Taking Control of a Call Center with Remote Software

Desperate calls flood into Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s technical support center every day. Sometimes, the calls are from bewildered teachers or non-technical school staffers; other times, they’re from parents and students trying to get educational software to run properly on their computers.

The calls can also be from frustrated IT administrators struggling to install school software on their servers. And, occasionally, there’s an emergency call from an instructor with a classroom full of impatient children and software that’s not cooperating.

Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company is the world’s largest publisher of educational materials for pre-K to 12 schools. Its products include textbooks and testing materials, as well as educational software that ranges from math and reading software for elementary school students to server software that allows school districts to build portal sites.

Overall, the publisher’s tech-support staff receives 100,000 calls a year on these more than 1,000 educational products. The calls are as varied as they are frequent, but they all have one thing in common: The caller needs a problem solved fast.

To speed the troubleshooting process, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt purchased 12 licenses for B200 Bomgar Box appliance-based remote-access software, which allows the tech-support team to take control of customers’ computers so technicians can diagnose and fix the problems.

“A lot of our customers may not have the technical expertise to answer some of our questions, so it’s important to have a tool [that gives us access to] people’s machines so we can answer our own questions as the customer watches,” says Robert Baird, manager of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s technical support center in Fort Worth, Texas.

Installation was fast and easy, he reports. The IT department’s shared services network team in Orlando, Fla., configured and connected the remote-support tool on the network behind the company’s firewall.

Traditionally, remote-administration tools require client-side software to be installed on each computer, but the tool Houghton Mifflin Harcourt standardized on doesn’t require this software. Instead, help desk support staffers connect to users through a Web site.

The client and “clientless” remote-support tools serve different markets, according to Matt Healey, an analyst at IDC, a research firm in Framingham, Mass. The traditional client tools are good for controlled enterprise environments, where computer users are behind the firewall, he explains.

In contrast, the clientless support tools are good for three main applications: decentralized environments, where corporate IT help desks have to support their remote employees; corporate call centers that have to assist their customers around the globe; and third-party service providers—such as Best Buy’s Geek Squad or Circuit City’s Firedog—that must provide tech-support services for their customers.

Most clientless remote-support tools are offered as Web-hosted solutions. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, however, standardized on Bomgar, a server appliance that’s installed internally on the corporate network. This hardware device has remote-support software built in.

The technology allows the publisher’s tech-support employees to resolve calls faster, which improves customer service, increases staff productivity and cuts costs. Since technicians can handle more calls throughout the day, there’s less need for the company to increase tech staff, Baird says.

IDC’s Healey says these tools also resolve a major problem some call centers face: the language barrier. If users can’t understand a technician’s accent, the technician can simply set up a remote-support session and quickly diagnose and repair the problem.