School administrators looking for a cost-effective way to answer the many questions that parents, students, and teachers might have about district policies or programs should note a new software system from the Bozeman, Mont., company Right Now Technologies.

Right Now Technologies promises to help organizations cope with the hundreds, if not thousands, of frequently asked—and often repetitive—questions posed by people visiting internet sites.

The Right Now Web program records and files the many different questions asked by users, as well as the answers they receive in response, and then reissues the appropriate response whenever a particular question is asked again.

The program functions by creating a knowledge base of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and recording proper responses to these questions. Once the questions are posted, the knowledge base grows each time a user or support representative interacts with the system.

After asking a question, the user is given the opportunity to rate the effectiveness of the proposed solution, which allows the knowledge base to rank its own entries by effectiveness, so that subsequent users can receive the most likely answers first.

This feedback reportedly ensures that the longer a company uses Right Now Technologies software, the more effective it becomes. “That’s the beauty of this service. You just feed it information, and as students or teachers interact, the knowledge base grows organically,” said Greg Gianforte, president of Right Now Technologies.

The technology already has proven itself valuable in the corporate arena, according to Gianforte. Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Holdings Inc., the maker of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, uses Right Now Web to handle the large amount of very specific questions posed every day on the company’s web site. Lucas Jensen, marketing strategy and research manager for the company, said, “We have learned that customers appreciate being empowered to find their answers immediately.”

Some other clients serviced by Right Now Web include the National Board of Medical Examiners, Teleglobe, Casio, Xerox, Specialized Bicycles, TDK, Mylex Corp., Turner Classic Movies, Big Planet, Intel, Litton, Personic, Air Canada, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car, just to name a few.

Internet support technology allows any group to create a web site designed to meet the needs of its constituents. For schools, that constituency could be parents, students, teachers, or administrators, according to Gianforte. “It allows for self-help,” he stated.

The technology already is in place at two colleges, Purdue and Northern Territory University, but Right Now hopes to target the K-12 market in the near future.

Gianforte illustrated some uses for Right Now Web at the K-12 level.

“Suppose a high school has a really great athletic department, and school employees are answering a lot of repetitive questions about that. This technology would help manage those calls. Up to 90 percent of those type of repetitive calls could be handled without the help of a live human being.”

Another potential use for customer support solutions like Right Now Web is to answer frequently voiced parental concerns. “Parents have a lot of questions, and you can’t answer them all at a PTA meeting,” noted Gianforte. Online support solutions would allow easy access to answers for the most frequently asked questions, and would allow more time for detailed, case-specific parental concerns to be addressed on an interpersonal basis.

Web support solutions like Right Now Web could also be used at the district level, where administrative employees often field the same types of questions from teachers about benefits, vacations, and curriculum, among others.

The makers of this product say programs such as Right Now Web are potentially cost-effective, as well as convenient. Right Now is planning for “really aggressive pricing for education,” according to Gianforte. “We will be offering up to 50 percent off our regular pricing for schools.”

Trevor Shaw, technology director for St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in New Jersey and a columnist for eSchool News, says these types of programs have potential, but may not be useful to every school. Smaller schools may not field enough calls in a day to make a web support program necessary, even with significant price discounts, he said.

However, he noted, “I think FAQs in schools are really important. The problem is that when you have one district administrator, it is difficult to keep any kind of information database up to date. Making sure that you have a good database is critical, but so is making sure the people updating it are knowledgeable.”

Gianforte believes this technology will be ideal for bigger schools, which might have one or two full-time employees whose job is to answer phone or eMail inquiries. With the help of this service, their time could be more efficiently used elsewhere, he said.

Right Now Technologies

St. Benedict’s Preparatory School