Tracking Customers with FootPrints

By Patricia Fusco | Posted September 26, 2003

Footprints in the sand can lead you down a well-traveled trail or it can blaze a new path for others to follow. FootPrints, however, is an application that could revolutionize the way you provide customer service from a helpdesk.

Most small business owners hear the words customer resource management or customer service desk software and they see a big capital expenditure coupled with a complex infrastructure build out. It's easy for a small business to dismiss such initiatives as "not for me." Edison, New- jersey-based UniPress Software paints a different picture for small businesses seeking to automate their customer service processes with support desk systems.

The company has just released its FootPrints Hosting Service solution, an automated customer service and support desk system designed for small- to mid-sized businesses. This solution is gaining traction among small business owners because it does exactly what they need it to do — without the big-bucks price tag and back-end IT investment.

One Step At A Time
First launched in 1996, FootPrints is UniPress' flagship service desk automation software. FootPrints 6.0 is a well-established Web-based customer support system that's currently employed by large corporations, such as IBM and Pepsi, as well as federal agencies and institutions, such as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Harvard and Penn State. But FootPrints Hosting Service is new. It's a fully managed solution that can help any customer-oriented organization automate their support systems.

FootPrints Hosting Service provides a relatively affordable, easy-to-use, and wholly customizable Web-based service desk that UniPress can put into production in three days or less. Small businesses need not concern themselves with back-end IT investments, hiring IT personnel, or administration of the product. UniPress provides all the hardware, Internet connections, and IT staff as part of the FootPrints Hosting Service.

FootPrints technology provides small businesses with a multi-channel service desk system than can centrally track, manage, and control customer issues and service requests received via e-mail, the Internet, fax, telephone, or wireless devices. It can be used for internal help-desk support or external customer self-service online because the program is Web-based and jam-packed with an intensive knowledge management system.

Using the self-service online capabilities, customers can submit tickets, check problem-resolution status, and search the knowledge base for self-help solutions. Likewise, customer service representatives and help-desk staff can open customer service tickets, monitor problems, and utilize the knowledge base to provide one-the-spot service.

Other Tracks
While FootPrints Hosting Service looks a lot like an application service provider (ASP), UniPress' President Mark Krieger is quick to dismiss such thoughts on account of FootPrints' pricing tactics.

"Whereas other hosted solutions and ASPs lease their system over a specific period of time, our FootPrints Hosted Service allows customers to own the software," Krieger said. "We estimate that our hosted offering costs up to 50 percent less than other solutions, while providing customers with the opportunity to own the software outright from day one."

Rival customer service automation solutions from RightNow and White Pajama employ a conventional ASP pricing strategy whereby the customer never actually owns the software. Customers pay periodically — on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis — for access to hosted applications on a per seat basis. Product updates, maintenance, training and support, as well as setup fees vary with the services rendered.

UniPress, on the other hand, allows customers to buy FootPrints software outright or lease the program for a two-year term, after which, they own the product whether UniPress continues to host the program or the customer takes the application in-house. Hosting fees and maintenance each cost 18 percent of the total cost of the application. For example, a 10-agent license for FootPrints costs about $14,500. Consequently, FootPrints for 10 plus maintenance and hosting costs about $19,720. If a small business opts to break down the payments on a monthly basis with a two-year lease, they pay less than $1,000 a month for their automated customer service solution.

Cost-effectiveness is usually a key factor for small businesses that are evaluating hosting options. John Ragsdale, Giga research director, said the biggest problem facing most companies, of any size, making a software purchase today is how much upfront cash is needed.

"Hosted applications offer lower up front costs — no onsite hardware to purchase and less system administrator costs," Ragsdale said. "Additionally, a product like FootPrints that offers configuration options, as opposed to customization options, means that the time between signing the contract and going live is short."

With no setup fees and the ability to get an automated customer service solution up and running in a matter of days rather than months, UniPress' hosted system represents a more viable solution for smaller businesses. Ragsdale also said upgrades are simpler, too.

"Since the hosting company takes care of upgrades, ownership costs are further reduced," Ragsdale said. "UniPress is also offering a finance option, so companies who are really mindful of capital expenditures for a quarter or a year can pay the software acquisition and maintenance costs over time, instead of outlaying the cash upfront."

Lasting Impressions
FootPrints offers an impressive feature set, but remains very easy to use. We had the opportunity to take a guided tour through the system and walked away impressed by FootPrints' versatility, its ability to be fully customized, and its reporting features. But the best way to see what FootPrints could do for your small business is to experience the program in action for yourself. UniPress offers one-on-one guided tours through the products, as well as a free 30-day evaluation copy available for downloading.

The FootPrints Hosting Service offers a secure, state-of-the art data center to ensure performance and reliability. The data center provides virtually unlimited capacity, multiple levels of redundant electrical power and Internet connections, and around-the-clock support staff.

A footprint in the sand can lead you down a well-traveled trail or it can blaze a new path for others to follow. FootPrints, however, is an application that could revolutionize the way you provide customer service from a helpdesk. Is your small business ready to blaze a new trail toward building better customer relationships? Just follow the FootPrints and you could quickly be on your way to a new level of help-desk management.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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