Austin’s Step One Aims to Put the Customer in Charge of Customer Care

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to address customer service issues by, in essence, creating forums in which customers can present problems and respond to questions among themselves, tapping into a customer’s own knowledge and creating a community of fans for the company itself. Mitchell recognizes the power in Lithium’s approach, so much so that Step One is in discussions he says to partner with the San Francisco-based company to analyze their crowdsourced wisdom in order to gain context that Step One then feeds into its software. (Telstra is also a Lithium customer.)

“There’s only so many subject matter experts inside of these companies; this is free help from the crowd,” he says. “We put that Lithium knowledge into context so it’s not just random crowdsourced content.”

Other companies like Oracle, which provide content and customer relationship management strategies, attempt to address this problem as well. And telecoms themselves have been trying to use artificial intelligence to improve their own analytics internally. But Mitchell says Step One has combined the two to greatly improve the customer experience, including providing a feature where its Contextual Care software can learn from its interactions, refining the results that will be presented to the next frazzled customer.

The software also reviews outcomes, Mitchell says: Did you end up calling in to the help desk anyway? Did you tweet something by going on GripeO?

“It adjusts the content over time so the customer experience gets better,” he says.

In addition to officially launching its product, Step One also said on Thursday that it has raised $4 million in venture funds from Silverton Partners and LiveOak Ventures, both in Austin. (It had previously raised seed money from LiveOak.) The startup will use the money to double its workforce to 20 and move into new offices as it expands operations.

Mitchell and his two co-founders started Step One a year ago in an RV parked in the parking lot of Motive, an Austin software company where they had worked together. (Motive was acquired by Alcatel-Lucent in 2008.) Since then, the company has graduated to a two-bedroom apartment in Austin where the 10 employees are “crawling all over each other,” Mitchell says, laughing.

As it plans to move into new digs, the company is gearing up to tackle customer service issues in other industries, including the health care sector.

“This is one of the first times that businesses are engaging customers in a visible way one-to-one. Usually, it’s one-to-many,” Mitchell says. “We’re going to make getting help an effortless customer experience.”

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