The advent of Web 2.0 technologies provides organisations with the ability to radically change how they interact with their customers, dramatically improving service levels and consequently increasing sales, so says customer service software specialist Transversal.

The term Web 2.0 has been around now for a few years, and often refers to a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services such as social-networking sites, blogs and wikis.

Transversal believes that customer service levels can be improved by organisations building more interaction features into their customer facing websites, and has created a top 10 guide to help companies get closer to customers.

1. Interaction. Transversal recommends that organisations use channels to provide human interaction and take on board customer feedback. These could include real time chat, instant messenger or linguabots.

2. Personalisation. Companies should deliver a personalised experience by providing tailored content in response to queries, such as special offers or added information.

3. RSS. Customers and partners should be kept updated with changes to areas of interest automatically through RSS feeds.

4. User communities. Organisations should build communities that enable users to exchange information and help self-support.

5. Blogs. Transversal’s believes that organisations should engage in dialogue with customers through relevant and tailored blogs.

6. Social networking. Organisations should build links with relevant social networks through interaction and posting tailored information.

7. Search engine optimisation. Companies should tailor their websites in order to ensure that queries are pushed quickly to the correct page from internet search engines such as Google.

8. Tagging. Users should be permitted to rate the usefulness of answers and information provided to gather valuable feedback on customer service effectiveness.

9. Wikis. The use wikis is urged to share information quickly, especially for a technical audience.

10. Podcasts. Companies should examine the possibility of making information and updates available via channels other than your website, for example through podcast and video update channels.

While the above sounds sensible, IT managers are likely to be concerned about the impact of such functionality on the internal IT resource. Are the servers robust enough to cope with the extra workload and what are the security implications, are two obvious concerns.

Transversal gets around these worries by offering a fully hosted solution, accessed via a live link on a company’s website, which opens a new web page allowing the user to interact with Transversal. However, that has not stopped some organisations, especially with large IT departments, developing their own in-house solution.

“We have come across some blue chip companies that think they can do this all by themselves,” said Dee Roche, head of strategy and marketing at Transversal.

She warns that internal IT people simply do not have the expertise to develop these technologies themselves, and indeed this view is backed up by a recent survey that suggested that IT departments are struggling to put more interactive web applications into place.

“Ultimately, the important thing about Web 2.0 is that it creates opportunity for organisations to get closer to customers,” Roche told Techworld.

Yet it is clear that introducing two way interaction, personalisation, and blogs and the like may not be appropriate in some sectors, for example those operating in financial services.

“Much more control is needed in the financial industry than in more consumer related web sites,” said Roche. “Our message is for organisations to think careful about your type of customers and your controls, as the customer experience will differ from sector to sector, with support-related companies relying on interaction much more than the financial services sector, where unmonitored user groups and blogs would be inappropriate for an industry governed by stringent compliance and security issues.

So who is actually making use of Web 2.0 technologies to improve customer interaction? According to Roche, it has traditionally been blue chip companies looking to improve customer functionality with better interaction and personalisation channels. But with Web 2.0, she insists that an increasing number of customer-facing organisations are looking at making their web sites much more sticky, usually via improved customer interaction.

Back in January this year Transversal’s Web Self-Service Index highlighted a sharp increase in the number of consumers asking questions through web self-service systems to obtain customer service information. It found that in the quest to avoid calling or emailing contact centres, the amount of customers turning to this channel for faster responses to questions had risen 224 percent from 2004 to 2006.

“Communicating with large amount of customers using these technologies always cuts down emails and calls in our experience,” said Roche. “After all, customers don’t want to call or email, they just want the information.”