Remote desktops halve Rockend support burden

Tools for remotely controlling a PC have become favourites within telecommuting circles, but real estate software development house Rockend has slashed its support costs by putting the technology to other uses.

Tools for remotely controlling a PC have become favourites within telecommuting circles, but real estate software development house Rockend has slashed its support costs by putting the technology to other uses.

A specialist software developer, Rockend's REST Professional and STRATA Master products facilitate property and body corporate management for real estate and strata management organisations. All told, the company's more than 2,500 customers manage nearly 1 million properties across Australia and New Zealand, meaning its systems handle a total volume of more than 4 million transactions per month.

Snapshot

source: Rockend

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Develops and supports property and strata management applications used by more than 2,500 customers, managing over one million properties across Australia and New Zealand

As a small (55-person) software house providing a full range of development and consulting services, Rockend has long grappled with the challenge of providing cost-effective support for its customers. Receiving up to 600 calls a day from largely non-technical real estate agents and other users, the company spent many years walking users through their solutions using back-and-forth descriptions on the phone.

-Our support people would be speaking to a person saying 'click here, do this'," says Alister Maple-Brown, national marketing manager at Rockend. -At a lot of our customers, none of them are from an IT background and they don't have specialist IT people to support them. Finding this or that button, or doing that command, could often be challenging."

Support from afar
With just 18 people in Rockend's client support organisation, continuing to provide effective support for the company's expanding customer base meant either hiring more staff, or finding a way to improve the efficiency of existing staff. Rockend chose the latter approach.

Remote desktops halve Rockend support burden: Alister Maple-Brown

Research on the Internet turned up a number of possible thin-client solutions, which allow interaction with a remote PC by sending snapshots of the screen, mouse and keyboard commands over the Internet. Despite the availability of the free VNC application, Rockend ultimately opted to introduce a GoToAssist, GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting remote PC management tools from Citrix Systems.

The usage of the Citrix tools is straightforward: instead of trying to talk customers through their support calls using vague instructions over the phone, Rockend support staff can now get an exact picture of what the customer is seeing. Customers initiate the session by clicking a link on the company's Web site, and within 60 seconds the customer support representative has access to the customer's computer. Resolution of the problem becomes much easier since the client can sit back and watch as the expert diagnoses and resolves the issue.

From Rockend's perspective, the new approach offers support staff a much faster way of resolving customer problems and moving on to the next call. Since introducing the applications, Maple-Brown says customer support staff have been able to resolve around half of all customer problems using this approach -- which translates into considerable savings in time and money.

-If we can put through twice as many calls in the same amount of time, it's a huge saving for the customer, while our ability to solve customer issues quickly is more beneficial from a time perspective," says Maple-Brown. -It provides us with a significant business benefit because our people don't have to spend so much time on the phone, wasting clients' time. This approach has proven extremely reliable and continues to get better to this day."

The new sales force
In a nationwide company of just 55 people, every bit of efficiency counts. As with many technologies, Rockend's use of the thin-client environment has gradually expanded as the workforce becomes more comfortable with it.

Most recently, the company has been exploring the use of GoToMeeting, an online collaborative sharing service, to eliminate the need for travelling to customers' premises when Rockend releases new versions of its software. Instead, the company can use GoToMeeting to deliver what might be just a half-hour training session, via the Internet.

-There's an internal benefit for us there," says Maple-Brown, who sees the technology as a significant business differentiator because it enables sales staff to escape the morass of scatter-shot support that saw them spending much of their time just travelling.

-We have a largely distributed client base and the software is a relatively small sale," he explains, -so we don't have -- nor do our clients have -- the financial resources to have people travelling around the country and dropping into their offices to provide training or consulting. We can provide less expensive training for our customers, and they're more likely to have training if it doesn't involve travel costs."

Another important differentiator of the Citrix thin client environment has been its robust reporting -- a feature that Maple-Brown says has proved invaluable in helping management better understand support trends and performance. This reporting lets managers tie the support organisation into the company's overall staffing trends, helping it optimise customer support staffing to suit the demands of its changing user base.

Those changes are likely to help the company continue to expand its customer numbers, particularly into overseas markets where Rockend might normally struggle to provide physical representation. The ability to provide instant online support -- and to demonstrate its products using GoToMyPC -- was recently instrumental in helping Rockend secure a new customer in Dubai, and other expansion is now possible with the knowledge that Rockend's support staff remain constantly close at hand.

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