Work the edge--the point of interaction with stakeholders in your business that enables effective collaboration and sharing of information--to leverage existing systems and data within such emerging customer interaction touch points as Web sites, email, chat, and telephony.
Posted Mar 17, 2003
Working the edge of your business is an outward-focused activity and must be the primary driver of any business growth strategy. The edge is the point of interaction with the stakeholders in your business that enables effective collaboration and sharing of information. Companies that fail to focus on this edge--and instead limit their attention to internal processes--will be unsuccessful in responding to changing customer demands and market forces, constraining their ability to grow and prosper, especially in a competitive marketplace.
Customer interaction management (CIM) strategies and technologies focus on the edge of the enterprise, extending information out through an ever-increasing number of interaction touch points with customers, partners, and suppliers. Companies that successfully deploy CIM strategies will adapt faster to their business environment and create competitive advantage by properly leveraging interaction touch points and leveraging the increasing number of interaction channels that technology is introducing and customers are demanding.
To work the edge companies must be able to leverage their existing systems and data within such emerging customer interaction touch points as Web sites, email, chat, and telephony in an efficient and effective way. How do you organize your business to optimize the edge? First, identify the internal organizations that manage business interactions with the outside world, including sales, marketing, customer service, distribution and accounts receivable, as well as the business processes that support these interactions. Then, align these processes and organizations to meet the requirements and preferences of the company's external audiences.
Let's consider an accounts receivable/collections scenario that demonstrates how working the edge, using customer interaction management and a multichannel contact strategy, adds directly to the bottom line by making it more convenient for customers to respond quickly to collections notices, while reducing the demand on agent resources.
All companies have to manage collections in a way that is cost effective, assures customers are treated fairly, and most important, helps grow the relationship with customers. A typical global finance company requires hundreds of agents to assist customers, including high-value customers, who have fallen behind in their payments.
The typical collections department has a blended inbound/outbound telephony channel for handling payments. Although the company often has an enterprisewide CRM initiative that incorporates customer profiling and ranking, this data tends to be focused on selling during the customer service and marketing processes, and is available for the collections process.
The collections process typically begins with a notification about the overdue receivable once a payment is 30 days late. Customers are given the opportunity to call a toll-free number to make payment arrangements or send their payment via mail. If payment is not received within 30 days, an outbound dialing campaign is initiated to contact the customer.
It is imperative that the collections process not offend customers who represent a high customer lifetime value, like a traveling businessperson who may have a high balance, but inadvertently forgets to pay the bill on time. Unfortunately, most call centers are not equipped to manage different customer collection scenarios, putting future business with these high-value customers at risk. For example, the collections process may call for the customer to be contacted by an outbound call at dinnertime to discuss the account. An agent who lacks information about the customer may aggressively demand immediate payment using a debit system--securing the payment, but potentially losing the long-term business of a high-value customer who is angered by this treatment.
Now let's consider a business with a multichannel customer-interaction contact center strategy that enables it to create a payment interaction process for notification and response between the customer and the business. The payment options are extended to include mail notification, reusing the existing billing and notification process using print and postal mail; email posting, messages are sent to the customer's personal email account, business address and cell phone; and outbound telephony, automated recorded messages.
Each of these messages contain return addressing information to a new payment response option, reducing the number of inbound calls by encouraging customers to utilize a self-service payment option on a Web site or IVR application.
All the outbound notifications emphasize using a self-service option by including a URL as the primary response channel and a toll-free number with an IVR application for making payments and replies. All other options are also included in the response addressing options. This multidimensional contact strategy has a number of advantages:
o The business has multiple options for notifying the customer, enabling the customer to receive email and reply while traveling.
o The customer has multiple options for replying at his own convenience. So while in an airport, he can log on to an Internet terminal, read email, and take care of the payment processing.
o The cost of self-service is negligible compared to an assisted service transaction.
o Demand for real agent resources are greatly reduced, preventing the untrained agent from pushing a high-value customer away from the business.
Additional advantages to the multichannel process include the ability to opt-in to a monthly self-service application for monthly payment transactions to prevent future collections issues.
Companies must focus on customer interaction management and view all business processes from an external perspective. By focusing on these customer interactions, companies will enjoy significant bottom-line results through cost savings and customer retention. Each process should incorporate a multichannel contact strategy. It is this customer interaction focus that will transform a company into a customer-focused business, resulting in significant improvements to the bottom line and a substantial return on investment.
About the Author
Karl Walder is the director of product and service strategies for divine. He is responsible for understanding the needs of the finance, business services, and retail vertical markets and creating new product and service offerings across the business value chain using divine's Customer Interaction Management (CIM) and collaboration products. Walder has worked for more than 16 years as a business strategy consultant, product and marketing strategist, technical architect, and systems integrator for such companies as Citigroup, Progressive Insurance, Bell South Mobility, General Electric, and Lockheed Martin, creating solutions in the areas of e-commerce, e-business, customer relationship management (ecrm), contact centers, strategic database marketing, cellular roaming agreement management, switch provisioning systems. Walder speaks extensively at conferences in North America, Europe, and South America and is a prolific writer in the areas of e-business, CRM, and CIM. Walder graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelors of Science in Engineering, Computer and Information Sciences.
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