semo.net CEO quoted on ISP Planet
Wombat Help Desk was first released by Boardtown Corporation in 2001 as an enhancement to the Platypus Billing System. In April of 2004, Tucows purchased Boardtown in order to acquire both solutions.
Bill Ford was President of Boardtown, and has stayed on at Tucows as Product Manager for Back Office Services. Tucows’ aim in acquiring his company, Ford says, was to be able to offer its customers billing and ticketing systems to go along with other software. “If customers have a solid back office as far as billing and ticketing go, then they’ll be much more able to accept and deploy new services,” he says.
Wombat is fully integrated with Platypus, and works exclusively with that system. However, Ford says some customers�those who were specifically interested in acquiring a ticketing system rather than a billing system�have simply chosen to purchase the minimal billing product so that they could run the ticketing system. And, of course, that’s fine with him.
The central idea behind Wombat, Ford says, is to provide total accountability for customer care. “Without a ticketing system, you end up with e-mails from customers and sticky notes stuck on a monitor�and nothing to force an issue from the minute it’s reported all the way to its resolution,” he says. “That’s what Wombat’s goal is to do.”
Proactive, not passive
All e-mails and phone calls that come into an ISP, Ford says, reach Wombat as the first point of entry. “For e-mails, it looks at the e-mail and attempts to categorize it based on a number of factors,” he says. “Once it’s categorized it, it can create a ticket and assign that issue to the appropriate staff person based on their skill set and their workload.”
By automatically routing each communication to the correct recipient, Ford says, Wombat ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. “From the very beginning, from the minute the customer has sent you a communication, Wombat is going to take it and force it all the way through, until a resolution has been reached and the issue is closed,” he says.
The Wombat interface has a built-in e-mail client, which ensures that all e-mails to and from the customer are attached to the appropriate ticket�phone calls are logged in the same way. “It’s all in one place, so you can go back and see everything that’s happened regarding an issue�attachments sent to the customer, knowledgebase articles that are related; all those things are tied to this one ticket,” Ford says.
Rules set up by the customer can ensure that Wombat automatically alerts the right people as a ticket starts to age or escalates in priority. “Again, the Wombat system is forcing this issue to get resolved, as opposed to just storing the fact that there are tickets,” Ford says. “It’s actually escalating the ticket, it’s communicating with people, making things happen.”
Once a ticket has been closed by a staff member, Wombat can send a survey to the end user, asking them to rate the service they’ve received. “If the customer wants to reply back and say, ‘Actually, I don’t feel like this issue is closed,’ then the ticket will be automatically reopened and put in the person’s face who closed it,” Ford says.
Beyond the help desk
And Wombat isn’t just appropriate for help desk services�Ford says Tucows uses the system in its development department as well. “It’s good for any sort of structured environment where you have numerous issues that are assigned to people that need to be resolved,” he says. “Our development team uses it to track the things that need to be put into the system.”
The software includes a project tracking feature that can be used to drive any multi-step process. “You can define a project template for recurring projects,” Ford says. “For a company that provides DSL service, there are multiple steps that have to happen to deploy a DSL line; or for a webhosting company, there are multiple steps in deploying a big web project�and when they create those projects, they’re based on a template, and they have all these pre-defined tickets ready to go.”
The next release of the software, Wombat 3.0, is expected in the first quarter of 2006. The key enhancements in that release, Ford says, will be the ability to categorize tickets and employees in departments, and to customize the ways an issue can be escalated. “Right now, out of the box, it escalates based on ‘first in, first out,'” Ford says. “But people want to have escalation based on more sophisticated things�they may want things of this category to be escalated faster than things of that category.”
Pricing for the solution is listed on Tucows’ website�it begins at $650 for up to 1,000 subscribers, including one year of technical support and upgrades. Alternatively, a leasing option starts at $29 per month, with no startup fee�and Ford says the company is currently in the process of developing a hosted version of the solution as well.
In terms of scalability, Ford says the software should be perfectly comfortable managing 500,000 subscribers or more, although he says most of his clients are Tier 3 or Tier 4 providers. “The guy that’s going to call tomorrow, he’s going to have 20,000 customers and 50 to 100 employees,” he says.
Wombat runs on Windows, though Ford says a number of his clients are Unix-only shops and they have no problems managing the solution through its online interface. “For Wombat, the web interface has virtually all of the functionality�so you can get away with using it pretty much anywhere you want to,” he says.
Brian Becker is President and CEO of semo.net. semo stands for “Southeast Missouri.” The company began using Wombat upon its release in 2001. Since it was already using Platypus at the time, Becker says, Wombat was an obvious choice. “The integration between our billing system and the ticketing system was a no-brainer for us,” he says.
The flexibility of the system itself, Becker says, has proved to be a key strength. When a customer sends in an e-mail requesting a wireless site survey, for example, Wombat automatically creates a ticket containing everything from the customer’s contact information to the signal levels they’re requesting. “It’s very easy for us to handle any and all situations that our company faces as far as needing to track projects or individual incidents,” he says.
Becker says the company was recently asked to provide fulfillment services on a client’s behalf�and he says that’s been easy to manage using Wombat. “As soon as an order is created, that order sends an e-mail to a POP account which is checked by Wombat every minute,” he says. “When it sees an e-mail in there, a ticket is created, three different people are alerted that the ticket has been created�and they can interact with the customer and with each other to make sure the product is fulfilled and shipped out the door.”
Considering the product’s flexibility and functionality, Becker says he’s surprised at how little it costs to maintain both Wombat and Platypus. “Our support contract is nothing compared to some of the other products that we have to pay support for that don’t impact us as greatly as Platypus and Wombat do,” he says. “So from my standpoint, it’s a very economical solution.”