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SelfHelpWorks.com, of San Diego, Calif., provides personalized online seminars to help customers quit smoking, lose weight and moderate their alcohol intake. For 20 years, the company conducted its seminars in person and assisted more than 150,000 people to change their lives for the better using structured cognitive reasoning. The decision to go "virtual" in the year 2000 meant creating interactive quizzes and coaches to gauge client progress and using Internet movies to simulate motivating lectures.

It also created problems of its own, namely, how to provide customer service for a virtual environment on a host of financial, technical and behavioral issues. Customer issues can range from expired credit cards to client subscription changes to pop-up ad problems. The company didn't have enough staff to provide phone-based, round-the-clock customer support.

SelfHelpWorks.com's first strategy was to use email correspondence, which "proved unwieldy," according to the company's vice president of operations, Bruce Lawrence. "It took a tremendous amount of energy to ensure customer issues didn't fall through the cracks and there were few ways to track issues once they were assigned to someone to handle." The company then tried an ASP-based email management provider, which was an improvement, but still was too inflexible in defining issue fields and tailoring reports. In addition, the email program was slow, perhaps due to server bottlenecks. Six months ago, SelfHelpWorks chose Elementool's Help Desk. "It's perfect for our needs," said Lawrence, who described it as user-friendly, lightning fast and robust. With Help Desk, SelfHelpWorks is able to provide outsourced phone support to its customers and keep track of all customer issues through Help Desk. When clients call, operators at an outside company type in their issues into a Help Desk Web-based form. (Alternatively, clients can fill out a form on SelfHelpWorks.com's website.) The issues are then processed and divided among the most appropriate expert on staff. When issues are resolved, that is noted in Help Desk, allowing SelfHelpWorks to track the performance of its customer service.

"Resolving issues used to take days. Now it takes only hours," said Lawrence. He also noted that Help Desk's flexibility has made it easy for his company to keep track of another company's customer service issues. SelfHelpWorks OEM's its product to a nutraceutical company and handles that company's customer service questions. "It's a breeze for us to cut the data so we can track and report only their clients' issues," Lawrence said. He also believes the program's simplicity is one of its key strengths. "It's effortless to use and our in-house staff took to it immediately. In addition, it enabled us to use outside telephone operators, who mastered it without any hassles," said Lawrence. "The design is straightforward and it's easy to navigate. The graphics are simple and the pages load with ease. There's never a delay."

Lastly, it's economical. "We priced traditional software solutions that were $20,000-$30,000 per license. This is infinitely more affordable and there's no limit on users. At pricing like this, we'll be customers forever," said Lawrence.

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