaging about your company or bad (and sometimes inaccurate) customer reviews appear at the top of the search results, it can be incredibly confusing to customers or prospects who are simply looking for the correct answer to their question. Virtual Agents can help. By utilizing some of these Virtual Agent-based SEO tips, your corporate approved message or answers can appear in the top search results of the major search engines and guide prospects and customers to the service channel of their choosing. Build Customer Loyalty A great customer experience often translates into customer loyalty and repeat purchases. When end users search for a question, or a keyword, you want your company’s name to be associated with it. When your company’s name naturally and consistently appears at the top of the search results on Google, Bing or Yahoo, customers and prospects will associate your organization with that topic. Over time, this will build mind share within your target market and reaffirm to your existing customers that your organization truly does provide the best product or service. Minimize The “Silent” Competitive Threats As previously mentioned, the major battle your customer service will face will be online and it will begin on the major search engines. When prospects and customers are looking for information about your organization, you risk competitive search results ranking higher than yours and missing the very best opportunity to connect prospective and existing customers with your service channels. A Virtual-Agent based SEO game plan will help minimize these competitive threats. $ Increasing Sales They say the best defence is a strong offence. In this situation, it is absolutely true. It’s not just your customers who are looking for answers. Prospects are looking too and more often than not, they’ll begin their search on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. A Virtual Agent knowledge base is rich in voice of the customer questions and answers. If this can be optimized for search engines, your organization can appear at the top of the search results, and help direct prospects back to your website with the goal of converting to customers. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 6
  7. 7. 6 STEPS FOR DEPLOYING VIRTUAL AGENTS TO MAXIMIZE SEO GO Getting Started All IntelliResponse customers can take advantage of this method to improve their organic search results while extending one right answer into public search environments like Google, Bing or Yahoo. For questions about Virtual Agent-based SEO techniques discussed in this paper, for help getting started, or for information on IntelliResponse Virtual Agents, contact IntelliResponse at 1-866-454-0084 or info@intelliresponse.com FREE EVALUATION OF YOUR WEB SELF-SERVICE CAPABILITIES Get a FREE evaluation of your organization’s web self-service capabilities with the Forrester/ IntelliResponse Online Self-Service Assessment Survey. Send an email to: eval@intelliresponse.com SOURCES: 1 2 Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine_optimization Google - http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1061943 About IntelliResponse Systems IntelliResponse is the leading provider of virtual agent technology solutions for the enterprise. We create profitable online conversations for our private and public sector customers around the world. With our patented Enterprise Virtual Agent (EVA) solutions, corporate websites, mobile applications, social media channels and agent desktops can all be transformed by an engaging virtual concierge, empowering customers to ask questions using natural, conversational language and delivering an effective and engaging online experience. Some of the worlds most recognized corporate brands and public institutions trust their customer experience management needs to IntelliResponse including CIBC Bank, ING Direct, Charter Communications, Progress Energy, Copa Airlines, Kobo Books, Penn State University, Yale University and Harvard University. For more information about IntelliResponse, visit www.IntelliResponse.com. Twitter.com/IntelliResponse Facebook.com/IntelliResponseInc YouTube.com/IntelliResponseInc © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. To learn more about taking online self service to the next level for your customers, visit www.IntelliResponse.com. 7

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