A national telecom provider came to us overwhelmed by the complexity of their everyday work. Their customer service group of over 2,000 employees is responsible for a broad range of information-intensive tasks:

  • The department collects problem reports from customers, routes them to staff members, and tracks the resolution of the problems. These reports combine the customer reports with billing details, customer history information drawn from a broad range of corporate databases, and reports of similar issues reported by other customers. Acquisitions have increased the size of the department and spread its reach over a larger geographical area, and the simple desktop database application they had been using for this purpose is no longer able to meet their needs.
  • The department must keep front-line customer support representatives notified of service outages and other system problems. These problem reports may be created by any of about 100 staff members, and must then be reviewed by a central group of core staff members for marketing, regulatory, and other issues prior to publication. As the problem is addressed in the field, updates to these reports need to be created, reviewed, and published until the problem is resolved.
  • The department maintains a large collection of training materials and policy manuals. These documents must be updated frequently to correspond to policy changes, and must be accessible to employees for on-the-job training and policy clarification. Simply maintaining a collection of documents on a departmental file server has failed to scale to meet the needs of the growing organization.
  • The department's management must communicate departmental news, system status reports, and other rapidly changing information to their employees. They also need to track how often their employees accessed the various departmental information sources, in order to identify where new training programs or additional kinds of documentation were needed and to plan how best to apply corporate resources to these issues.
  • The department's employees have widely divergent responsibilities across the customer support space, and management and regulatory policies require that employees have access to only that information that is essential to their jobs. Since job assignments change frequently, it is important that appropriate controls exist over user authorizations and information security, and that changes can be made quickly and easily.
  • The department has limited technical staff, so any system administration requirements must be simple and clear enough to be carried out by employees without detailed computer experience.

We worked with the client to prepare a unified set of websites, each of which was targeted to a particular aspect of their needs. We provided a complete range of services to the client, including ethnographic studies to identify user requirements, design of appropriate site architectures, visual design and branding, site design, implementation, and deployment across the company's collection of servers, back-end and database design and development, and usability testing to evaluate the quality of the sites.

All sites share a multi-level "single sign-on" system, giving users easy access to only those sites -- and those parts of the sites -- to which they have been granted access. For instance, some users of the problem management sites may enter customer-reported problems into the system, while others may only review and comment on those reports, and still others have the authority to make the final judgments about a problem report and publish it via web and e-mail to company field staff. Throughout all the sites, selected users have access to administrative sections that provide control over user authorization and other aspects of system configuration. Selected users also have access to a facility that generates on-demand reports of page accesses, in some cases broken down by users or users' managers.

Since much of the department's work is oriented around documents, we index the content of these documents for future employee access via a search engine. Some of these documents are created with Microsoft Word or other desktop applications, since few of the employees have experience with web design tools. In those cases, we built for the department an application that converts Microsoft Word documents from their native format into a set of annotated HTML documents with an automatically-generated, interactive table of contents.

Together, these sites have fundamentally improved the effectiveness of the department. Each month, hundreds of problem reports are received and processed with more clarity than previous solutions allowed, and the system has served up over a million training and policy document requests. The sites have also brought a new degree of clarity to the department's work, and management is able to make sound decisions about where information and process improvements are needed.