When evaluating help desk call-tracking software, you should consider your organization’s practices and procedures, how your agents would use such a system, call queuing, routing and escalation, system integration points, and the program’s reporting and adaptability. With these criteria in mind, let’s look at PropWeb—a totally online call-tracking system from PCAOnline.com.

Call-tracking software evaluation toolkit

To help you evaluate call-tracking software and choose the best product for your help desk, I’ve developed a simple needs analysis checklist and product comparison spreadsheet. You can download this call-tracking software evaluation toolkit by following this link or by clicking on the Downloads link in the navigation bar at the top of this page.
    My call-tracking software evaluation toolkit contains both a Word document and an Excel spreadsheet. To increase download speed, we’ve zipped these two files together into one file. You’ll need an unzip utility, such as WinZip or PKZIP, to expand the zipped file. You’ll also need Microsoft Word and Excel.

Agent use and call logging
After you log in to the PropWeb system, the main menu allows navigation to several areas, including Training Management, Asset Management, and Help Desk. After selecting Help Desk, the agent is given a new call screen, shown in Figure A.

Figure A
PropWeb’s long call screens make it easy for techs to miss important information if they don’t pay attention.

All or part of the customer’s name or company information can be entered and searched. Customers can also be added directly from the call-tracking screen, but this can result in incomplete information being gathered. The company’s call history is available with one click. A very detailed and long call screen allows for tracking of appropriate call categories, service level agreements, and call notes. Each update to a call can be logged as a note, which is then saved to an activity log. Besides the activity log, an audit log of all changes to the call is tracked for security. Help desks can create custom call screens for various cases and workflows, but templates that prepopulate call fields are not available. Calls can also be categorized as bugs or enhancements for software development—allowing help desks to track these calls separately.

Generally speaking, the call screen is easily understandable with quick links back to the top or other main areas of the screen. Unfortunately, the screen’s length makes it easy to miss important information, because agents can easily overlook keynotes since the activity log appears at the bottom of the screen. PCAOnline.com could have separated the call screen’s various components into individual applets, but these can be problematic on some computers, and system stability was probably chosen over ease of use.

One nice feature is that after saving a call, PropWeb displays a list of useful links, shown in Figure B, such as logging another case for the same customer or taking the next available open call. I wish you could get to this same screen without saving a call ticket because it has useful shortcuts that aren’t available elsewhere.

Figure B
Once PropWeb saves a call, it allows the agent to quickly choose from various help desk tasks.

Call queuing, routing, and escalation
Calls that come in through the customer side of the Web interface can be automatically routed to agents or workgroups based on the product selected. The open call list nicely groups calls by workgroup and agent, and agents can easily pick up the next unassigned call in their workgroup. Effective and efficient queuing and routing are definitely two of PropWeb’s strengths.

PropWeb also includes support for service level agreements (SLAs) and tracking of calls against various types of SLAs. Automatic monitoring and notification of calls that meet defined criteria is missing, however, possibly causing a hole in the escalation process.

Integration with other systems and add-on modules
PropWeb offers an array of features besides call logging. An online knowledge base for both internal and external use integrates easily with the call logging process. It automatically generates FAQs of the most frequently used articles for each product and provides users the opportunity to enter feedback after reading an article. An interesting offering for online support is the use of discussion forums for both internal and external needs. Topics are assigned case numbers, and support agents can respond to these issues to resolve them.

PropWeb offers contact management in the Enterprise version of its software. It appears to be a reasonably complete basic contact manager that allows for the tracking of all activity, help desk cases, and service requests (including billing and time management) as well as RMAs, purchase orders, and mailing lists.

PropWeb’s asset management capability is very limited, and no audit tool is available. Although PropWeb will link assets to their call history, and you can add additional fields to the asset database, the program lacks a full-featured asset manager. The program does, however, incorporate training management and order management features in a more robust way. Figure C shows PropWeb’s Training Management System. You can manage courses, classes, registrants, locations, and instructors. Customers logging in to their side of the Web management tool can view and register for courses as well as view their class history.

Figure C
PropWeb allows you to easily manage end-user training.

For help desks using ACD telephone systems, PropWeb can interact with this system via PCAOnline.com’s PropQueue product. PropQueue provides a Web interface to the ACD queue. When an agent selects a call from the queue, PropQueue transfers the call to the agent, opens either a new or existing PropWeb call, and automatically completes the caller’s information.

Reporting and adaptability
PropWeb offers an amazing set of customization abilities. Without editing HTML or database code directly, it provides an interface to update field labels, create new fields, change screens, and more. While some customizations are easy, others, such as customizing screens, require learning a special code. It’s not a process for the easily frustrated.

Reporting tools are basically SQL statements that generate HTML reports, which you can customize if you know the code. The reports included are complete, and you can make specific reports available just to the users you desire—a unique and useful feature.

System requirements and licensing
PropWeb is a solid help desk solution, particularly if you’re looking for basic call logging with knowledge tracking and training management. People needing robust asset management will want to look elsewhere or look for add-on packages. The hardware requirements are simple: a Pentium-based machine with 64 MB of RAM and 35 MB of free disk space. Be aware, however, that a license of Macromedia’s ColdFusion server scripting environment is required, which may add to your system requirements, depending on your server platform.

Both a live online demo and downloadable demo are available from PCAOnline.com’s Web site. The online demo gives you a quick look at what PropWeb offers, but I experienced several problems using it and recommend that you use the downloadable demo during your evaluation. PCAOnline.com allows visitors to change the configuration of the online demo, so you may not get a clean, accurate view of PropWeb. During my evaluation, I found PCAOnline.com’s sales support team to be very helpful answering any questions I had about the online and downloadable demos.

Pricing for PropWeb starts at $4,500 plus $500 per concurrent user. An unlimited site license is $19,500. The Enterprise version, which includes change management, contact management, training and order management, a language module, and wireless access module, starts at $11,000 plus $900 per concurrent user. An unlimited Enterprise site license costs $45,000.